Since listening to JP’s reception talk at the annual EPS meeting in New Orleans, periodically I have been confronted with thoughts regarding one of his points — the third I believe. It had to do with proper motives for our work or should I be more forthright and say our calling (my word, not his). What has challenged me is how easy it is to be subtly captivated by misguided motives even when doing what is good — particular for those of us in the academy. The particular motive of which I speak is self-promotion. It is when our ministries are shaped by the desire to be recognized by others who we think to be ahead of us urges us to get their attention and let them know how much we know. It is like the person who goes to the party and while talking to one person is constantly casting his eye about the crowd to see if there is someone more important to talk to. Or, manipulating a situation so you can place yourself in optimum relationship to some important person.
One way this attitude reveals itself is being obsessed with knowing the right people and making sure they know who you are, and networking only for advancement and recognition. Another is that the classroom becomes a place where the professor tries to impress the student with what and who he knows instead of a passion to teach Truth for their education and edification — to see the teaching as his ministry to the Church, the Body of Christ.
Such dangers present themselves to all of us and it requires daily vigilance to deny their grip on our lives and hence our ministries. It is so easy to allow the air of professionalism to smother a passion for the Truth in the Spirit of Christ — a passion for Truth which is a passion for Christ who is the Truth. Of course, we want to do our very best in the work and networking is not wrong, but it should not be motivated merely for recognition or praise, but as a testimony of faithfulness to the risen Christ who has called us as his witnesses.
In addition, the unhealthy attitude of self – promotion encourages a very narrow view of Christian ministry where my discipline is all that concerns me — we do not see our work as simply a part of the whole. Instead, one labors as if all that matters is what he is doing. For example, thinking that apologetics operates as a stand alone work. In this case, it makes apologetics (using apologetics as an example) more of a badge I wear instead of a life I live. The end is that the individual work tends to be fragmented and selfish while the work of Christ as a whole suffers. This also often makes us very territorial in the academy. We end up talking only to ourselves.
I suppose some of my thoughts come because of my age. I remember being taught by men and women some 45 years ago when I became a Christian. I am still challenged by their dedication, sacrifice, and deep concern for me — the new Christian to be shaped into the image of Christ. They taught me by word, attitude and lifestyle. They had a passion for Truth (which is a passion for Christ) that was so focused that it consumed their very being— a focus I think worth imitating. Recognition as a chief motivation for being in the work was unknown to them. Ideas were important, even necessary, but not as something used as rungs on a ladder to recognition, but as guidance in life for godly living. As I begin the new year, my prayer is that I will be vigilant in auditing my motives that it might be that the love of Christ alone moves me forward in the work.