Motives in Christian Ministry

I have often been challenged in my own heart before the Lord to check my motives in all things regarding serving Christ. Because it’s not only about what I believe and what I do in kingdom service–of paramount important is the question WHY. Why am I doing what I am doing–what are the hidden motives of my heart? Why do I do what I do and why do I say what I say?

The glory of God has been re-emphasized in recent years and rightly so. But now its almost “popular” to talk about God’s glory. It’s becoming an evangelical fad that’s very cool; its “IN” to speak much about God’s glory, reading and quoting Jonathan Edwards or John Piper about the glory of God, the supremacy of Christ, and “it being all about Him.”

These days, it’s “in” to imitate the theology of whoever happens to be the most popular current author, preacher, theologian, or conference speaker. It’s “in” to always attend the Desiring God Bethlehem conference, the Together for the Gospel conference, the True Church conference, the Bentley conference, the Arkansas conference, or the Heartcry Missions conference; it’s the cool thing to do these days because surely everyone who is anyone goes there, right? (if I’ve left out your favorite conference, then include it as well.)

Its so easy to get caught up in such conferences that preach about God and His glory. So we get used to using the lingo about the glory of Christ and tossing around all the right terms. And there right before us lies a subtle trap. It’s very possible to do those things so that others will believe we are deep, solid, and theologically accurate. The right thing begins to be driven by wrong motives. And therein lies the danger. Listen closely and consider.

I believe much of what we see in professing American evangelicalism, including all the Reformed movements and the conservative and family-oriented ministries, is driven by self-centered and man-centered motives and not by motives for God alone.

If the secrets and motives of the hearts of all were fully disclosed and could suddenly be seen, we would probably see that many are trying to steal glory from God for themselves by speak about His glory. And the stealing of His glory is due to wrong inner motives in the heart that motivate much of what is done in ministry. What do I mean? I mean simply this.

A man can preach eloquently about the true God, when ironically, what is actually motivating that man to preach about God’s glory is that he wants to be known as a man who talks greatly about God. A man can develop a preaching ministry that is very popular, well-done with excellence, which seems so sound and good, and yet he is primarily motivated by secret desires to be a popular preacher. He wants success and wants to be known. He wants a cutting-edge ministry that is growing and growing. And he steers everything toward that. When he’s driven by such motivation, he and those who work for him will be blind to it, but the discerning soul will see it because flesh always shows itself to be flesh.

A Bible teacher can teach in a very gifted way the deepest truths revealed in the Bible, and communicate them exceptionally (He’s a fabulous communicator!), but the hidden motive is the desire to be known and liked as an excellent teacher so he can build a bigger and bigger ministry. You see, its the personal reputation he’s after, and he’s using truth about God as his means to a self-centered end, all because of wrong motives.

A church can begin an orthodox ministry that is is impressive and is run very efficiently, but behind it all, the motive is to build a successful ministry empire, in order to be known as the church in town.

A church or ministry can begin and promote their annual conference as being all about God, and yet the primary motive driving the promotion, unknown to everyone except God Himself, is pride; the conference planners are wanting theirs to be known for the sake of their ministry.

A ministry being so well-tuned to give the appearance of doing everything with excellence because image and perception is everything. Wanting to impress anyone, especially donors.

One can have the finest web site available, with the most superb links and resources imaginable, yet it all be only wood, hay, and stubble because its all motivated by the flesh.

There is so much of this that is widespread, that even the least discerning believer among us often sees it clearly. It’s repulsive; and if it is repulsive to any of the Lord’s people, how much more is it material for vomit in the stomach of Jesus Christ, the One who is supposed to get all the glory?

I confess without reservation that there have been many times in the course of 35 years of Christian living and 33 years of ministry, that my motives were wrong. I am sure now my motive often was really only about me and my reputation– what people would think of my messages–if I could impress them with my knowledge–if they thought I was a praying man–if I appeared spiritual and humble. Just think of that–pride driving me to want to be known as humble–how sick and sickening.

I can remember specific times early on when I preached on something mainly because I thought it would be an impressive sermon and I thought I could make it my best one. It is very sad to have to confess it now, but I honestly did not see it at the time. That’s very sad and God is very merciful.

