The Impact of Misdirected Identity

Posted by on Dec 10, 2012 in Neale Davis | 3 comments

Counselors Reflect on Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp
A Series to Care for the Care Takers of God’s People

“Ministry had become my identity.  No I didn’t think of myself as a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of my own sanctification, still in a battle with sin, still in need of the body of Christ, and called to pastoral ministry.  No, I thought of myself at pastor. That’s it.  Bottom line.”     Paul David Tripp p. 22.

I knew a man named Ian. He was a man in the ministry.  And he was a good man.  He was faithful and hardworking.  He had worked his way up the ministry ranks showing his love for Christ, the lost, and his family.  He seemed like a guy you would want to shepherd you.  He seemed to be a great guy to lead people!

Ian and his wife had served overseas and had great experience in cross-cultural ministry, and they had much to offer.  They served in the U.S., too, and had led multiple teams, as well as having led church teams on mission trips.  I always had a high opinion of him.  When I first met him I told my wife that he was a guy that I think I’d like to get to know.  He was good-natured, kind, wise and seemed very committed to his family and his ministry.

Nevertheless, in the back of my mind, there were times when some minor alarms would go off.  But, I would typically just ignore them and carry on.  Though very subtly and innocently, the alarms continued to sound.   For example, Ian was always good asking about me and did a greater job at affirming me.  It felt good to talk to him.  However, walking away from a typical conversation with Ian somehow felt incomplete.  I felt a little cheated, or that I had cheated him.  It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried ask about how he was doing, but when I did ask Ian about himself the answers were always very closed ended and short.  He somehow seemed to have a fence around his life and after a few years of friendship I realized that I didn’t know him any more now than when I met him.  His response to my questions about him would quickly turn back to me. That seemed kind of odd and it became harder to dismiss this tendency.

Ian always seemed to be working, too.  He was usually typing away at another email or on a phone call or on a trip.  I could never get over how dedicated he was to his job.  Honestly it made me think maybe I was lazy, so I wouldn’t say much to him.  I also began to note that he didn’t seem to have too many close friends.  A lot of men were around him, but none that seemed very close. And I began to hear the same thing from others in regard to his tendency to deflect personal questions.  He was great at ministering, but not so great at being ministered to.  His identity had moved from the vertical to the horizontal and it affected everything about him.  

Unfortunately there are a lot of “Ian’s” out there.  These are men and women who have moved from being in ministry to being defined by ministry.  These folks have taken on the identity of “I am a pastor”, “I am a missionary”, “I am a counselor” and by doing this they have, as Paul David Tripp says in Dangerous Callings created a new category that doesn’t exist.  They think they are someone they are not and have developed serious twisted spiritual habits.  Their relationship with God has lost the relational aspect.  Their calling has become their identity.  And that is dangerous.

This should be a wake up call for these men and women because this is a downward trail leading to a bridge that is out.  But it’s not too late.  However, the first step is the  acknowledgement of being seduced by this drug.  Bringing others into the struggle is another important step.

If you can identify with what has been said here, please don’t keep it to yourself.  Allow the light of the gospel to shine into this important part of your life.  Your family, your ministry and certainly your relationship with God depends upon it.  This identity issue eventually led to the demise of Ian’s ministry.

Please stay with us during this series, which will explore the work of Paul David Tripp in Dangerous Callings.

535826: Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry
By Paul David Tripp / Crossway Books & Bibles


  1. Great post Neale. This is definitely something I needed to hear. I look forward to reading the book and really appreciate your insights.

  2. Reading this blog post about the dangers of losing one’s identity in ministry brought back memories of a pastor I once knew, named Mark. He too seemed consumed by his role as a shepherd, neglecting his own needs and struggles. Despite his passion for God’s work, there were moments when I sensed something amiss. Mark appeared hesitant to open up about himself, redirecting conversations back to others. He poured himself into his ministry, yet I worried about his lack of close friendships. It’s crucial for individuals like Mark to realize the perilous path they’re on and seek support to restore their relationship with God and themselves.

  3. What an eye-opening piece on the pitfalls of conflating one’s identity with their ministry role! I once knew a youth pastor named Olivia who seemed similar to Ian. Over coffee, she confided that her sense of self had become so entangled with her work that she’d forgotten how to be a friend, a wife, and most importantly, a child of God in need of grace.


  1. Dangerous Calling Blog Series Summary | Bridge Haven Counseling - [...] The Impact of Misdirected Identity  by Neale Davis [...]

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