I am dad. I have two boys, ages 7 and 5. They are 100% male and they want to be some combination of Indiana Jones, Optimus Prime, and Jack Bauer when they grow up. The other day I observed them engage in somewhat of a ritual in our house but this time it made me think. The scenario is unimportant but one son tried to outdo the other son to gain my approval and a pre-testosterone ruckus developed.
At the core of their conflict was sin. Sibling rivalry was the chosen vehicle.
As church leaders and pastors, we do this. We do it more than we want to admit and we are quick to criticize others for doing it…. which, in and of itself is a form of doing it ourselves so, well, you get the picture.
I am talking about a sort of sibling rivalry among God’s people, specifically local church leaders. I have spent almost a decade working in and around the local church and am guilty of everything I plan to mention in this post. I have copied, judged, mocked, pitied, gossiped about, and down right slandered other local churches in my area. I have sat in meetings where we dissected the production of a sister church only to try and top it for our own gain. One time, I said awful things about a pastor on staff at a neighboring church while I was ON MY WAY to meet and pray with him. On several occasions, I have absolutely rejected what was best for the Kingdom because it was not what was best for my church’s bottom line.
Maybe that is part of the problem. Are churches even supposed to have a bottom line?
On a routine espionage mission of a nearby church, I actually had an emotional experience. God spoke to me through the message the pastor gave that night and I wept during the worship that followed… I don’t cry. Instead of taking eternal value away from my experience, I went back to my staff and complained about how much money that church spent on their production and called them “an inch deep and a mile wide.”
I have actually finished programming a lighting and projection display for a worship service, only to mutter “Take that, __________ Church.” Go ahead, cast the first stone.
In talking with other pastors and reading other blogs, I know I am not alone in my guilt. For some reason, we have created a culture of competition among God’s Church. In our race for our Father’s approval, we trample on and try to outdo our brothers. This can’t be right.
Often times, the biggest churches in town are both the most guilty and the biggest victims of this. They got big by having the best show or the coolest gimmick, but now they have a target on their back. Deep inside, the other pastors in the town celebrate their decline the same way we were all so pleased when Britney Spears had hers. Lies are told, rumors are started, and somewhere Jesus’ last words get lost:
Go into the world, and bring more people to follow me.
Allow me to prove my point: Joel Osteen.
Our opinions about other churches and their leaders too often drown out God’s opinion of them.
I love to read about the first Christians in Acts. If there is one theme that can not be taken away from that movement, it is their unity. They did everything as one. They shared, ate, prayed, and read together. It was beautiful. It had to be to survive the collective fury of the Roman Empire. The first church managed to tell the world around them the Good News of the cross and empty tomb without hurting each other to do it. At that time, the Church had enough problems of its own, they did not need any from other Christians.
That day, I stopped my sons from fighting over my approval. Even though they each had their best intentions at heart, I did not feel honored or loved by them. I shared with them the lyrics from one of my favorite songs right now by The Avett Brothers:
Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing, like the love that let us share our name.
What does that mean for us in the church? What does it look like to visibly share the name of Christ with our actions towards one another? How can we help be a blessing to and not a competitor of our neighboring churches?
I have a few ideas and examples to get us started:
- Start a pastor network in your area that is less about comparing stats and numbers and more about encouraging and lifting each other up.
- Create shared events with other churches in your area. Work together on the planning and cost.
- Share a mailer project with other churches in your area. Tell the community, “We know God has a plan for you. Find out what it is at one of these churches.”
- Do a justice project with other churches in your area.
Let’s hear yours.