All too often I know that hidden pride motivated me to desire to be seen as something that I wasn’t. My only answer now in looking back on it all is that I did not see it at the time and was so ignorant and immature that I was blind to it all, and God has been infinitely merciful to me.

How could I use Christ, or His Word, or His people, or His gospel, or prayer, or His name, or messages about His glory, with motives of wanting people to think I was a real man of God? The real truth was that I was a novice, immature, carnal in areas of my life, undisciplined, and lacking stability and self-control. God knew it all along and I would feel it at times, but I sure did not want anyone else to know it.

I can look back now over 3 1/2 decades of being a Christian and a preacher, and as I survey those years, I see wood, hay, and stubble that I was often producing, simply because of some wrong motives.

– Wanting to impress

– Wanting to be a part of a particular church

– Wanting to be in a specific ministry or specific type of ministry

– Wanting to start a ministry when it would be years before I was even ready at all to be entrusted by
God with any ministry

– Wanting to teach or preach

– Wanting to write a book

– Wanting to be connected somehow to well-known men

– Wanting to become something that God was not purposing for me to become

– Wanting to be something for God when I was not prepared at all to be something for God

– Wanting people to think something of me that was not reality

– Wanting people to have a better impression of me than was accurate and true

This stuff gets down to the very heart of what we are, that only God sees and knows; it is the reality of this self life and impure motives that must die because that is what wants to steal God’s glory by using God for self exaltation.

Honestly, now all such motives have become to me abominable and now cause my mind to be weary and my heart to grieve. I hate it all with a nauseous hatred.

When you begin to really think of it all, I wonder how much such self motives and self interest drives a majority of Christian work and ministry?

– The drive to begin a new ministry

– The zeal of an evangelistic ministry

– A passion for theology

– The effort to write or publish books

– The beginning of new conferences everywhere (as if we really needed more conferences)

– Even the unending publication of new translations of the Bible–Let’s name a few:

The Biker’s Rumbling Bible, The Cowboy Rough Ridin Bible, The Coach’s Game Plan Bible, The Athlete’s Bible, The Rapper’s Bible, The Seeker Friendly Bible, The Messianic/Completed Jew Bible, The Soul Winner’s Bible, The Reformation Bible, The Dispensational Bible, The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, The Soccer Mom’s Bible, The Pre-Millenial Bible, The Amillenial Bible, The Prosperity Study Bible, and the Businessman’s Success Bible.

You could name some I have left out. (As if the holy Bible itself is not enough.) It’s a wonder that someone hasn’t published The Hooker’s Bible or the Sex Addict’s Bible. Perhaps they have and I haven’t heard about it.

Want to know what motivates it all? MONEY and FINANCIAL PROFIT–pure and simple. The big evangelical publishing houses keep producing new, contemporary versions of the Bible because it’s big money. No new translation is needed at all, but money drives it all; and self motives drive the money.

But that’s another issue altogether. Personal motives are what we are talking about here.

Lately this has come to my mind consistently. Why am I doing what I do? What do I want people to think of me? What motivates my Christian service, my preaching, my reading, my witnessing or anything that I put my hand to?

Preaching- Preacher, what are the hidden motives in your heart when you stand to preach? I, for one, am sick of preachers who obviously are wanting to impress people with their sermons; the truth is, if this is their motive, no one is impressed, especially God. They already have their reward, and I promise, it’s a pretty empty one.

Conferences- Why begin another conference? Why be a conference speaker? Why attend conference after conference? What are our motives really?

Prayer- How much public praying in the presence of others is motivated by impressing others, praying to be heard by men?

New Books- Some authors produce books like a paper mill; the truth is, the publishers press them and pressure them to do another book; why? because their books will sell and the publishers want an annual amount of revenue coming in from that author. So the race is on- more books, more books, more books and the motive behind it is obvious. It’s like a big elephant being in the living room, but no one wants to talk about it. But it’s still there and everyone knows it.

Knowledge- Why am I interested in truth? Why do I want to discuss theology? Why do I blog and enter theological discussions online? Is it to appear to others as really being something and to impress them, to win the argument or appear to be the most solid one in the discussion? How edifying! I wonder what Christ feels and thinks of us if that is what is lurking in our motives?

