Pastors: Seek accomplishment, not confidence

A word to pastors: Let's take a break from preaching messages on positive thinking, prosperity, confidence, self esteem, and anything else particularly uplifting for that matter.

No, I'm not crazy. I know what the Bible says about being more than conquerors, prospering Abraham, pouring out a blessing, and more. Oral Roberts—one of the most gifted preachers of our time, coined the phrase "expect a miracle" nearly half a century ago, but 50 years later, we've created a Christian community where people think they can accomplish anything as long as they feel good about themselves, have confidence and believe in their potential.

Today, studies show that public school students care less about what they actually accomplish in school, and more about how they "feel" about it. In a major study comparing math skills among students in eight nations, Americans ranked lowest, and Koreans highest—but when researchers asked the students how good they thought they were at math, the results were exactly opposite: Americans felt they scored highest, Koreans lowest.

American students can't add, but apparently it doesn't matter as long as they feel good about themselves while they do it.

The fact is our culture has embraced self-esteem and personal confidence despite little real evidence that they actually work. Some experts suggest that unusually high self-worth is actually a sign of negative behavior, the type found in high profile criminals.

It's not that different in a community of Christian believers who think all we need for success is to believe in our potential. In that world, we can forget education, training, and skill, because what we believe is far more important than what we actually accomplish. As a television producer in Hollywood, I regularly receive movie scripts from hopeful Christians eager to break into the business. The problem is, most are from Christians who've never learned the necessary skills. But when I point out the multitude of problems with the scripts, they often tell me, "God told me to write it, so I'm not interested in changing anything, or taking the time to learn."

Ah, the deceptive power of overconfidence.


Expecting a return
Likewise, if your financial planning consists solely in giving money to TV ministries and expecting God to send you a "hundred-fold return," chances are, your retirement years are going to be tough.

Yes, God calls us to great things, and offers us a fulfilling role in His plan for this generation. But He also calls us to a life of preparation, discernment, knowledge, skill and training for the task ahead.

In Exodus 31, God spoke to Moses about an artist named Bezalel. He said, "I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts." God wasn't interested in hiring well meaning but incompetent people to build His temple. He wanted the best.

Real confidence and self-esteem come from actual accomplishment. Doing a job well, and gaining the respect of your boss, your friends and your family.


Serve in authority
Today, if we're going to make an impact in this culture for the gospel, we need to go far beyond self-esteem, good intentions, and confidence. We need intelligence, wisdom, and skill—that produces the kind of excellent work that gets noticed, and makes people want to know more about the God we worship.

Let's not forget to preach about real accomplishment, and the dedication, skill, hard work—and sometimes pain—that comes with it. It's interesting that when people described Jesus, they didn't say "Wow, he really touched my life," or "He was so relevant," or even "He was really anointed." They said "He spoke as one having authority."

Does your preaching reflect authority, expertise and competence?

Perhaps even more than competence, we need a giant dose of humility.

We are not "all things." We are "all things through Christ."


Producer and media strategist Phil Cooke's new book is "Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Impact the Culture and Others Don't" by Regal Publishing. Find out more at philcooke.com.


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Published, October 2010