The original twelve disciples were a very competitive lot. Several dreamed of running the country. Siblings James and John openly maneuvered for a position on Jesus’ anticipated cabinet:
“Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37).
The other Disciples rebuked them, as did Jesus, for their competitive spirits. Jesus’ rebuke was anything but subtle:
“Whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all” (v.44).
Driven pastors are no different today—including me. A couple of years ago, my wife Janet and I joined some pastoral couples on an amazing trip to Israel. Everything was first class, including the life-giving camaraderie of the other pastors. It was like church camp for pastoral couples.
One of my favorite experiences was a slow cruise across the Sea of Galilee. The sunset was breathtaking. We laughed and sang worship songs as we crossed the calm sea (actually a fresh water lake). Then, someone wisely suggested that we all take a few minutes of silence to reflect and pray. It was a surreal experience that is hard for me to articulate into words.
In that sacred moment, God spoke clearly to my heart these words, “Stop competing, comparing, and complaining.”
I had been arrested by the Holy Spirit on that sacred sea. Hoping it wasn’t audible, I looked around to see if anybody heard me get busted. I did not even realize what had been growing in my inner spirit until He revealed it as sin. I was doing the same thing that James, John, Peter and Judas had done. Instead of enjoying the fellowship of these spiritual champions, I was sizing up my brothers’ ministries in my heart. My attitude had been sinking faster than Peter’s deep dive of doubt on this same body of water.
For we don’t dare classify or compare ourselves with some…In measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves to themselves, they lack understanding. — (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Eugene Peterson’s version says, “But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point.”
The truth arrested me, and then it set me free! God’s Holy Spirit began to replace my prideful insecurity with a genuine love for these men and women of God. This was my band of brothers and I was not going to rob our Father, or them, of another minute of camaraderie by competing with them in my heart.
After I repented, the rest of the trip was an unbelievable blessing. I began to not only thank God for my brothers and sisters, but for their churches and for my own. I learned to rejoice with those who rejoice, (and to) weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
This kind of thinking is transformational, but it must be intentional. It is also very counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Rejoicing and collaborating with others is a daily choice, and a key to our spiritual and emotional health. Unhealthy competition diverts us from our mission and frustrates our heavenly Father.
Later on in the trip, I asked one of those pastors to baptize me in the Jordan River. Of course he didn’t do it as well as me because he is not a Baptist, and we have proprietary rights on baptisms. Oops, backslidden again!
I thank God for rebuking and restoring me on the Sea of Galilee that day. It is my desire to turn my pastoral competing, comparing and complaining into praying, rejoicing and encouraging.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).
What are some practical ways to encourage pastors from other churches?