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THE MISTRESS OF MINISTRY

by Mike Robinson


I had anticipated this moment with an emotional mixture of intimidation and challenge. The intimidation was generated by the fact that I was standing before a large group of my fellow pastors and I was to deliver the opening address at our annual Pastors' Conference. The element of challenge found its focus in the question, "How can I outflank their professional communication skills and their ability to anticipate what they think I'm about to say? How can I arrest their attention long enough to make my point?"

I decided to take a risk and begin with a confession that would need more than a little explanation!

"I begin tonight with a very difficult confession before you, my fellow Pastors. There is no simple or easy way to say this; so I will just say it: I have been guilty of having an affair."

The tension level took a quantum leap upward! Some of those sitting in front of me were my peers. I had trained with these men for Ministry. I noted some looks of stunned disbelief. Others showed their disbelief in smiles that indicated that they knew I had to have an angle here of some kind!
I continued... "In one sense, I can think of no better place to make such a confession than in the presence of other Pastors because most of you will have long since recognised your own vulnerability. In another sense, I can think of no worse place to acknowledge my failure because the judgment of my peers has the potential to be the worst kind of condemnation.

Now I can almost hear your ask the question, 'How can one who is supposedly committed to the Lord Jesus and to his own wife ever allow another relationship to develop to the point where those two holy relationships are endangered?'

As best I can determine, it began with a flaw or weakness in my own character that was (and is) wide open to exploitation. Like many of you, I have a need to be needed and to be affirmed. sometimes I think that need is above and beyond what might be considered healthy. I further acknowledge that I am at my most vulnerable when there is an absence of encouragement and affirmation in my emotional diet".

Well, so far my explanation was not doing very much to lessen the tension level. I pressed on....

"My mistress was very subtle. She knew my emotional need for praise and affirmation in my life and she was quick to meet that need. Time and again she was ready to speak warmly of my qualities as a person and my endeavours as a Pastor. In return, she seemed to require so little - initially, at least. She repeatedly assured me that our developing relationship need not negatively effect my relationship with Bev, my wife, or with the Lord. At first she had told me she would be satisfied if I only offered her the time that was left after my prior relational responsibilities. It seemed that I could have my cake and eat it, too! It all seemed so legitimate...so rational...so inviting.....so fulfilling....just too good to be true!

But as time passed, this seemingly free liaison became increasingly demanding. I began to realise that I was becoming both enmeshed and addicted to the relationship.

My mistress was demanding more and more of my time. She began to begrudge the time I gave to Bev and my family. She also began to make demands on the time I had initially reserved for the Lord".

It was at this point that I became aware that a number of my listeners were becoming restless in their chairs while others sat like statues as though any movement might betray an inner response. of guilt. I was beginning to wonder if my approach was a bad choice. Too late now. I continued:

"As I tried to meet those demands, the intensity of my guilt began to increase. My priority commitments to my Lord and my wife came under enormous pressure. I found myself making excuses for the decreasing amount of time I was spending with Bev. I kept telling her that my lack of time with her and the family was part of the sacrifice we had to make for the sake of the Lord's work. I seemed to be forever asking forgiveness from God because of what I was allowing to happen in my relationship with Him".

"Another complicating and destructive factor in all this mess was that my mistress was now claiming that she, too, had needs that only I could meet. I found myself in the terrible situation of becoming indispensable to her and that just added to the feelings of fragmentation. The whole dynamic had become like a spiritual "Fatal Attraction". It sounds stupid even as I say it but, as demanding as she became, even that price was worth paying when I lost sight of where my needs were supposed to be met and tried to meet them with her. The paradox is that I have both warmly welcomed her and deeply resented her. I have sought consolation with her and yet I have despised the cost of that comfort".

I now began to note some further changes in the facial expressions of my listeners. Some, at least, were beginning to suspect that this was not what it first appeared to be! Some mental gears were beginning to turn in another direction as they tried to pre-empt just where I was going with this 'confession'? It seems that even pastors don't want to be the last to get it!

"I began by confessing to you that I had a mistress. I deliberately made that statement in the past tense. I did so partly as a statement of fact and partly as a statement of hope. It is a statement of fact inasmuch as, at this point of time, I do not have a mistress. That destructive relationship is now broken and is part of my history. I have owned it and I have been forgiven".

