You Are Replaceable

The world advises us to become irreplaceable in our work, but serving Christ in ministry requires a different approach.

In high school, I spent a lot of time in front of a full-length vanity mirror applying makeup, straightening my hair, and trying on seven outfits before I finally picked the one I liked—leaving the others in wrinkled piles on my floor, much to the dismay of my older sister who shared the room with me.

Because I spent so much time in front of that mirror, I would stick post-it notes with Bible verses or other encouraging phrases along the border as daily reminders.

I wrote things like “You are one of a kind” or “You are loved” or “You are the daughter of the King.”

It would be difficult to imagine me writing something like “You are replaceable” and sticking it to my mirror so I could look at it every day.

But the truth that has brought me profound peace is that I am replaceable.

Two years ago, I was hosting an English Bible study for a group of teenagers in my home. Occasionally, I would host a game night or movie night to cultivate friendships. I was aware the church did not have a youth group at the time, and it dawned on me that this group could easily become the start of a youth group.

That thought was a spark that quickly set ablaze.

Soon I was writing a strategic plan, recruiting other leaders, creating a name for the youth group, making T-shirts, using the church every Saturday night to host the youth group, teaching through Bible studies, planning special events and outings, getting the church and the parents involved, and watching each student grow tremendously.

It is hard to describe the pride you can feel watching something come from nothing, knowing you were used in that process. However, if you are not careful, subtle, sneaky thoughts can creep in that you must be something special to have done this, that another person couldn’t have done it how you did, that anyone who comes after you will fall short of your greatness, that you are irreplaceable.

I take tremendous ownership of the youth group—it’s my pride and joy, my baby, and its successes and failures often feel like a reflection of me as the main leader.

In the beginning, the pressure I felt trying to win over the parents and the church was so great that I ended up doing many things on my own. It felt like if I asked for help, it meant I wasn’t a capable leader. I was wary of asking for help from the other leaders because it didn’t feel like they were as invested or committed. It seemed like their standard was often less than mine.

I realized I was making myself irreplaceable.

Now, I know it is frequently advised to make yourself irreplaceable at your work. To be irreplaceable means your company will do almost anything to keep you because it would be next to impossible to find someone who could do all that you do with the same level of expertise.

While that may be the rule for the corporate world, I argue that ministry should be different. One essential reason is that the base motivations are fundamentally different.

When you make yourself irreplaceable in your employment, your main focus is you—you want to do good work so the company sees your value and becomes so averse to losing you that they are willing to make accommodations just to keep you.

In ministry, your main concern should not be you; it should be serving others for the cause of Christ.

Making ministry your greater concern looks like training others to do the tasks you do and giving them the freedom to take ownership. It looks like wanting to see the ministry succeed whether you are in leadership or not. It looks like wanting to see the longevity of the ministry more than you want to be remembered.

It is a natural human desire to want to be irreplaceable, and it would be easy to allow this desire to drive your motivation for ministry, but nobody ever said ministry was easy. In fact, they said it was difficult.

The Christian life is a lifelong process of putting to death the old man.

Now those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24 CSB).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship (Romans 12:1 CSB).

The call to be a Christian is a call to a slow, painful death.

In the Practical Shepherding podcast “Trench Talk,” Episode 173: Why is Ministry Uniquely Hard?, host Brian Croft describes this slow death that happens for Christians, specifically Christians in ministry.

Croft lays out five reasons ministry is uniquely hard and how these challenges bring about a slow death: 1. Spiritual warfare, 2. Dealing with sinful people, 3. Hearing criticism more than encouragement, 4. Physical ailments from the stress of ministry, 5. Disappointed expectations.

It is a dying of self for the good of ministry.

For me, that looks like rejoicing that I am replaceable, specifically in the youth group ministry.

When I knew I was leaving the field, I felt peace about the three leaders I was leaving in my place, but knowing that youth ministry is not their passion, I began praying that God would bring someone who could continue the ministry for many years to come. Then I learned of a couple who had been praying about an opportunity to serve God in this city, and their hearts were specifically burdened for teens.

The moment I asked them to join the ministry, they were committed. This couple has experience, solid biblical knowledge, and an ability to teach well and connect with young people. I know the Lord will use them as tools in this ministry just as he used me.

It’s a slow death to my flesh to know they will continue what I started, they will make it better, they will change and rearrange things, and the ministry that I once thought of as my baby will now become their baby. It’s a slow death to know that in the lifespan of this ministry I will be a quick blip at the beginning that few will remember.

But that is what I prayed for. I prayed that the ministry would not only continue after I am gone, but that it would become better than it ever was when I was leading it, and that I would love the ministry more than myself.

I was replaceable—and that’s part of God’s design.