By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – February 1, 2004, was a game-changer. That day, God asked me to step down from ministry.

It was my first ministry experience, and it ended badly. Without delving into details, three pastors resigned from the church. The resignation letters were read from the pulpit that Sunday morning.

I was one of three.

I vividly recall sitting in pew, beside my future wife, surrounded by students I loved for almost three years. Tears streamed down my face. How had this happened? I had graduated from one of the best Bible colleges in the country; I had interned at a mega-church with a thriving youth ministry; I had built this small youth ministry whose numbers had grown fourfold.

Amid my tears, I realized that, after journeying to the depths of my soul for seven years, I needed the ministry more than the ministry needed me. I was struggling mightily with something called co-dependency.

Codependency is defined: “to be dependent with.” Allow me to sum it up more simply:  People (like me) need something.

I needed ministry to feel safe. Ministry had defined me. I found validation and acceptance in being a pastor. A minister.

Consider this question: Maybe I need _________ more than that _________ needs me?

That Sunday in February, Jesus called me out of ministry by calling me to Himself.

We all do it. We find validation and acceptance in things or possessions or people – jobs, cars, clothes, relationships with spouses or “soul mates,” children, or friends.

What would happen if Jesus decides to strip away these things or people? Would we be able to function? Remember that Jesus said, “Leave everything and follow me.”

A counselor friend, who knows my journey and speaks into my pain, continues to challenge me to “hold ministry loosely.” Without an ongoing recognition of my emptiness, I can quickly succumb to temptation. My temptation is how ministry validates me and feeds me.

This is why I love the way Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians. Verse 3-10 contains three long sentences, specifying what Christ has done for us. Paul’s words are:

  • “Spiritual blessings in Christ”
  • “He chose us in Him”
  •  “Adoption to sonship”
  • “In Him we have redemption“
  • “He made known to us”
  • “He purposed in Christ”

That’s how Christ defines us. He feeds our soul. Not ministry. Not positions. Not relationships.

Nothing external can ever provide that for which our soul longs.

The answer is Christ, and Christ alone.

How do you define yourself?

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer in South Atlanta for Polis Institute. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.