Christians and Personal Empire Building

It is not about us and building our own little kingdoms:

Many folks want to make a name for themselves and want to be great in various ways. This can be good or bad, depending on the ends in mind. Sometimes it means amassing power, control and dominance over others. Sometimes it means seeking to do some good in the world, even if no one knows your name or what you are doing – but God knows.

Both Christians and non-Christians can seek to build their own empires, their own kingdoms. As I say, it partly depends on what sort of empire you want to build, and for what ends, that can make all the difference. A recent news headline got me thinking once again about such matters. It had said this:

Crikey! How Irwins built their multimillion-dollar empire

Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin have successfully carried on the environmental legacy crafted by Steve. Here is how the family has built their very own conservation empire.

Now let me say that because what the Irwins are up to is basically neither here nor there for me, and because the article was behind a paywall, I could read no further. But the title about building an empire was enough for me to want to turn this into another devotional piece.

I have often talked to Christian leaders and those in ministry over the years – especially those just starting out – and if and when they ask me for a bit of advice, usually the first thing I say is that we must be careful that we do not end up being an empire builder, a kingdom builder.

We must be very careful, in other words, that in our effort to serve the Lord, we do not get a big head, do not get proud, and do not think we are going to be the next best Christian thing since the apostle Paul or the Great Awakening. Staying humble, and being willing to work with others and to share the glory with others, is crucial.

Too often those in ministry are NOT all that willing to work with others, and too often they do NOT want others to get any credit or any glory. I find this so often in various parachurch groups and in certain churches. And of course at the end of the day none of us deserve the glory – only God does.

A quote attributed to Harry Truman fits in well here: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Whether or not he said this, or said it in quite that way, the general principle is sound – especially in the Christian church.

I find so many leaders and pastors who do not seem to be very interested in working together with others. Part of the problem is they want to do things their way, and they want to get all the credit and all the glory. They want to make a name for themselves.

But that is not how it should be for any Christian worker, whether a megachurch leader or a humble church janitor. Our aim should be to glorify God in all that we do and let him get all the credit. But having been involved in all sorts of ministries over the decades, I have seen too much of this empire building.

Now don’t get me wrong here. There is a fine line between having godly ambition and wanting to see great things done for Christ and the Kingdom, and just wanting to be in the spotlight, wanting to get the applause of men, and wanting to be seen and praised.

The quote by William Carey is appropriate here: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”. So in one sense, yes, we should seek to see great things happening, to see many folks getting saved, and to see our churches being filled.

But sadly for some, having a big church is simply a source of pride: ‘Look at how great I am. Look what a terrific ministry I have. Look at how everyone loves what I am doing.’ They may not say this of course, but deep down they may feel this way. The dangers of pride are ever with us.

Related to this is the issue of church growth. Is it a good thing? Well, it depends. If it is all done for the glory of God and for the love of others, that is one thing. But if it is done with carnal and fleshly attitudes of pride and the like, not so much!

As I said some years ago about this:

Is church growth automatically wrong then? No. Is it automatically right? No. The truth is, numerical growth in and of itself is no measure of spirituality, or of God’s favour. Indeed, often God tells his people to reduce numbers, not expand them. Consider Gideon for example in Judges 7.


But in an age obsessed with numerical growth, with success, and with material measurements of wellbeing, we may be missing out big time on what God really has in mind for his church. Perhaps all the emphasis on marketing techniques and seeker-sensitive services, and so on, needs to be re-evaluated.

As is often the case, a lot of it comes down to our attitudes, our motivations, and our reasons for doing things. Good things such as growing a church or seeking to extend the impact of your ministry can be done for good reasons as well as for bad reasons.

Like so many things that can go wrong in Christian work and ministry, much of this boils down to where we are at with God. If we devote lots of our time on our knees before God in prayer and humility, there will be less likelihood of doing things for wrong or carnal reasons.

Image of Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church
Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church by Paul Washer (Author) Amazon logo

Let me finish by referring to a book that I have written about before. Back in 2018 American pastor Paul Washer released the book, Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church (Reformation Heritage Books, 2018). It is based on a 2008 sermon by the title which has been viewed many times now. I have discussed the book and sermon previously:

Here I want to quote him on what he had to say about this matter of empire building. It comes in the context of his first indictment, where he compares the sufficiency of Scripture with various methods of building bigger churches:

“Is the Bible sufficient, or do we have to bring in every so-called social science and cultural study in order to know how to run a church?” That is the great question! Social sciences, in my opinion, have taken precedent over the Word of God in such a way that most of us can’t even see it. It has so crept into our church, our evangelism, and our missiology that you barely can call what we are doing “Christian” anymore. Psychology, anthropology, and sociology have become primary influences in the churches….


Why is it that evangelism, missions, and so-called church growth are shaped more by the anthropologist, the sociologist, and the Wall Street student who are up on every cultural trend than by the Scriptures themselves? All the activity in our churches must be based on the Word of God. All the activity in missions must be based on the Word of God.


Our missionary activity, our church activity, and everything we do ought to flow from the theologian and the exegete—the man who opens up his Bible and has only one question: “What is Thy will, O God?” We are not to send out questionnaires to carnal people to discover what kind of church they would like to attend! A church ought to be friendly to genuine seekers, but the church ought to recognize that there is only one Seeker. His name is God! If you want to be friendly to someone, if you want to accommodate someone, accommodate Him and His glory, even if it is rejected by everyone else. We are not called to build empires. We are not called to be accepted by men. We are called to glorify God. And if you want the Church to be something other than a distinctive people, a people marked out by holiness as belonging to the God of heaven (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9), then you want something God does not want.


Listen to what Isaiah says: “They shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter” (Isa. 8:19). This could well be a description of the social scientists and the church growth gurus, Every two or three years all their major theories change. They have a new idea about what a man is and how you fix him, about what a church is and how you make it grow. Every two or three years there is another fad coming down the line about what can make your church into something super in the eyes of the world. Not so long ago one of the most well-known church growth experts said that he discovered he was entirely wrong on all his theories. But instead of turning people to Scripture – on his knees, broken and weeping – he embraced another man-made theory!

His discussion here is a bit different than what I was mentioning, but his point is well taken, especially when he says, “We are not called to build empires. We are not called to be accepted by men. We are called to glorify God.” That must be the bottom line for all of us.

How much of our fleshly kingdom building would disappear if our only aim was God and his glory?

[1619 words]

2 Replies to “Christians and Personal Empire Building”

  1. Thanks Bill an important article to help address the problems that arise when we allow pride to not be dealt with biblically

  2. So much of this happens in Christendom. I’m not saying that it starts like that, and my guess is that in most cases there are much purer motivations at play to start, but that’s where it ends up. The bigger things get the harder it is to relinquish, and to avoid the power and glory that comes with it, the greater the denial that sets in.

    But this is prevalent because the fundamentals of the way that man-made Western Christendom interprets “building the Kingdom of Christ”. Unfortunately so much of it involves ever larger budgets for programs & buildings. Yet very little eternal fruit abounds.

    And then there are simply the ones who latch on to positions for power or money/career.

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