Reading- Why do I read really? Is it for others to know that I am doing it? Is it to be able to say we have read something? Is it to be knowledgeable so we can be seen as that?

Whether it is our specific service, our desire for personal growth, doing Bible teaching, or discipling someone, why am I really doing it?

The sobering truth is this– every Christian will answer at the judgment seat of Christ for the works done in their body as a Christian. On that day, I believe false motives in service and ministry will cause us to lose any reward that might have come to us in serving Christ, meaning that every work or service that was done with impure motives will lose its reward because false motives turn good works into evil works–into wood, hay, and stubble.

God once asked Jeremiah a very specific and serious question: “Seekest thou great things for thyself–Seek them not.” If the Holy Spirit asked each of us that question, how would we answer? Would we turn from seeking great things for ourselves and confess our wrong motives if He made it clear that we were doing that?

Gone forever should be a motive to be known by men, to be a great author, to be seen as something, to have a successful ministry in the eyes of anyone, to be admired spiritually, or to be in with the best evangelical group or church.

I have to ask myself always, “If God wills for me to pastor 15 people, to never write a book, never be known or popular, never preach in another conference, never have an outward ministry, and never have any reputation at all among anyone as being anything, can I be satisfied with that? If I only have God alone and am hidden away, and am only pleasing Him, is that enough? If my church never grows and no one ever hears anything about me, is that fine with me?

Today if John Piper’s church called me and ask me to preach in their big conference (which we all know will never happen thankfully), I would honestly dread the thought of it and would decline; I would decline because I know that I don’t have the goods to speak in such a venue, and so I would decline the invitation- pure and simple. I would not accept it because I know that I probably couldn’t handle either the embarrassment of it or the compliments which likely would only be common courtesy and kindness, not because they were truly deserved.

I know that some would say that would be a wrong decision. After all, they need the truth and what an opportunity I would be passing up. What doors could that open further for me? That is exactly my point. The invitation becomes about me. So I would decline unless I had a very real assurance that it would not become about me and that it would not change me for the worse. Could I be trusted with the opportunity without it bringing pride with it? I don’t know. But I do know this- I do not have desires or motives to preach in such settings and that feels liberating. I would rather preach to fifty people who are hungry and humble than three thousand in a mixed multitude.

I am at the place now in my heart that I don’t care if I preach to two thousand people or to ten people. I don’t care. I just don’t care about any of it any more. All such desire has disappeared like a vapor. The Word of God seems to have washed it away or is truly in the process of washing it away deeply. And the main reason this is true at all is because God has graciously done this in me sovereignly. Twenty years ago, I did not see any of it.

There’s also another reason that such desires have disappeared for me– I have dabbled in some of it at a very small level and it never satisfies; partaking of it never gives that which the flesh promises it will give. Ultimately, its all temporal, unsatisfying, and empty.

It’s true– godliness with contentment really is great gain; it’s actually true. To be known by God–to be His–to want Him–to be motivated by the desire to fear and please Him only–that is life’s purpose and life’s satisfaction.

I love an old mission statement I heard back in the 1980’s: “I have no one to impress–I only have One to please.”

Motives- how big and controlling are they down inside of us? They are the biggest human issue within us that drive our Christian living and ministry. May God deal radically and deeply with us all about our motives. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

If God, in this short time of reading these thoughts, has convicted you about wrong motives, then stop and just begin to cry out to Him to save you from this trap; cry out to Him about it all to purify your motives and to cleanse and deliver you from all motives except Christ Himself.

Lord Jesus, I pray you would so work in each one of us, so as to remove every false and wrong motive within our hidden parts–quarry us deep–strip all false and inferior motives away, wean them from us, cause them to dissolve, set us free from them, cause them to be repulsive to us, and please replace them with one motive–Jesus Christ period.

What did Paul say? For me to live is . . . . . Christ.” Period. That’s the only motive for any of us.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

– Mack Tomlinson


  1. Wow! I'm reading this article and thinking does this Brother know me? Very good insightful and probing. Thank you Brother for it. Very good. 🙂


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