It looked like any other piece of mail to get tossed with the rest of the junk. I took a closer look and as a church planter a couple years in at the time recognized what it was: an invite mailer welcoming the public to a new church starting near my neighborhood in Baltimore. It contained all the information needed to discover the pertinent details about this new plant and from the quality of the card and website, I could tell this church plant had some significant resources behind it and great potential to do exciting gospel work in our city.
And I was steamed.
My initial responses might have sounded semi-rational: I questioned the audacity of a new church planter who doesn’t bother reaching out to existing churches in the area. I made a mental note to carefully screen their beliefs to ensure our spiritual seekers or young Christians wouldn’t get taken in by folks who were doctrinally off-kilter. I grumbled at yet another cool church plant sprouting due to the rapid gentrification occurring in our city, designed to appeal to ex-youth group kids sick of their mama’s church. (Not like us, of course, who really cared for the city.)
But then I had to stop. Because even if some of the above thoughts made a little sense, that wasn’t why I was ticked. It was really simple: a new church was starting near me.
A new church with professional graphics.
With a hip modern looking website.
Whose pastor and family could double as cover models.
Whose preacher I imagined to be the kind of gifted communicator who brought revival with every sermon.
Whose apparent target audience looked a little too similar to the same type of people who made up our little congregation.
And that day I learned that not many things expose a pastor’s heart as much as the knowledge a new church is starting near you.
Because that mailer and the new church it represented revealed all of the fears hidden within this church planter. Everything that seemed perfect about them was like a mocking taunt of how imperfect my church (and I) are. Their seeming greatness was like a stinging rebuke of my incompetence in the few years of starting and leading our community. I could easily imagine people leaving us to join this new church and while feeling like they would have every reason and right to do so, also finding my hands in fists determined to do whatever it took to keep them.
Like the insidious nature of envy, it wasn’t really even about that new church but the way I viewed myself through their reflection.
In my darkest moments I can even remember passing thoughts hoping that they would fail. You can imagine the kind of shame that comes upon you when you realize with horror that you’re supposed to be a pastor and you’re actually wishing failure upon those trying to reach broken people with the gospel.
In those times of darkness, as trite as it sounds, I craved the same gospel I preached every week to others for my own soul. It revealed all the functional saviors I found myself bowing down to about the kind of pastor I wanted to be and the kind of church I wanted to lead and God in His mercy led me to repentance, allowing me to experience a fresh renewal of my identity in Christ.
Yet part of the redemptive process for me was found in actively celebrating others, particularly their ministry accomplishments. I made a point to vocally honor other church planters and the fruit of their ministry—even when I felt I lacked the same fruit. We incorporated times of prayer for other local churches within our own gatherings. I intentionally began to spend more time with other pastors and in the course of doing so, realized that the same pastors whose lives, families, and churches looked so perfect (usually on Facebook) struggled in their own unique ways and my heart began to grow in empathy for them.
God used these experiences to show me that when my eyes are on building His Kingdom instead of my own, my inclination will be to genuinely root for others to do well. Spiritual maturity is the ability to celebrate others, even when you may have no reason to celebrate yourself. Resist the temptation to let envy dictate the truth about you and others. May Kingdom vision lead you to celebrate and honor others…even if you get an awesome church invite card from them in your mailbox.