What’s wrong with seeking applause?
Satan’s second temptation for Jesus was an invitation to demonstrate his power for greatest effect. “The second temptation to which Jesus was exposed,” writes Nouwen, “was precisely the temptation to do something spectacular, something that could win him great applause.” The root temptation here is the desire to be the hero, the answer person, to be good at everything, or at least better than others.


Many in ministry burn themselves up trying to make everyone happy and trying to make every attempt at ministry successful, whether it is a new program, sermon series, counseling, or fund-raiser. Again, at first glance, wanting to be successful does not seem wrong. What is wrong and dangerous is the pursuit of success for its own sake. The pursuit of affirmation. Or simply the desire to look better than others. Often the driving force behind this is the fear of failure or rejection from someone.


In the book, Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers, Kirk Byron Jones writes on the three driving forces behind burnout and these are the illusions (or delusions) of invincibility, indispensability, and the denial of our humanity. If we fall into the temptation of being “spectacular” or in more down-to-earth language the temptation to be the hero, then we often cannot be human, have limitations, and especially we cannot fail. While most of us believe theologically that “our” ministry is really God’s ministry, and he is responsible for the growth, our minds are filled with self- condemning language when a ministry effort falls short of our expectations.


“We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for,” writes Nouwen. “How can priests or ministers feel really loved and cared for when they have to hide their own sins and failings from the people to whom they minister and run off to a distant stranger to receive a little comfort and consolation?”


One of the questions we sometimes ask Christian leaders who come to Marble Retreat is, “When was the last time that you felt loved?” and then we further penetrate with the clarifying question, “When was the last time that you felt loved in your brokenness?” One of the hurdles to experiencing love in brokenness is not sharing your brokenness with others. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” said Jesus. This requires that we overcome the hurdle of not wanting to accept our own brokenness.


One of the therapeutic steps to healing is accepting that “I am a sinner in need of grace” (not, I was a sinner in need of grace). Often ministry leaders teach this, but inwardly they believe, “I am a bit inadequate, in need of perfection.” There is a big difference between the two. When a pastor comes because they have sinned and continue to ask, “Why? How could I have done this?” Underneath the real reasons that motivated that particular sin is the fact that Christian leaders are sinners in need of grace. Yet, many Christian leaders seem a little stunned when they sin, or when they get caught sinning.


Peter was in shock. He had just blown up his life. Through tears he just kept asking why and how. While the temptation was to focus specifically on the climactic sin, we first spent time unpacking the life he had created that set the stage for the sin. Predictably it was a life of production, of seeking admiration (even adulation), of being wanted and sought after. It was also a life of loneliness, of fear of failure, of not being known, of emotional and relational disconnection, of constant exhausting maneuvering to always look and sound good. The first affair started as many affairs do, with an empathetic ear and a gentle touch on the arm. The connection and a place to be real with someone was addictive. He eventually had mistresses in several cities where he often went to speak. He began to find that after each public appearance he had an overwhelming urge to see one of his girlfriends. An increasing disconnect was happening in his soul, especially when doing public ministry roles, which was feeding his longing for connection, even when those connections were illicit and shame inducing.