What Happened To Passion? You feel you’ve given the ministry all you’ve got. Now, after further reflection, you are resigned to carry on in “same ol’, same ol'” mode. What happened to the passion? What happened to the unquenchable fire, the burning drive, the exuberant energies? No, people around you may or may not have noticed. Pastors, of all professions, are keenly aware of perceptions and facades. You don’t want to let out the “big secret.” But your passion “just ain’t there no more.” Where Passion Went There are numerous reasons for a loss of passion. 1. Tenure: After a number of years, even decades, in the same ministry one can become “bored.” If a ministry cannot bring forth new challenges or if the pastor cannot energize new challenges for a congregation, the tasks may become even less energizing. 2. Habituation: Activities which at inception were passionately energizing, have became routinized. They are habits. Having been effectively assimilated into the life and ministry of the congregation, the things that have given explosive fire have been reduced to a steady simmer. 3. Fear: A passionate ministry is an exciting ministry. But it is also a risky ministry. To minister with passion is to risk fear and failure. 4. Risk: Why burn with passion when everything has gone so well? Why “rock the boat” and put the result of endless hours of sweat, toil and tears at risk? 5. Personal Transformation: There’s no doubt about it. The pastoral ministry is a ministry of transformation. Ironically, the ones most transformed in pastoral ministry are often not the parishioners but the pastors. One might call it “God’s little joke” on pastors. Though often related to age and maturity, it is often related to the often painful transitional crises of life. 6. Pain-Avoidance: Pastors and others who have been through intense congregational conflict often develop protective mechanisms to endure. 7. Change of Calling: The Holy Spirit gives–and takes–away spiritual gifts as He chooses. Amid rather surprising circumstances or ever so slowly the calling you have passionately enjoyed begins to transform in ways not suited for your giftedness. Or, on the other hand, through the same circumstances you might be led to a new horizon of giftedness in another area of giftedness. This area may be new, cutting-edge, and unprecedented. Or it may be the resurrection of a gift not fully nurtured and utilized from adolescence and early adulthood…before you were laden with the expectations of ministry. 8. Severe Short-Term Conflict: When conflict occurs, one of the of the greatest blessings is that it occurs and resolves in a relatively short time span. Short-term, severe conflict can require dramatic amounts of emotional, physical and spiritual energy to maintain the ministry. Energy reserves used to maintain the congregation during conflict may often already be running low as the conflict may have resulted from the results of enormous amounts of energy and passion in the stretching out and achieving of the vision. The result is obvious. You’re tired, burned-out, fatigued and feeling a sense of listlessness and purposelessness. 9. Ongoing Attenuated Conflict: Nothing frustrates like the constant drip of a nighttime faucet. It’s not flowing bad enough to get up and fix it. Yet it’s nagging enough to keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. When attempts to fix the leak fail, the frustrating result is “drip, drip, drip.” Attenuated ongoing conflict in a congregation wears out the passion. Fixes don’t work. Vision casting falls on deaf ears. No matter how many things and how many times you try, it’s like trying to cut down a tree with the blunt end of an ax. 10. Serial Failure: You went to the seminar, bought the tapes, purchased the materials and trained the leaders. But time and time again the “magic” programs which were “guaranteed” to work in your church didn’t. Since it was your program, guess who gets blamed? Rick Warren once joked about how the ministry team at Saddleback develops new ministry programs. They begin by just trying–sometimes desperately–to make something work. When it does, they put it in a neat little package and appear as “experts.” Rick’s candidness is healthy. When congregational ministry is given to God, it is freeing to give God the results. 11. Critical Spirit: Legalistic congregations are marked by their critical spirit. This spirit enslaves, drains, shackles and extinguishes every idea, energy, and innovation suggested. It just won’t work, they say. Given the critical, unsupportive spirit of those claiming this, their words are less of a prophecy than a challenge. What they often really mean is “It won’t work…over my dead body. If it does, it will be your body that will be approaching room temperature!” Either way, win or lose, the critical spirit will work on your passion. It will almost undoubtedly try your energies. 12. Avoidance of Accountability: Having too much freedom without accountability can contribute to one’s lack of focus. Certainly this is not to advocate a heavy sense of accountability without joy, freedom and generous affirmation. But a little nudge is not a bad thing for the church or for us. It keeps us focused on our main objective. 13. Leadership Vacuum: No matter what the size, church leadership is always an important issue. Permeating organizational passion comes from multiple leaders in concert with the same sense of vision, determination and commitment. The more leaders displaying these characteristics, the more passion overtakes the organization. One of the most inexplicable phenomenons of ministry is how God allows drastic leadership changes, usually involving the best leaders. As a further frustration, these drastic leadership transitions occur just on the brink of major implementation of a cutting edge initiative. Several other things occur concurrently.
