In their new book, Life-Giving Leadership, Karen Hodge and Susan Hunt explain that life-giving women’s ministry comes from confidence in Christ, not in ourselves. Without it, they warn, women’s ministry can become a life-taking, destructive activity.

There is a third kind of women’s ministry. It may run smoothly and involve lots of the Bible study and service of which Karen Hodge and Susan Hunt speak in their new book, but unlike what they describe, there is no life in it. That’s because it is life-faking. The authors hint at life-faking when they say in their book Transformed, “We feel guilty and hypocritical when we try to play the part of the perfect wife, mother or daughter, but we don’t have to pretend. Paul holds before us the exhilarating idea of transformation.”

Life-Faking Ministry

A male example of fakery is found in the character of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal son, after rebelling, found reconciliation after he confessed candidly to his father, saying, “I am not worthy to be called your son.” The older son, who had stayed home, revealed his divided heart when he jealously complained to his father about all the attention the younger brother received. He said, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (Luke 15:29). Apparently, the older son’s expectation of the relationship with his dad was not covenantal, but contractual. He demanded his due. The father’s response is poignant: “Son [note that he reminds him of that important relationship], you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v. 30). The father points out the important part of the relationship, implying sadly, “You and I shared togetherness all this time, whereas the younger son missed out on the relationship. Isn’t closeness with me enough for you?” It wasn’t. The older son wanted to celebrate with “his friends,” apparently not with his dad.

And so Jesus asks us, “Are you following me to be with me, or to get something from me? Are you in a genuine relationship with your Father, or have you been faking?”

The Consequences of Life-Faking Ministry

If we are doing life-faking ministry, several things will follow:

  • It will be mechanical; our love will be lukewarm.
  • It will be manipulative, with motives that are selfish.
  • It will not bear fruit.

Rather than mechanical, our ministry must be sincere. Consider these verses:

“[M]any will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.…” (Matt 7:21-23)

“[K]eep loving one another earnestly” (1Peter 4:7)

“[P]ut away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy….” (1Peter 2:1)

“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue…from speaking deceit…..” (1Peter 3:10)

“ [T]his people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me….” (Isaiah 29:13)

What if our love has grown cold? The first step is to admit it, and ask God to give us a “heart of flesh” rather than a “heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26). This is the heart transformation that only He can accomplish.

If our service is life-faking, it will be manipulative, with selfish motives.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart….” (1 Peter 1:22)

Loving service flows from a purified heart that obeys the truth. God wants ministry done, but done in sincerity, with godly motives. After all, He loves us sincerely. Would we want Him to “fake” a relationship with us? It’s almost inconceivable, but grotesque to imagine. Do we want our pastor, church friends, or kids to love and serve us with gritted teeth or guile? No—nor do they want that from us.

Life-faking leadership lacks fruit

Selfish motives aren’t limited to a drive to accomplish agendas. Counterfeiting can also sweep conflict, neglect, and injustice under the rug for the sake of appearances. The “servant” who secretly feels abused may be acting from motives to portray herself as a martyr, or to avoid conflict out of fear. The leader who is coasting on recognition for a lost-past season of fruitfulness may currently be as dry as paper inside. All of this is, at best, fruitless. The holy standard for ministry is that apart from Him, we can do nothing. As Paul says, “[I]f I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2)

The life-faking leader is, above all, a wintry and isolated figure who may be “checking all the boxes” while empty inside. Jesus calls to such leaders in Revelation, chapter 2:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil….I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the deeds that you did at first.”

For those who take this divine prescription, I predict refreshment, transformation, and a springtime of fruitfulness. I suspect that the Lord doesn’t just tell us to love and serve with sincerity because it is best for those we serve, but because it is also best for us. When we truly love, we are not drained, but renewed, by ministry. It gives life to others, and it flows back to us.

About the Author:

Leah Farish

Leah Farish teaches college courses on law, language, and public speaking in Oklahoma.  She also heads a nonprofit which encourages volunteerism.  She and her husband attend Christ Presbyterian in Tulsa, when she is not working on behalf of women in North Africa or the Middle East.