Why the “fishbowl” of Ministry Is Not a Bad Thing, and One Step to Consider

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I had been a pastor for about ten months when the adult daughter of church members—a daughter who did not attend our church—stopped me for a brief conversation in a local grocery store. I had bought a home in that neighborhood a few months before. To my surprise, the daughter said to me, “I drive by your house on the way to work each day. I don’t know why, but I almost can’t help but look over there to see what’s up.” My guess is that her words reflected simple curiosity, but they sure sounded strange at the time. 

Later that day, I reflected on something I had not thought about much as a rookie pastor: people are watching us. We really are at times in the proverbial “fishbowl.” Right or wrong, that’s reality. This many years later, though, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for us. Here’s why:

  1. It’s okay for folks to watch our lives of Christian leaders. We are to be God’s witnesses, and we ought to live in such a way that our good works give glory to our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16). We should want others to see those works in us. We should want them to imitate our lives that first imitate Christ. 
  2. Our lives are to be just as God-honoring when nobody is looking as they are when everybody’s watching. The only way we reach that goal is to live at all times in a way that pleases God. It’s to welcome the microscope of the Spirit and the Word reviewing our private lives. Do that, and the fishbowl isn’t that threatening anymore.
  3. Non-believers are watching us, too. We usually think of believers watching when we talk about the fishbowl, but lost people are watching us, too. Some, I suspect, are almost hoping for a fall that seemingly lets them off the hook for their own lives. Others, though, are longing to see genuine faith lived out because they’re looking for truth and hope. The fishbowl helps us deny the first group and encourage the second one. 
  4. The enemy we face wants to devour us. Satan really is prowling around, seeking believers to devour (1 Pet 5:8). He will pull every trick possible to lure us into sin that compromises our witness and mocks our faith. He’s watching. He’s scheming. He’s destroying. If the fishbowl helps us stand against him, that’s a good thing. 
  5. Ministries are destroyed because we convince ourselves that nobody knows. We all face the possibility of deceiving ourselves into thinking we can hide everything and consequently take ministry-threatening risks. We are all but one dumb decision away from a fall—and recognition of the fishbowl is one defense against that possibility. 
  6. The fishbowl ought to compel us to pray more. We need to pray for God’s grace to live obediently. As well, we need to pray for grace to respond rightly if (a) others wrongly accuse us of something, or (b) God forbid, they find something worth confronting. Not one of these things can we do on our own. We need God’s power daily. 

Here’s a suggestion: my pastoral mentor, Tom Elliff, prays seven prayers for himself every day, and he asks others to join him in those prayers. I encourage you to read those prayers here and adopt them, though I especially encourage you to focus on this one when you think of the fishbowl:

[I pray} that I would do nothing that would give the Adversary an opportunity to mock my Lord. Satan is the “accuser,” constantly seeking to discredit us in the eyes of God and thus discredit God who calls us His own (Job 2:1-6, Zech 3:1-2, Rev 12:10). I do not want to do, say, or even think anything that would lend support to Satan’s accusations.