Creative Leadership

The Difference Between Passion and Obsession In Ministry

When I teach Christian leaders about the power of a brand story, I tell them it’s not something you add on, but something you already are. It’s something to discover. What’s the essence of your personal story? What do people think of when they think of you? Where is your passion and calling? What’s your area of expertise? But as I look at other leaders, I see how that expertise or passion can become an obsession. The Park Forum devotional mentioned this recently about Harold Camping – who became famous for predicting the end of the world (multiple times):

“Harold Camping was obsessed with “the mystery of what the Scriptures might reveal as the date of the apocalypse” and repeatedly–from 1988 to 2011–predicted its timing. “Critics called him a con man, a lunatic, and worse,” said his obituary in The New York Times. But his followers gave tens of millions of dollars to support his media campaigns so that he could warn people about the Last Day–May 21, 2011. People rushed to marriages, ran up credit card debts, threw parties, quit jobs, and gave away possessions. When nothing happened, though, he was “flabbergasted” and amended the date–October 21, 2011. Again, though, nothing happened. So he offered an apology.”

While some may say he was completely off his rocker, had he been more scripturally balanced, Harold Camping could have contributed a great deal to the study of Bible prophecy. But when it became an unbalanced obsession, it simply got weird. You may think that’s unusual, but I see it with other pastors and Christian leaders on a regular basis. For some, a focus on marriage ministry becomes the lens they see everything through. For others, a legitimate desire to teach financial principles becomes an obsession, so that every aspect of their ministry becomes about money. With others it’s health and diet, politics, or cults. I heard one pastor talk endlessly about “atmosphere” and how God couldn’t work unless you create a certain atmosphere for his presence. So now he’s written a book about the importance of atmosphere and made that teaching the cornerstone of his ministry.

Having an area of passion and expertise is a wonderful thing. It can offer great contributions to the Body of Christ. But when we allow that expertise to become an obsession, then everything gets out of whack.

Be passionate. Be an expert. But don’t become obsessed.

Have you seen that happen with leaders in your experience?

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3 Comments

  1. I may be missing your point somewhat when i write this but here goes: I feel this is what happened when the church began to structure itself and follow those who set the church up more like a business. The pastor was no longer the pastor but the CEO. It became an obsession of sorts for some to push business principles instead of biblical leadership principles. Am I missing your point Phil (which you make a great case for btw)?

    1. Perhaps indirectly Bill, but honestly, I’ve seen this more in small churches and ministries. I DO think it’s an attempt at being famous, or being considered an “expert.” In that wrong-headed attempt, they go WAY too far with some subject – trying to discover some truth that no one else has ever seen before.

  2. I believe this topic goes well with your book “One Big Thing” and keep it passionate. It’s happened me and millions of others. We get passionate and it turns into an obsession. We all need to do a self-check once in awhile to make sure we are not going over the edge. Take time and listen to those around you. Listen to those who say things to you that may not be what you want to hear. Then take it to the Lord let Him move you back in the right direction.

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