We live in a culture that prizes competition. Heaven knows, we’ve been exposed to some pretty heavy–and ugly–competition over the past several months leading up to yesterday’s election. More than once I’ve listened to an ad or a debate and wondered exactly what would happen if the candidates worked together, pooling their resources and cooperating with each other rather than competing.
Competition is as old as mankind. We see it in the story of Cain and Abel, in Lucifer’s desire to have equal status with God, between the disciples as they jockeyed for a favored position in the Kingdom of God. Yes, competition is as old as sin itself.
When applied in moderation, competition can hone, sharpen us. But competition unleashed is the antithesis of cooperation, and a strong deterrent to interdependence. One doesn’t have to look any farther than 1 Corinthians 12 to understand that the body of Christ must be interdependent in order to function the way God intended.
Where do we see competition in the church today? I’m not talking about competition between denominations (though there is certainly that!), but about competition that goes on within individual churches…places that are supposed to be known for loving fellowship.
Competition among volunteers.
It’s not at all unusual for me to encounter someone who covets the spiritual gift or ministry that someone else has. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping them discern their own unique design and finding a good ministry match. Sometimes it just boils down to a desire for attention and recognition, so making a point of celebrating all ministry equally can help avoid that particular symptom of competition.
Competition between staff and volunteers.
Any equipping leader knows that a hallmark of good practice comes when they find they’ve equipped themselves out of a job! But in all honesty, that’s a scary scenario in the middle of a recession, with so many churches taking the brunt and laying off staff in order to survive. It may be tempting for a staff person to protect their job by limiting the ministry they are willing to give away. If you find yourself dealing with this temptation, I encourage you to face down your fear and continue to give the ministry away as God brings qualified volunteer ministers. You can trust that he has more than enough ministry to go around–even for you! (I speak from experience.)
Competition between leaders.
Leaders who fight to keep their favored ministry continually in the limelight in order to garner resources–people, time, and funding–at the expense of other ministries do so much damage to the church body. Not only does ministry become very lopsided, but the perception is given that one ministry is more important, more valuable, more desirable in God’s eyes than any other. In reality, all are equally necessary–everything from cleaning the church’s bathrooms and washing windows, to serving a hot meal to the poorest in the community.
No matter how you look at it, competition within the church is divisive. It robs the body of Christ of the interdependence it needs to be the body of Christ, leaving the church crippled and ineffective in its ministry. But when we work cooperatively, serving together inside and outside the walls of the church, our ministry becomes fruitful and attractive–to God as well as to those who are watching us!