1) First, there may not be a deep enough “bench” of leaders to sustain the building momentum;
2) Second, the absence of leaders may result in an absence of at-hand support to defend the pastor from an extreme vulnerability to antagonists. If change energizes antagonists and conflict, the greatest energy of conflict will be on the eve of implementation of the new.
14. Lowered Change Tolerance Capacity: After experiencing the pain of change and conflict, it’s tempting for some to adopt a “Been there, done that!” or “I won’t do that again!” attitude. Change can create a sense of bitterness. The price exacted may have been extraordinarily high, much higher than expected. However, “once burned, twice shy” applies in many cases of pastoral leadership. The roller coaster may have been too much of a ride. From now on, the pastor may resolve, I’m taking the merry-go-round. That way I can just go safely in circles, year after year, in a predictable and no-risk way. 15. Ongoing Attacks: The constant, day-to-day opposition does get under one’s skin. One can only go so long without going through the cycle of frustration, anger, criticism, trying to reconcile, mediating, compromising, being taken for granted and used, getting frustrated and angry again. It wears away…at passion. 16. Feeling Alone: Like Elijah, our passion is upheld when we are in a team of like-minded passionate individuals. When we’re feeling we’re the only ones left, however, the strength of one may not appear to be enough to hold oneself up. Proverbs 17:7 says,
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (NIV)
Two are stronger than one. The presence of a supportive, trusted corps of others on the team sharpens us. The Hebrew for “sharpen” means to “make more keenly alert.” That’s what teams do. They alert us and given insight relative to our circumstances, our resources, our attitudes, our opposition, our leadership, our faith, and ourselves. Without the ongoing sharpening of character, passion can decline. Personal and family circumstances, loss of key leaders, rejection by esteemed individuals, etc. can leave one feeling dull and unsharpened, powerless, lonely and without passion. 17. Lack of Receiving Peer Affirmation: When was the last time your denominational executive, overseer, or area pastors contacted you personally to uplift you? No, I’m not talking about the “syrupy facade” or perfunctory “How are you?” salutation. I’m talking about the genuine stuff–like lunch, breakfast, a drink, a drop-by in the office, or taking time at a conference to inquire about your ministry and express genuine spiritual concern. An occasional email with a joke, or a “hey, did you hear about…” type of casual exchange can be a significant affirmation. Typically communication from above may only occur when they need something. Maybe what we really need is to recognize the greater need of affirmation and sharpening. This can do wonders to encourage passion, interest and support. 18. Lack of Giving Reciprocal and Peer Affirmation: It is more blessed to give than to receive. As we need others’ support, others need our support. There are many simple ways (cf. 17 above) to encourage those denominational officials. Due to travels they often lack the ongoing opportunity to be sharpened by family, friends, or other denominational staff. Whether one ministers to pastors on a denominational level or as a pastor of a single congregation, oversight can be a lonely life. Without the constant sharpening of reciprocated affirmation, all of us can become vulnerable to losing our passion. Like other leaders, pastors can put on a mask and “fake” passion. But sooner or later, a noticeable loss of passion will appear. The sword, so long unsharpened, just doesn’t cut like it used to. Pull out your sharpening stone of affirmation and find some swords to sharpen! 19. Selfishness: When you won’t give, sacrifice or are withholding from others or your church, you will lose passion. Be stingy with your time, talents, resources, and ministry and you’ll reap what you sowed. 20. Physiological Imbalance: Ministry passion can decrease with various forms of physiological imbalance. Endocrine disorders such as those of the thyroid and pituitary glands can greatly affect attitude, motivation and functioning. Imbalanced cerebral chemistries left untreated can trigger many a multitude of external imbalances. Eating habits, weight, general condition of health also play an important part in the loss of ministry passion. 