No, I'm not necessarily talking about crack, cocaine, lsd, or marajuana. I'm not even talking about the more mild versions of addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. Nope, I'm not even talking about the acceptable Christian addictions to caffeine, food, and "acceptable" medicines.
These addictions are awful for your physical body, but our spiritual dependencies can be far more harmful. Many of these tendencies are exemplified in our personal lives, but I think our ministries magnify these to an even greater extent.
1. Ourselves - This is the first dependency that may come to your mind - yourself. I'm sure this is a human nature temptation, but I think the American culture has elevated this vice to levels of virture. We value the self-made man. The Batman who single-handedly takes on the forces of darkness. The Michael Phelps who establishes previously unimaginable records in the Olympic pool. The welfare mother who starts a million dollar business. These are stories that we as Americans thrive off of, and they encourage us onto individual acts of greatness. Unfortunately, this characteristic of America is not likewise a characteristic of God. Proverbs 3:34 states that God "mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble." The ability to please God is not found inside of us. Neither is the ability to minister for God.
2. Experts - Did you know that you could get a college degree in International Historic Preservation (Savannah College of Art and Design), Australian and New Zealand Studies (Georgetown University), or Concrete Industry Management (MTSU)? This is the age of specialization! If you love to obsess about the obscure, hello 21st century. There is an expert for your every need. These experts are even kind enough to supply an endless stream of blogs, articles, books, and conferences. I'm certainly not saying that all experts are part of the secret Satanic plot to bring in the reign of the antichrist. Experts, in fact, can aid us toward finding and accomplishing the will of God, but be careful. Through narrative, 2Chr 16:7 and 12 give us a solemn warning through the life of King Asa. He relied on the king of Eram to deliver him militarily and his doctors to deliver him from his foot disease. These were the experts of his day! He failed... God judged him for relying on experts rather than on the Almight God.
3. Education - For the record, I think everyone who gets the MDiv is serious about preparing for the work of God while everyone who goes on to get a doctorate is depending on their eduction for godliness and growth! End of story. :) Just kidding! As tidy as that might be, education can present a real dependency challenge to all of us. Whether you have a high school degree, a PhD in New Testament Interpretation, or 274 years of Sunday School experience, we tend to discern and navigate our path through life based on our own knowledge and application of it. However, depending on our learning is the antithesis of trusting the Lord to direct our paths (Pr 3:5-6).
4. Strategy - Yep, we not only like our own experts and our own knowledge, we typically like do to things our own way. Our self dependence results in using our own schemes. The psalmist contrasts those who depend in chariots and horses to those who trust in the Lord (Ps 20:7). Would anyone use a horse to build their church? Probably not. The chariot has potential as an eco-friendly extension of the bus ministry, but few would use it. To depend, however,on horses and chariots to win military victories (3,000 years ago) is as ludicrous as it is to depend on them to build a church. We are terribly flawed whenever we rely on human devised strategies, plans, or 12 step processes to accomplish the work of God.
5. Tradition - This one may kind of strike you as odd. How does tradition fit as a dangerous dependency? Well, let me ask you this. If you were going to start an outreach program, what would you do? Exactly what you've always done? What another church you admire does? If you were going to plant a church, what would it look like? What would you do? Would you duplicate the church you just left, regardless of the geographic or cultural changers? I think the difference between depending on tradition compared to depending on experts, education, or strategy is that depending on tradition is not usually deliberate. It's usually the default mode. It takes work to seek out experts, get an education, or study and develop strategy. Tradition is an easy master. It's cheap, and readily accessible, even though it's not the most sophisticated of dependencies (kind of like sniffing glue). For a very interesting passage regarding dependence on tradition, see 1 Samuel 4:1-11.
Pretty negative so far? Personally, I don't think so. Identifying the problem is always the first step to solving the problem. And the solution is oh so simple. How can we accomplish the work of God's kingdom? How can we start local churches through evangelizing the lost? How can we train Christ-followers to the point of spiritual maturity and reproduction? We Can't! Jesus can and will! Jesus said that He will build His church (Mt 16:18).
So does that mean we sit around and do nothing? Hardly. Our job is to trust the Lord, be faithful what He has called each one of us to do, and leave the results to the Lord.
Our General's Warning: Beware of dangerous dependencies! They possess a lifetime of danger!