"It is a statement of hope inasmuch as I fully realise that I am capable of re-commencing that liaison at any time; particularly during those periods of emotional weakness when others seem insensitive to my needs. I know that she is always there ready to meet that need.

And now, as part of my confession, I have determined to complete my confessional atonement before you by actually naming my mistress to you".

The tension that had started to ease with some was quickly restored with this last remark! In fact, I was to find out later that two or three had determined by this time to get out of their seats and leave the room.

"I name her in your presence because, as I have listened to fellow pastors talk over the years, I believe some of you also know her and you may want to join me in my confession and atonement.

Her name is 'MINISTRY'".

The tension level, which had varied quite noticeably to this point, now relaxed very noticeably!

Ah, yes! I can see from the looks on some faces that there are those of you who are acquainted with her. That being the case, perhaps you might like to journey with me a little further as I try to explain the process of recovery and restoration to my wife and to my God that has happened for me.

Before I ask you to walk further with me in this expose, I need first to make another confession and, perhaps, an apology.

I recognise that, in using the analogy of an affair to make a point, I have run the very serious risk of piercing the hearts of those who may be struggling with a more literal affair or relationship than what I have described. If I have unwittingly and unhelpfully wounded you, I do ask for your forgiveness and understanding. On the other hand, if my analogy has pierced your heart with conviction, I do not apologise for that.

The reason I have been prepared to take the risk in describing the dynamics of this unhealthy relationship with "ministry" in terms of an affair is that I really believe that "ministry" can become a destructive "affair of the heart" that has the capacity to estrange us from our families. I, for one, have felt times of enormous pressure and conflict of interest as I have sought to be both a loving husband and a faithful Pastor. In retrospect, I can see that those pressures have been largely of my own making and have emerged in my life because of my failure to understand the true relationship that I was to have with "ministry".

Let me explain first how the Lord Jesus moved to expose and correct what had become an idol in my life. Even now it sounds strange to refer to "ministry" as an idol. But if an idol is something to which one devotes the major portion of one's time, energy and effort....if an idol is that for which I am willing to sacrifice just about everything in my life...if an idol is anything that comes between me and my God and competes for that devotion, loyalty and commitment that ought to belong only to Him.....then "Ministry " had become such an idol.....such a mistress.

As I think back now, one of the factors that led to the emergence of this form of idolatry was the confusion that developed when I lost sight of the fact that God had called me to Himself before ever he called me to "the ministry".

I have been challenged again by the call of the early disciples recorded in Mark 3 where the purpose for which Jesus called His disciples was "...that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach..."

That sequence has now become so important to me. God has called us first of all to Himself. He first says, "Come to me....." before He says, "Go into all the world...." All ministry must flow out of that reality. Of course, if you had asked me at any point in my 30 years of pastoral ministry if I believed that, truth I would have answered with a prompt "Yes!" But that answer would have come from my head, not my heart. The truth is that there is a lot that I affirm with my head which, if my actions are any indication, I do not really believe in my heart.



There is a key passage in Luke 10 that has helped me regain a perspective that my former mistress took from me. When the seventy-two disciples returned from their ministry assignment, they were ecstatic that even the demons were subject to the authority that Christ had given them. They had experienced a good time with "ministry"!! I hear in their words feelings of fulfilment, excitement and anticipation for what the future might hold by way of further ministry.

However, Jesus firmly added a corrective to their understandable enthusiasm. He said to them: "I have given you authority to overcome all the power of the enemy. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven". (Luke 10:20)

Jesus was identifying for them - and for us - the only source and basis of joy and rejoicing and it was not be in the "ministry". Sure, we may be grateful for those times of blessing that result from what we do for Him but the only appropriate, unchanging and dependable source of joy is in our relationship with Jesus....the fact that our names are written down in heaven and we are secure in that fact!

Like some of you, I have often made the mistake of finding my joy elsewhere... especially with "ministry" ....and she has a way of becoming a mistress....an idol. Too often my perspective and mood swings are directly effected by "ministry"! My source of joy becomes confused and I find myself on an emotional roller-coaster. I have also discovered that it is so easy, as a pastor, to develop a "professional" relationship with Jesus. In that kind of relationship, He is the "employer" and I am the "employee".