21. Uncertain Vision: If no one really knows what the organization is attempting to do, there will be little evidence of unified and focused energies. Instead, random and scattered sparks of passion are all around the organization. They create some momentary heat, but the sparks are so broadly scattered that a fire of vision-driven passion never starts. Where there is no unified organizational vision there may be lots of dreams, lots of hopes, lots of “could be’s” and “should be’s.” But there’s probably only a precious little smoke and virtually no fire. No vision and no fire result in no passion. 22. Inability To Follow Through: Perhaps nothing is more discouraging than having people who have committed to a task and been entrusted to carry out the responsibilities fail to follow through. Successful maintenance of passion requires regular, faithful follow-through by at least the critical mass of implementation units. If too few follow through, things just fall flat…including passion. Of all the important reasons for accountability structures, maintenance of passion is probably one of the most important. When repeated lack of follow-through proliferates unhindered in an organization, discouragement and loss of passion are sure to follow. 23. Chronic Shortages And/Or Mismanagement Of Resources: Begging for more help, grumbling and complaining about what one doesn’t have enough of, and making nagging appeals for more money undermines the development of mission-driven passion. Given the greatness of the scope and vision of ministry, many organizations are chronically under-funded, under-manned, and under-powered to achieve. Opportunities for mismanagement range from trying to do too much to allocating resources to less productive areas of ministry. Struggling to “make do” without adequate resources, things may be done second-rate, half-baked, and without much passion. 24. Change Of Organizational Direction…Again: The most certain way to threaten morale of those who minister is to keep changing their role. Take them away from their giftedness, don’t let them get comfortable and accustomed to new roles, keep changing the staff they work with, and keep the expectations changing. Keep them out of the loop of the big picture and give them an anxious sense of wondering, “I wonder how they’ll change my calling tomorrow.” To ensure loss of passion, be sure to leave them “out of the loop” and prevent them from expressing any personal input relative to their preferences. 25. “Trying”: “Try” is a negative word. Implicit in the word “try” is the admission of a real possibility for failure. Though it affirms that efforts will be made, efforts which are “tried” largely have an expectation of failure. Studies have shown that those who “try” fail more than those who “just do it.” Continuing “trying” only leads to more failure and discouragement. Don’t “try” anything. Instead boldly communicate what is going to be done and do it boldly!Passion: A Character Issue The list of things which can reduce or take away passion is virtually endless. However, the real reason for loss of passion is not the externalities of ministry described above. Passion is really an internal issue. It is a spiritual issue which is intimately related to the strength of Christian character. Passion based on–and driven by–externals is a worldly passion. It is subject to change, decay, corruption and destruction. It takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride. It makes us feel happy and excited going up and sad and frightened on the way down. Overall, the roller coaster ride of externally-based passion can be the most anxious and extremely exciting experience one just can’t wait to put behind them and never wants to have to go through again. A Passion For The Wrong Things A major part of the reason for passion problems is that we are passionate for the wrong things. In fact, passion for things is a mis-guided, idolatrous passion. It’s a passion which exalts self over others, elevates one’s own lordship by usurping Christ’s Lordship, prioritizes controlling the results, desires and requires expansive powers, and is always struggling with the anxiety of the “how can I do it better next year” issue. Christian passion is founded on–and is a natural extension of–those things which are the essentials of faith. Christian passion is evidenced in use of the fruits of the Spirit. Christian passion is constantly energized by a spirituality founded and rooted in grace alone. The only external which energizes and maintains Christian passion is the historical reality of a manger, a cross, an empty tomb, and God’s means of grace which testifies to the powerful working of God.
