Pastor Eric Daniel describes how he overcame feelings of jealousy and competitiveness when committed members of his congregation started drifting to a new, better-resourced church. He built a relationship with the new pastor, concentrated on the strengths of his own church, and kept inviting new people to the worship table.
About eight years into being a lead pastor, a larger ministry with more resources began a satellite campus about a half mile from the church I serve. Within the first few months, our church gave up 15 percent of its membership. Committed volunteers, ex-board members, and friends were choosing to attend this new church. People who I thought were partners of our ministry. I lost count of the goodbye conversations, “Pastor, we love you and your ministry, but we are going to start attending the new church in town.” This new church swept up about 25 percent of several churches in town. It was the first time our attendance went backwards since I took the pastorate in 2002.
We can easily feel a sense of competition regarding church growth in our city. It is easier to welcome people than to say goodbye, especially when they are giving generously. There is a subconscious voice saying, “my numbers are important.” And it is a hard pill to swallow when the growth curve moves in the opposite direction, especially if there is a church and pastor in town receiving those “wayward sheep.” That new church can feel like the enemy.
What is the best way to respond? Fortunately, God’s Spirit intervened with some good counsel.
1. Take the pastor of the new church out to lunch.
The first piece of advice surprised me. It took a few weeks for me to agree with the Spirit. I did not want to have a relationship with this pastor. I was frustrated that his ministry was growing, causing mine to shrink. However, this lunch was the right antidote. I sat with this pastor whom I had felt jealous of for the past four months.
The Spirit whispered, “He is just like you.” The words softened me. They made him human. He was not a superstar. He and I felt the same pressures. We had the same fears. We became ministry partners. We used vastly different approaches, but we were not enemies.
2. Play your own game.
At the time, I was reading Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Temptations of a CEO. It is a fable about two companies in the same type of business. The larger company was trying to beat the other company although it already held a larger share of the market. The smaller company was content with its market share and consistently achieved a higher profit margin than its competitors. This reality frustrated the larger company. As I got deeper into the fable, I heard the Spirit say, “Play your own game.”
I was not in competition with anyone. God is calling lost people home. Each church is uniquely called, supernaturally equipped, and specially positioned to reach people in their city. Comparison kills. It is a real distraction to the true calling.
3. Keep inviting people to the worship table.
Finally, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet came up in my daily reading of scripture (Matthew 22:1-14). Jesus reminded me of my responsibility to set the spiritual banquet table. I was called to plan a worship service for the exaltation of God and the feeding of His sheep. My responsibility included inviting people to the worship table. It was not my duty to compare and evaluate who was or was not coming. Filling the house was to consume me rather than measuring myself against others.
The pastor who I imagined was better than me was really a friend waiting to be pursued. I was able to defuse the situation because I chose a relationship. I put aside my jealousy and unfair judgments, which are easy to have from a distance. I got back to work setting the worship table and calling people to it. In the end, praise God, both our churches grew in the next few years by over 30 percent!
When tempted to feel competitive with another church or pastor: extend friendship, play your own game, and invite guests to the Wedding Feast.
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