Ambition in Ministry: Our Spiritual Struggle with Success, Achievement, and Competition

by Robert Schnase, Abingdon Press (1993)


I was sitting down one day to lunch with a friend.  In the ensuing conversation he asked if I had read a book entitled, Ambition in Ministry.  I admitted that I had seen it in a book room but had not read it.   

But I came away with this question, "Why would he want me to read a book about ambition?"  "Ambition?"  "In ministry?"  I kept asking myself. 

Well anyway, I got a copy and read and discovered that my friend knew my inner thoughts because he is a pastor and, like me, has an itch for recognition, advancement, and power.  And so does the author of the book, "I wrestle with these issues as do all conscientious pastors," he writes.  "This is my attempt to sort out for myself all of the influences upon me, and the motivations within me, and to reflect on the spiritual and theological commitment I have made as an ordained minister" (p. 20).

The theme is laid out in chapter one, "Achievement and Appetite."  Schnase writes,  "This book has grown from two convictions: first, that tension is an inescapable feature of ministry; and second, that from this tension can come life and growth" (p. 20).

Ambition, says the author, is not inherently wrong.  One can be ambitious for the good, driven to excellence by a desire to improve their gifts.  It is not wrong for a person who preaches an effective sermon to 100 people to desire to preach that sermon to 200 (p. 18).   But ambition can easily go awry for the desire to be better can turn into the competition of being "better than So-and so."

"When James and John decided to move closer to Jesus," Schnase writes, "it was a commendable and inspired ambition.  But when they decided to sit closest to Jesus, their focus changed.  Rather than looking to Jesus, they glanced furtively over their shoulders at the other disciples, anticipating that their own spiritual accomplishments had markedly overshadowed everyone else's.  Pride redirects ambition" (p. 45).  

Schnase specializes in poking at the fleshly drives of ministry for career-driven pastors.   "If we break free of the 'up is better' metaphor," writes Schnase, "we realize that other questions should determine whether we make a move.  Maybe the operative question is not, Does this move me up? but, Does this move me closer? ---closer to the work God is calling me to do" (p. 29)

Closer, that is, in terms of usefulness of our talents in the new position, the satisfaction we find in our work, and the effect moving onward and upward will have on our family.

And what about the church family?  How does our ambition affect the body of Christ?

"The last thing that high-strung, workaholic, career-driven suburbanites need," writes Schnase, "is a high-strung, workaholic, career-driven pastor.  Families suffocating under the anxieties brought on by their materialistic drive for success do not need their compulsive behavior applauded by their spiritual leaders" (p. 73).  

So in chapter six Schnase touches on “Accountable and Complete.” He writes, “The first step toward strengthening positive ambition and harnessing unhealthy ambition is to recognize that we harbor the capacity for both.  By granting definition to our destructive impulses, we lift them from mist and haze to tamable proportion … perhaps career-conscious ministers need to admit, 'I must watch my ambitions.  I could easily drag my family across the state every two years, chasing the shadows of my soul, pursuing higher salaries and larger churches' " (p. 100). 

Schnase calls pastors to go back, among other things, to grace, the Sabbath, and autonomy (pp. 104-110).  Autonomy "is the capacity to balance and resolve opposing demands within ourselves and between ourselves and between ourselves and others” (p. 104).

"Autonomous pastors enjoy an inner confidence that allows them to risk and grow and provide fruitful and challenging ministry without an overriding fear of failure or disapproval" (p. 104).  

This is a good book for a pastoral group discussion. Questions for personal reflection or group discussion are found in each of the six chapters (pp. 21, 40-41, 61, 77-78, 98-99, 118-119).

But let me encourage you to get a copy to read for yourself.  It is worth every cent. 

(This book is available at BGST Library.  Ref.: LC 248.892 SCH.)


(Reviewed by Dr John Lim)


We had the wonderful privilege of having Rev. Uday Kumar, principal of the Calcutta Bible College visiting us last Wednesday (27 Aug).  He shared his teaching ministry and his interaction with the College's students.  He spoke from 2 Tim. 1:1-7 and encouraged us to develop not only the mental but also the relational dimension of both faculty and students.

Chapel next week on September 10 will be taken by Rev Ng Seng Chuan.


  1. New Admissions

  •  Miss Joan Teoh Theng Hwee (Dip. CS) is a Missionary Trainee and a member of Bethesda (Frankel Estate) Church. She is a teacher by profession, a graduate from the National University of Singapore (BA) and the Nanyang Technological University (Postgrad. Dip. in Ed).

  •  Mr Joshua Hidajat Maruta (Dip.CS) is from Indonesia. He is a Management Trainer and Consultant. He has studied at the Technical Faculty of the University of Gajah Mada (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) and holds the degree of Master of Science from Union College, Schenectady, New York, USA.

  1. Property Search. Please continue to remember BGST in your prayers as we are actively looking for a new campus. We have seen several possible sites and there is one at Tanjong Pagar which looks promising. Continue to pray for the outcome of this matter.

  2. “Love Above All”. Audio CD of this musical (featuring the life and work of martyred Jim Elliot and his other missionary partners among the Auca Indians of Peru) presented by Mt Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church is available at $15 each. You may place your orders with the Library staff. All proceeds from the sale will go to Mt Carmel BP Church.


 BGST is happy to announce that  registration is now open for Bible Lands Study Tour 2003.

 The focus of this Tour will  be:

  • Devotional

  • Relating the Biblical text to the Bible Lands

  • Enabling students to have an overall understanding of background of the Bible

 Come for a no-obligation preview on Monday, Sept 8, 8.00-9.30pm to see what this year’s tour will cover, the estimated costs, matters relating to security, etc. If you cannot make it for Sept 8, a second preview will take place on Friday, Sept 12, 9.00pm.  The Venue will be: BGST, 4 Bishan St 13, Room  302 (Third Floor). Please call Serene (Tel. 63538071) to let her know which preview session you are attending.

  •   The tour is open to everybody, young or old, BGST students and non-students. 

  • It will cover three countries: Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

  • Dr Quek Swee Hwa will personally guide and/or lecture. 

  • Besides the initial orientation sessions there will be no other required attendance at meetings, etc. (Contrary to some opinion, our Study Tours do not require students to do reading assignments.)

  •  For those interested to incorporate this Tour into their study programme at BGST, credit can be granted and those interested in this may speak with Dr Quek.


Mrs Sophia Yap  1/9

Ms Lim Bee Lum  2/9

Mr Lau Pak Soon  3/9

Mdm Loh Chee Yen  3/9

Mr Barry Zhang  3/9

Mr Leong Weng Kam  3/9

Prof Teo Choo Soo  4/9

flower pot

Mr Victor Chua  4/9

Mr Hua Chai Sing  5/9

Mr James Tan  6/9

Mr Errol Oh  7/9

Mr Quek Tze-Ming  7/9

Mdm Donna Lim  7/9

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