Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Platforms, Motives & Ministry

There can be tremendous pressure in westernized public ministry.  If you are in ministry, you probably know exactly what I mean.  Don't get me wrong - real ministry - the kind that comes from a heart to serve, a heart to love and make a difference for the Lord - that's different.  I'm talking about commercialized, public "ministry" where the world tells you that you must make it big in order to be significant and make a difference - you know, build a platform, create a persona, seize every opportunity to get your name out there - so that's what you do.  You try.  You wear yourself out.  Then you question your motives.   I have been through this and I can tell you, it's the hardest thing I've ever struggled with. There's a fine line between promoting the message God has given you and promoting yourself.

I spoke to a friend once who told me that she was discouraged because she was a Christian speaker who couldn't find anyone to publish her book.  She said that they told her that her story (her testimony) wasn't "edgy" enough.  She didn't feel she'd ever be able to succeed in ministry because she didn't have one of those rags to riches (spiritually speaking) stories that seem to sell books.  It made me wince when she said this.  I knew she was right, according to the publishing world...but I also knew her heart for ministry was genuine and I knew she would be successful in God's eyes - even if that meant she'd never "make it big" in the world's eyes.  He's looking at her heart, not her popularity.  My heart breaks when I hear believers who grew up in a Christian home, who never had to go through a big "gory story" say that their testimony isn't interesting!  I think it's a beautifully encouraging story when you can share with people that it truly is possible to live the Christian life from an early age and it can actually carry you through adulthood!  Wow, that's a testimony in my book.

A couple of years ago, I was in serious talks with a book publisher who wanted to publish a book with me.  We had the first three chapters done and the proposal done.  But then I found out from CBS that I couldn't even mention the word Survivor in my book or they would not approve it.  So I thought I'd just try to change the way I wrote it and not write about anything that had to do with Survivor.  Well, I was basically told that without my Survivor platform, I was not going to be a good risk for publishing because nobody would know who I was.  They closed the door on that deal quickly.  My literary agent parted ways with me, since I was an "unknown".  I was devastated. It hurts to be told you are a "nobody" and it took me a very long time to recover from this blow. 

I was also once told that unless I have a published book, nobody will want to bring me in to speak.  I have a self-published book, but that's different (I was told that a self-published book was a big no-no to publishers, too - I just couldn't do anything right!) I bought into this for awhile and felt very discouraged because I felt that God had given me a speaking ministry - and I find tremendous joy in sharing God's word and my story of His faithfulness in my life with others.  So I prayed.  I just finished my quiet time and I read in Matthew 7 about the wise man building his house upon the rock while the foolish man built his house upon the sand.  During my prayer, the Lord whispered to my heart:  Leslie, Survivor is a sinking sand platform.  I want you to build this ministry on the Rock - the solid Rock - Me.  You may be "unknown" to them, but I know you and I love you.  You are mine.

After this prayer, I gave up my quest to be a more well-known speaker and get a book published.  I just totally let it go.  I was trying too hard.  Yuck!  Usually that is a red flag that I'm doing something God hasn't asked me to do.  Desperation doesn't look good on anyone. It's not about being well-known - it's about doing ministry from the heart.  Ministry is actually out of the overflow of a heart that is full and in love with the Lord.  If my purpose in doing something is so that publishers will notice or so that people will know ME, then I'm in it for all the wrong reasons. 

I don't want to be self-promoting...I want to be Christ-promoting. I want people to seek Him, not me.  And you know what?  God, Himself, has lined up speaking engagements for me this past year and a half.   I've been busier than ever!  He's doing it - not me.  I'm just trying to be content in whatever He has for me at this time.  One day at a time - one step at a time - with my eyes focused on Him. I can honestly say this past year and a half of ministry has been the most rewarding I just "mount up on wings of eagles" and allow Him to carry me where He wants me to go and serve.

And that book?  Well, it's flowing out of me and I don't care if it ever gets published, I'm going to write it.  It's ministering to me as I write it out of an obedient heart that has no expectations.  If God wants to publish it, He will.  Whether I'm a "nobody" in the eyes of the publishing world doesn't matter because I'm definitely not a nobody in His eyes. (smile)  I'm trying to remember that man's rejection is always God's protection.  God has a purpose in everything and I cannot take it personally.

If you are in ministry and you've found yourself a slave to the way people say you should do things...please, let God speak to you today about your motives.  When I searched my heart, I didn't like what I found.  Was I seeking Him first, or was I seeking a platform?  But in the process, I also found tremendous grace and peace from the Lord.  He will open the doors He wants opened and He will lead me to do the things He wants me to do for His glory, not my own.

This is a tough line - I know it.  Some days I just want to quit everything and disappear all together!  The temptations to build a kingdom of my own are always there and the world is there cheering me on to do just that.  It would be easier just to stop everything and just hide out at home under the covers.  When you put yourself out there, you are vulnerable.  But I have to trust God's timing and His plan and go forward in the gifts and passions He has put in my heart as I delight in Him.

Who knows what God will do in the future?  It's not a focus of mine anymore, though.  I've decided to focus on my relationship with Him and allow all the other stuff to happen in His timing.  I'm standing on His sturdy platform!

I want to encourage Him.  Seek Him.  He will guide you and direct you.  And if you never publish a book, I guarantee He will still use you.  He's God - He can do anything.  And when He's working through you, so can you.

 Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News.  Our purpose is to please God, not people.  He alone examines the motives of our hearts.


Donna Mooney said...

Thank you for this message this morning Leslie! I appreciate your honesty so much, and your words are so encouraging.
The Scripture you shared was just what I needed to hear, as well as "one day at a time, one step at a time, with my eyes focused on Him." I also love the picture of the little girl with the balloon.
I continue to stand in awe that God loves me enough to have you be a part of this incredible year. When He asked for it, I never knew He would do such amazing things to prove His love for me.
Thank you for your obedience to Him, and for your encouragement to others. I am so blessed, and I will be the first in line to buy your next book!

Leslie Nease said...

Donna, you are so sweet! :) SO thrilled the Lord has allowed me to be a small part of this wonderful year of yours! He's so gracious!

Sean Shroll said...

Leslie, as a pastor I appreciate your comments on this temptation. You're right on the mark. It's especially hard with success in ministry because we know that a bigger audience will mean the possibility of a greater number of lives to impact. I often combat the temptation by remembering that one of the greatest needs in our day is discipling. So many Christians have not been mentored in how to go deeper in their relationship with God. That kind of discipleship takes time and happens best in smaller groups. So, I'll reach who He leads me to reach and disciple who He leads me to disciple. His "well done good and faithful servant" will always be the highest praise and far more than I deserve. Blessings!

Leslie Nease said...

Hi Sean! What great insight you've given - and so true! It's hard sometimes because I do like to have impact on many lives for Christ, but I used to hate the "love 'em and leave 'em" aspect of itinerant speaking. That's why I have ladies in my life who mentor me and others whom I have the privilege of mentoring. When I speak at retreats, my mentor goes with me and we always emphasize and even do break out sessions on the importance of mentoring, too - hugely important! God bless you, Sean.

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