“Content makes poor men rich, Discontent makes rich men poor.”
“Better a handful of dry dates and content therewith than to own the Gate of Peacocks and be kicked in the eye by a broody camel.”
It may be hard to believe, but Americans are the most unhappy people on earth. At least that is the conclusion of a recent study by the World Health Organization and the Harvard Medical School. According to their research, 9.6% of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder – the highest rate of the 14 nations surveyed. Apparently our Prozac society has a greater percentage of depressed people than war-ravaged Lebanon (6.6%); job-starved Mexico (4.8%); carefree and hedonistic Italy (3.8 %); or overworked, socially rigid Japan (3.1 %)! And how’s this for a paradox: Nigeria, a land of desperate poverty, rampant corruption and violent tribal conflict, had the lowest depression rate of all – just 0.8 %!
How can this possibly be true? One explanation is that when your life is a struggle for clean water and adequate food, you don’t have time to indulge in existential despair. On the other hand, anAtlanta attorney making $250,000 a year may find himself “depressed” if he doesn’t make full partner by his mid-30s. It may also be that in less modern societies, people find comfort and meaning in their families, their faith and their traditions.
Could it be possible that this attitude of discontentment extends to ministry? A pastor grows discontented with his elders/deacons/board. The associate staff members becomes dissatisfied with their senior pastor. The minister that pastors 85 longs to be responsible for a congregation of 350 while the pastor of 500 is enticed by the challenges of a multi-staff mega-church of 2000. Being in a position of leadership – even Christian leadership – is no guarantee that you are exempt from this contentment tension.
We may try to mask our motives behind religious rhetoric, but the truth is our actions are often times more compelled by a desire to build our kingdom than in building His Kingdom. “Bigger,” “faster” and “newer” have become substitutes for authentic, genuine, servant leadership. Now of course I am not endorsing spiritual laziness or ministerial complacency, but I have come to realize that much of what I have done in my ministry has been prompted more by a desire for approval and acceptance than by a “holy discontent.”
Perhaps a few directed questions are in order to focus our attention and personalize the application:
1. Must I continually attain to feel good about myself?
2. Must I enlarge my ministry to feel good about myself?
3. Is my self worth wrapped up in my ability to accomplish a goal?
4. Will greater ministry success bring happiness and fulfillment?
5. Can I rejoice in another pastor’s/ministry’s success (even if he is younger, less educated, of another denomination) without feeling competitive or inferior?
Take it from someone who has personally battled these issues of approval and accomplishment: if you must meet certain performance standards in order to feel good about yourself, not only will you be driven to perfectionism, but it is a clear indication that you have not personally applied grace. If your self-worth is based upon your ability to accomplish a goal, you may be lead to manipulating others so as to achieve your own success. In battling a personal fear of rejection, you may be tempted to please others at any cost. This has the potential to make you overly sensitive to criticism.
There will always be churches with more people and more impressive facilities than yours. There will always be ministries with far greater visibility and media reach. There will always be church plants that experience faster and greater growth than you have realized. If I embrace this performance driven, religious competition, I will promote an unhealthy ministry comparison which will lead to personal and pastoral discontent. Discontentment can poison relationships with jealousy and competition and will suffocate God’s grace in my life.
This may be a great time to be reminded of the Apostle Paul’s counsel: “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4.11-12, The Message). It’s just a thought!
Stay the Course,
Dr. Greg Morris