Today I was thinking about competitiveness among those of us who serve in ministry. I do feel like there is some good news on this front. It seems that the walls of competition and comparison are beginning to slowly come down. I regularly talk to pastors who authentically want to be a blessing to other churches in their community. I hear more and more stories about ministries and churches linking arms to work together, pray together, and be together.
But there is no doubt that a spirit of competition and comparison is still a demon that many of us wrestle with in ministry. It can be subtle and devious… but it is real. It is rarely overt, but lingers in our hearts and thoughts can be ugly and dark. And, whether the spirit of competition is with another church or another staff member within the same church, it is always destructive. It hurts us and those around us.
Here is what I know to be true about competitiveness in my own life. It usually has to do with Outward Validation vs. Inward Validation. If I am honest, a spirit of competition and comparison has to do with me and my need to feel significant and successful. My own insecurity drives me to posture and protect. It drives me to compare and compete.
I want other people to know how hard I work. I want others to notice what our church is doing. I want to be recognized and appreciated.
Paul doesn’t pull any punches when he talks about how foolish it is to compare ourselves to others.
Oh, don't worry; we wouldn't dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! - 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NLT)
Paul says that our standard of measurement should never comparing ourselves to others. Whenever we do that it always leads to either feelings of pride or feelings of inferiority. I can always find another church that isn’t doing as well as our church and it can lead to an inflated of myself. And I can always find another church that seems to be doing better and growing faster than my church and that can lead to feeling of inadequacy. Neither one is a healthy result.
This issue reminds me of the exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21. This is the story of Jesus having breakfast with Peter on the beach and restoring him back to ministry. At the end of the breakfast Jesus prophesies and tells Peter that he would die a martyr’s death.
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” 21 Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” - John 21:20-21 (NLT)
I can relate to Peter. Rather than focusing on Jesus and his assignment for me, it is easy for me to look over at somebody else and say “what about him?”
In the very next verse Jesus says “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
In other words, “Peter, really, that’s none of your business. I have given you a calling and a kingdom assignment. What I do with or through other people really isn’t your concern. You just be faithful to what I’ve called you to.”
That’s a good reminder for all of us in ministry. God’s evaluation of my life and ministry has nothing to do with is happening with other pastors or their churches. At the end of the day, the only measurement of success is my faithfulness to the assignment I have been given.
Let me share a couple of practical ways that I can overcome a spirit of comparison and competition.
1. Stare it in the face and call it what it is. Confess it. It is ugly and does not serve the kingdom of God. We are all on the same team, but when we compare it makes us look like the world and creates division within the body of Christ.
2. Bless others. Use the temptation to compare and compete as an opportunity to bless. Pray for other ministries and churches. Speak well of them in public and private. Find a way to do something that affirms and celebrates them.