14 December 2014

Get Out of the Game: Competition in Ministry

Competition plagues us the world over, but it's especially heartbreaking to see it poison relationships within God's family. In the church, we still compare, still tally points, still side-glance and even glare head-on. But beyond all the petty reasons for competition--like beauty, talent, and financial success--there is one that could be classified the most pitiful of all.


Can the gospel be twisted into a game? Can we use its humble truths to feed our prideful spirits? It seems contradictory, yet the competition continues.

Numbers. Offerings. Supporters. Success stories. Church plants. Mission teams. Praise reports.

They don't have to be compared, but sometimes they are. Sometimes, the human heart overrules the still, small Voice. Sometimes, the need for recognition trumps the call to submission. Humility is not an attribute achieved by effort but rather by focus. So it's easy to detour from serving God to serving ourselves when our eyes slip from the Prize of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul knew this well. While under house arrest, he wrote to the Philippians. In his letter, he talked about how other preachers were spreading the gospel merely to spite him, to compete with him. Philippians 1:15-17 say this,

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife
but some also from good will; 
the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 
the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives
thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 

I can relate to this from both sides. When I am insecure, I see others as copying me and competing with me (even if they are not!). And I am guilty of copying others and competing with them. You can support your husband at home, homeschool your kids, and still volunteer hours in the community? I can do that too! Or  Did you just start blogging your monthly ministry updates--exactly the way I do them? Can you at least disguise how you're copying me?

But, like I said, these competitive thoughts stem from insecurity, which is certainly not a fruit of the Spirit.

I want to be like Paul. His response in Philippians 1:18 shocked me:

What then? 
Only that in every way
whether in pretense or in truth, 
Christ is proclaimed
and in this rejoice.

It's like he said, "So what?"

So what if someone is copying your style. Is the gospel being preached? Is Christ being proclaimed? There's a point when we need to swallow our pride and realize we're on the same team. And even if those following our example are doing it out of spite and selfishness, we cannot react in self-defense: Ah! But that's MY way of doing ministry! After all, who is this all about, anyway? (Not us.)

What mattered to Paul? His own pride? Nope. He said, "So what?" to their attempts at demoralizing him. The only thing that mattered to Him was Christ--his own obedience to Him and the spreading of His gospel. God's good news is powerful and whole; it radiates even through impure motives and triumphs over petty squabbles.

What should our reaction be then, when someone baits us with the competition game? Well, as difficult as it is, we probably should toss aside offense, like Paul did, and rejoice that the gospel is being preached.

Can I do this? Rejoice?

Yes, but only if I have my eyes set correctly, only if my security is sure in Jesus and not in ministry itself, and only if I view my own life as His tool and not my own magic wand of mission success.

So rejoicing is not merely another word for smiling. Here, it resounds clearly of a proper perspective, a humble submission, and a clear purpose. It echoes of Jesus. I want my life similarly to reverberate of His presence and not my own insecure moves in the competition game. I want to rejoice.

Abide in Him,

Do you, too, find it hard to rejoice when you're being copied?
What are some ways to encourage unity in ministry?

This post is part of a conversation on Rejoicing at Velvet Ashes' The Grove.

Related articles you may also appreciate:
When Sacrifice Is Wrong
Yes, I'm a Missionary. Aren't You?
The Siren Call of Earthly Significance
What Missionaries Can Learn from Moses


  1. Yes! You hit the heart of it all when you said,"only if my security is sure in Jesus instead of ministry itself." May that be true of us all...

  2. Do you know I have just written something exactly about this - after reading an article listing some favourite speakers and writers I felt that demon comparison and then I was reminded that you, me and all of you are on the only list that matters - our names are recorded in the Book of Life. Thank you for this confirmation of what God has been speaking to me about today. Bless you


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