By contrast, I was challenged by the basis of Jesus' joy identified in the same passage: "At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth...Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure". (Luke 10:21). Here is the heartbeat of Jesus in terms of His relationship with His Father. His source of joy was in the other two members of the Godhead - the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Maybe that is why we never see Jesus centred upon the results of His ministry as though that was the beginning and end of everything. He never allowed "ministry" to become His mistress. He knew how to say "No" without feeling guilty. He knew how and when to serve and how and when to retreat...even in the midst of the demands and expectations of those about Him. Luke records these simple but telling words in chapter 5:16: "The news about Him spread all the more so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed".

Prayer retreats in the midst of human need! What kind of Pastor is this?

I hear echoes of that same demanding insistence in the words of the disciples when Jesus had gone out early in the morning to pray. In Mark 1:37, we are told that they came to him and said, "Everyone is looking for you!" Roughly translated that seems to me to mean, "You are indispensable! They can't do without you! Prayer is nice in its right place but you don't have time for that luxury right now! We are surrounded by need!"

Jesus response is both startling and instructive: "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. That is why I have come".(Mark 1:38)

What kind of Pastor indeed! The answer is simple and disturbing. Jesus was a Shepherd/Pastor who knew what His Father wanted Him to do and He did it - nothing more, nothing less and nothing else. He was the kind of Pastor who, at the end of His earthly ministry could say, "I have completed the work that you gave me to do"! (John 17:4). He fulfilled God's agenda for Him, not the expectations of countless other people. He was the kind of Pastor who found his joy in His relationship with God; not in what He did for God!

While I am grateful for what God does through "ministry", I am nowhere called to rejoice in the ministry or to rejoice in who I am or what I am doing. I am to be with Jesus and to rejoice in Him and in the relationship He has established with me as expressed in the fact that my name is written in heaven.

Part of my restoration process has been to set aside every Wednesday afternoon for a personal retreat time when I go away from my office and my home and I spend time with Jesus - not Jesus, my employer but Jesus, the lover of my soul. That's our time. I try not to talk "business" with Him in that setting. ....if you understand what I mean.

Knowing my own initial response to God's call for that time to be set aside, I am fairly certain that there are those of you who are now assuring yourselves that there is no way you can afford to be so extravagant with your use of time. In your priorities, such time allocation, while perhaps desirable, is not possible. You are busy telling yourself that the demands on your time are such that they exclude any possibility of 3 or 4 hours spent with the Lord in a block like that each week. Brothers and sisters, those words are being seductively whispered in your heart by the mistress....."ministry". I know because she has seduced me time and again with the same rationale. There is so much to be done, isn't there?

All that brings me to another biblical address that I have often had to visit. It is again in Luke 10. This time it is the domestic scene recorded in vs. 38-42.

The Lord has repeatedly drawn my attention to the difference between Martha and Mary.......Martha, the activist, and Mary, the listener. The question with which God has often challenged me is, "Who most clearly reflects your priorities - Martha or Mary?"

The answer is usually Martha. Now, you and I are hardly in a position to question her heart and her motives. They may well have been of the highest calibre. But what we are told is what was happening to her on the inside as she gave herself to 'ministry'. The three words used of her emotional condition are "distracted", "worried" and "upset".

Please don't get me wrong here. Someone had to prepare the meal. Someone had to be out in the kitchen. But the challenge to me is what was happening to Martha in terms of her attitude. Did you pick up on the resentment that was fermenting towards her sister? The water on the stove wasn't the only thing boiling out in the kitchen that day! "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" (Luke 10:40)

She was becoming resentful towards her sister and dictatorial towards her Lord! She presumed to direct Jesus as to what He should do to get her immobile sister mobile!! How often I have done that over the years! Jesus was again gracious but firm in His evaluation of the condition of Martha's heart.


He corrected Martha and commended Mary. Martha was committed to the urgent whereas Mary was committed to the important. Martha opened her home whereas Mary opened her heart. Martha gave her service whereas Mary gave herself.