Passion endures through suffering, the unexpected, and failures and successes and is powered by an unshakable certainty of faith. This hope, so essential to Christian character,
“does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:5-6 NIV).That’s the basis of Christian character. Just when we are weak, feeble, powerless, and “anesthetized” to everything around us and in us, Christ pours out his love into our hearts again to give us the only lasting basis of passion: the reminder that He died for the powerless. Most importantly He gave this grace at “just the right time.” He still gives it to us at “just the right time.” It is this daily strength for our powerlessness that gives us a passion which supersedes the need for any other worldly external basis for our passion. Unfortunately, worldly externalities such as approval, success, material gain, temptations to vain-glory, self-exaltation, adoration from the crowds may have all but destroyed the inner passion of grace. Without the internal grace-base we forfeit the only enduring base of Christian passion for public ministry and our personal relationship with Christ. Passion Means Relationship Perhaps one of the biggest deceptions in Christianity today is that passion has been removed from its indigenous relational roots. Leadership literature, secular and Christian, speaks of having a passion for the organization, for the task, for the results, and for the vision. Unfortunately, this often overlooks the most important aspect of passion. Passion is always relational. It is relationship based. There is no passion without relationship. Passion requires an object. Passion is focused on a specific person or thing. In return, the one demonstrating passion is energized by that person or thing. The more completely, specifically, and precisely that object of passion is known, the stronger and more impelling the passion is. Indeed, such passion holds the passionate one captive in relationship. Passion also implies a connection to the a person or thing. This identification of relationship is such that passion creates a radically unique un-differentiation of self. As passion for someone or something intensifies, the greater we lose ourselves and our own identity. In our most passionate moments, we assume the characteristics of that person. We become one with it, mutual in all our doings and dependent upon it to the point that if the object of passion were removed, we might die. Without this passionate connection, life itself would lose meaning. Passion always requires that one gives up their life and sells their soul. Christian passion is nothing less than giving up ones life and sacrificing one’s soul to the One who did that for us first. Those with a weak, externally based passion have not done it. They minister from a self-destruct base of passion. Those who passion is rooted exclusively in Christ are characterized by a powerful passion rooted in genuine, Christ-centered spiritual character. It moves forth boldly and passionately in every ministry situation regardless of the externals. What A Great Way To Live! In his book, What A Way To Live, Tony Evans described a woman who struggled with being unhappy. She had tried all kinds of things to make her happy. Support groups, taking up new hobbies, getting new friends, etc. She even tried weight reduction plans thinking if she looked better she’d feel better about herself. All this was to no avail. Finally, her wrestlings led her to seek ongoing consultation with her pastor. After several months of bi-weekly consultations, she came to her pastor looking uncharacteristically happy and radiant. “You look so wonderful!” the pastor rejoiced. “What did you do? What was it that worked? Tell me, was it a program or a plan that finally helped you?” the pastor asked. “It was not any plan,” she replied. “I’ve found a man!” Our Greatest Ministry Passion: “A Man” Your greatest ministry passion should not be your church. It should not be your evangelism program, your youth outreach, your ministry goals, your ministry to children, the building program, or the like. Neither should your passion be your career ladder, your concern for greater recognition, power, influence, et al. As Christians our passion is a Man, Jesus Christ. Our passion is rooted in His power, His vision, His calling for us. Our passion is fueled by His “right-time” grace in our weakness. Insofar as we adopt a passion which is not based on the all-important passionate relationship to Christ, our passion will destroy us…quickly, certainly and absolutely. Whose Ministry Is It? As soon as a ministry becomes “Pastor So-And-So’s” or another leader’s ministry, a fine line is about to be crossed. It won’t be admitted. It won’t be confessed. But it’s there. It’s the line of idolatry and self-worship. To the degree the church, program or ministry can’t do without you is the degree to which the threat of this perhaps already realized idolatry has occurred. Destructive Passion To the degree to which we have an externally-driven passion for people or things–even godly things–we risk falling into a most unhealthy undifferentiated state of being. When we are identified by our doings, our accomplishments, our ministries, it may be an indicator that our passion for the Man has suffered at the hand of our passion for the things of man, i.e. our programs, our ministries, et al. This kind of passion is destructive. Since it’s based on the externalities of the Law, it does not give life. It can’t give life. It can’t receive or convey Christ’s power. It may make you feel good. It may make you feel important and successful. It may give you a momentary or short-term rush. It may get you attention, raises, accolades and advancements. But that’s only because they’ve worked. Even worse would be to consider that perhaps the reason they worked was because they attracted others with the same mis-focused passion with which you minister. If these programs and initiatives fail, so have you. The resulting failures from that for which you have been so passionate about make you feel you are a failure…a passionate