Get Your Priorities Straight, Recapture Your Ministry Joy

A lot of people – including those of us in ministry – are looking for joy in all the wrong places. As pastors, we want to find it in a bigger church, a more effective ministry, and often the accolades of our peers and church members. Yet we do this in vain. We won’t find joy there.

Last week, I shared with you what I believe is the number one joy killer in ministry – legalism. I strongly believe that misplacing our priorities is next in line. Paul talks about his own priorities in his letter to the Philippians. He said: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:7-8 NIV)

This is Paul’s “Profit and Loss Statement.” He says however I once “profited,” I now simply count as loss compared to knowing Jesus. Your priorities are out of whack in ministry if they aren’t squarely focused on the person of Jesus Christ and if you can’t count everything else as a loss compared to him. That’s one of the reasons why Paul can stay joyful despite being imprisoned as he is writing this letter.

Notice the phrase, “I consider [it all] rubbish that I may gain Christ.” The translators were being polite. The word isn’t rubbish – it’s dung, manure. He’s not mincing words. Paul says that everything we have is worthless garbage without Jesus. Fame, money, or power can never replace the simple joy of knowing Jesus.

You find joy in ministry when you keep your priorities straight. Don’t lose your joy over things that aren’t important. Christ is important. And there are a lot of less important things that can cause you to lose your joy in ministry. People don’t do what you want them to do. They don’t show up when you want them to show up. They don’t help when you want them to help. They’ll let you down. If you keep your focus on these things, it’ll be easy to lose your joy.

Paul is telling us in this letter that it doesn’t matter what kind of accolades you have, how big your church is, or how many books you’ve written – you can have all of that in ministry and still be unhappy. Paul points out in Philippians 3:8 that life consists of tradeoffs. He counted everything as loss so that he may be found “in Christ.”

Jesus said something similar about tradeoffs. He told us that we can’t serve two masters. You’ve got to decide what or who will be number one in your life. Many of us want Jesus plus something else. We want to serve God in ministry, but we hold on to other things as well. Paul says he gave up all of these things to know Christ.

The reasons our priorities are off and thus our ministries are joyless is because we know we have to give up certain things in order to truly live for Christ. We’re afraid we’ll have to be restricted.

But we can hardly escape the reality. When we come to Jesus Christ, we give up everything. The funny thing is, when we do that, we realize we’ve never had it so good. He takes what we’ve given to him and he reforms it, reshapes it, adds new meaning to it, and gives it back to us in a new way.

Jim Elliot, the missionary martyred by the Indians down in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep for that which he cannot lose.”

So what are you afraid to give up? What’s gotten out of priority in your life and in your ministry? Has a relationship with Christ been replaced by your ministry goals?

It’s time to rearrange your priorities – and recapture your joy.


Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.