I don't think it is coincidental that I hear in that inter-change an echo of what God has often said to my heart. Have you not had times when, in your genuine desire to serve the Lord, you have become distracted by all the things that had to be done? You have become worried and upset over the many things. You have become resentful towards your brothers and sisters in Christ because they seem to have been immobile when they should have been up and working. You have become resentful and guilty about the time your wife and family seemed to expect.

You have even presumed to complain to the Lord of the Church in such a way as to suggest that, if He paid some attention to your plight, He might just begin to do things the way you think they should be done. When those dynamics begin to emerge, we can be sure that "ministry" has successfully seduced us and become our mistress.

But what about that other prior relationship in all this...my relationship with my wife, Bev? We have just celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary. We have three great kids, two delightful daughters-in-law and 5 wonderful grand-daughters!! As I look back over the almost 40 years that I have been a Pastor, I can say that my wife has been very understanding about many, many aspects of what it means for me to be a pastor and her place as my wife.

She has been less than understanding about my mistress!!

I recall how, when we were in our sixth year of pastoral ministry back in the early seventies, Bev first tried to speak to me about how "ministry" was coming between us. I couldn't understand why she felt as she did because, after all, we were doing the Lord's work! From time to time she tried to explain how she felt and why but it was to no avail. I was blind to the fact that the dynamics of the "eternal triangle" were appearing in our relationship. Only it was not another woman. But it was a mistress, sure enough.

Bev was teaching school at the time and, because I had relatively little time for her, she began to apply herself in her work to the point where, on one day of rare enlightenment for me, I found myself thinking that she seemed to care more for her work than she did for me!

And suddenly my eyes were opened! Within 24 hours of that revelation, I was down at the travel agent trying to organise a holiday just for the two of us. It proved to be a smart move! We had a great time away together and a new start in our relationship when we came home.

You would think that I would have learned from that experience, wouldn't you? The truth is that my mistress was waiting to seduce me as soon as we came back. I have had to learn that the commitment of giving my wife the priority she deserves as my God-given partner in life is never static. It is always dynamic in the sense that it is a daily choice.

Over the years since that first realisation, I have sought to give to Bev the time commitment she deserves as my wife but it has been with varying degrees of success and failure.

From time to time, she has suggested that I should take time out from pastoral ministry so that we could have extended time as a family without those unique demands and expectations that constitute pastoral ministry. The very idea was anathema! Didn't she realise I was needed...even indispensable?!

Somehow I had become so involved again with my mistress that to even think of extended leave was tantamount to a betrayal of some kind! I look back now and I can see that what Bev was suggesting, in effect, was a sabbatical....a God-ordained principle.....a period of refreshment and renewal of our spiritual and emotional lives and our relationship together.

It was still some time before I began realising something else that was obvious to Bev long before it dawned on me. I was loosing my cutting edge. The vision of the Lord and a right understanding of my relationship to ministry had again become fuzzy. I was getting tired in the ministry....not physically tired but emotionally and spiritually weary. Although I took holidays and long service leave, the benefits seemed very short-lived.

It was towards the end of the 1980's that these realisations began to dawn and I can recall sharing with the Church Leadership what Bev had been saying for quite some time: namely, a growing sense that I was finding little fulfilment and a lot of tiredness and that I needed to take extended leave. So clearly did the Lord seem to say, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest". (Mark 6:31)

We resigned from that Church at the end of 1989 and we spent the next 14 months obeying and enjoying the biblical principle of the Sabbath. The level of renewal and refreshment that came to us is beyond my ability to describe and we both returned ready to embrace the Lord's call to service in a new and enthusiastic way.

We went to a new Church at the beginning of 1991 And guess what? The mistress called "Ministry" had moved to the new Church!! But there is now some understanding of how she operates and the way she seduces.

I feel free of her at the moment but I know that I need to daily monitor her attempts to seduce me and my response to her. I have come to accept that I will live with this tension for the rest of my pastoral life. It will involve daily choices for me. Somehow, I feel at peace about that prospect now that the "enemy" has been identified and her tactics are out in the open. I am also encouraged by the fact that the antidote to her poison has also been identified - a daily yielding of my life to my Lord and to my wife.

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