failure. How Jesus Developed Passion Howard Hendricks said, “If you want others to bleed, you must hemorrhage.” This is perhaps the most profound non-Biblical statement of passion we can encounter. It is profound because it points out that the root of our passion is our blood-bought connected-ness with Jesus Christ. Without His passion–and compassion–there is no passion, no reason for doing what we are called to do, namely, minister. Our ministries are not about what we get passionate about. Instead, they are about who or what we are passionate for. When passion is properly focused on the profound and passionate response to the One who felt passionately enough to die for us, “passion” takes on a whole new meaning rooted in grace, rooted in God’s power, rooted in God’s passion for us. Christ’s Passion For Us Passion becomes focused exclusively on just one relationship, our relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is rooted in the awe of God’s passionate love for incompetence, ever-failing, sometimes discouraged, often incompetent, but never unworthy children of God. Reeling in the passionate response of thanksgiving and joy for His blood shed for us, we respond with a bit of grateful and passionate “hemorrhaging” ourselves as a necessary part of extending the blood of Christ to others. That is, after all, what a “living sacrifice” is, isn’t it? One who hemorrhages the blood of Christ received by sharing it with others? A Christian Ministry Is Passion-ate The ministry can be difficult, demeaning, depressing and damaging. But, when the focus of our passion is Christ alone and His grace for us, it is never discouraging. It is always a passion of love characterized by the things that love entails–things like sacrifice, suffering, going the extra mile, enduring, and sticking out whatever happens to our earthly passions. After all, doesn’t our grace-responding passion for Jesus Christ overwhelm and overcome all other passions? If it doesn’t, maybe we ought to passionately re-examine our passions and with inexhaustible passionate redirect our passion to God alone! Get The Right Passion! One of the most passionate men of Scriptures was Saint Paul. Looking at his ministry, one might seek to have the same passion as Paul did so that God could be glorified in our ministries as He was in St. Paul’s ministry.
What was Paul’s secret? He had but one passion. Not five, not four, not three, not two. Just one or, more correct, One. His one passion was not tied to buildings, programs, churches, specific ministries or anything else. Certainly these sprang up marvelously as God blessed the fruit of Paul’s grace-based passion. But these were not His passion. His passion was proclaiming a Man, Jesus Christ.
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined [i.e. “passionate”] not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 KJV)Paul’s One Passion Paul was determined, focused, resolved and firm in his conviction and judgment as to the object of his passion. It was Christ. His words to the Corinthians indicated he could care less about anything except that which was worthy of his passion. Anything less than his determination to preach Christ was simply not worth being passionate about.
That passion was a healthy passion. It was rooted in his awesome gratitude for God. It was rooted in his recognition of unworthiness as a sinner. It was rooted in a profound sense that he was who he was only because of Jesus’ passion for him. Given the amazing singularity of Christ’s passion for him, he determined that the giving of his life would be similarly singular. He would preach Christ.
Paul knew that if his passion was rooted in his speech, in his preaching, in his wisdom or in his strength, it would fail. Like so many of us, he had to find out the hard way. It’s not until your worldly passion is destroyed and shown to be rubbish (literally “excrement”) that you see how misguided your passion really was. Like Paul, you may have thought you were zealous for God. But you were woefully and tragically mistaken.
It’s only when one goes through the process which Paul described in Philippians 3:3ff that you finally aspire to the only passion you need. From this passion proceeds the most important consequential passion, the passion to declare passionately to others God’s passion for them and you.
What’s Your Passion? What’s your passion? Do you need to re-orient some of your passions? Are your passions tearing you away from being healthily connected to the greatest Passion in our lives? Beware! Just because it has the name “church” or “Christian” or “ministry” attached to it doesn’t mean your passion is Christ-centered. Our unhealthy, sinful and Law-rooted passions are identified by their transitory character, their dependence on us, and the “rush” or frustration we receive from them. If people can shake it, it’s external. If circumstances can affect it, it’s human. If it fades when everything crumbles, it can’t be of God. Where To Get Passion The only passion to which God has called us is to the passionate relationship with Christ. This God-initiated relationship results in a passion to preach the Gospel through and by any means possible. Though God’s Word never fails to have the effect He desires, we must always recognize that whatever external means are used to proclaim the Gospel are subject to success and failure, rise and decline, freshness and stagnation. That, however, is not a problem. It is God’s Word that endures, not our programs…no matter how passionately we implement them! Do you want passion? Do you need passion? Looking for where to get passion? Go to the cross! See the passion-ate love of Christ for you! Experience the joyful life-sustaining renewal of Christ’s love for you. Let the Holy Spirit work in you the joyful experience of His grace to permeate and titillate every bone, sinew, muscle and tissue in your body, soul and mind. Now that’s passion! Oh, what a feeling! Oh, what a message! Oh what a calling…to have your passion be a singular, life-changing, ministry-directing passion from and for Christ alone! Thomas F. Fischer