If you know me at all, you know I am extremely competitive.
I suppose I can blame it on my tennis days. Growing up I was consumed with the desire to be the #1 player for my age in Texas, and in order to do that, you have to beat all the other kids. While some of them might be friends, ultimately all of them are competition. And, after years of struggling with the yoke of being#2, I broke through when I was 17 and did in fact become #1 in the state for boys’ 18-and-under. I liked it enough that it happened again when I was 18.
And so that same mentality all too often creeps into my thoughts about and relationships with other pastors, both within the United Methodist orbit and beyond it. Who’s got the most people? Who has the cleverest sermons? Who’s the best dresser? Who do the other clergy crowd around at Annual Conference?
It’s easy to deride such attitudes and the often unhealthy behavior patterns they produce.
And yet . . . I don’t want to land in such a simplistic place as I look at clergy relationships. Because some benefits do emerge from paying attention to what others are doing in their position of leadership — even if it stirs up the competitive spirit buried deep within.
So here it is. Why I Hate Preacher Competition. And Why I Love It.
Why I Hate Preacher Competition
- Many times I lose. Other churches become bigger. Other preachers “feed” the souls of congregants better. Other leaders receive more denominational recognition.
- It makes me define the wrong enemy. My true opponent in ministry is not the cool church in town or the big church in the denomination; it’s Satan himself.
- It makes me pursue the wrong goal. If I set out to be “bigger than,” “better than,” or “cooler than” someone else, I overlook the ultimate goal of ministry: to bring glory to the God who brought salvation to me.
- It’s never enough. Whatever competition (usually internal and unstated) I might win, there’s always another pastor or church doing more, doing it better, and doing it bigger. When constant comparison is a way of life, discontent becomes your state of being.
- I focus on my performance for God rather than my position in Christ.
Why I Love Preacher Competition
- It lets you know what’s possible. In the early 90s, while I was pastoring in Monroe, NC, a phenomenon named Lenny Stadler was preaching at nearby Weddington United Methodist Church. If I did not have an envy-tinted awareness that he was leading that church to grow by more than 100 people in attendance a year (!), I would not have known such a thing is even possible. Now, of course, such growth is commonplace in many churches but in those days it was unheard of.
- It motivates you to new levels of creativity and risk. Churches rarely grow in effectiveness while remaining static in methods. The more I know what other churches and leaders are doing to advance the kingdom, the better I am at taking those ideas, customizing them, and then bringing them home to help us invite all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Benchmarking is not the same as salivating. We at Good Shepherd try to benchmark with other churches who are slightly ahead of our growth curve: What did you have to do when you got to 1,000 per Sunday? we used to ask. How can we get a higher percentage of people in LifeGroups? we now ask. What does it look like to have a culture of generosity and leadership? we will ask.
- Confirms the ongoing connection between doctrine and growth. Whether within our Methodist family or beyond it, I continue to see that churches who hold to ancient teaching regarding the divinity of Christ and the authority of Scripture are much more likely to grow large & have influence than do those congregations with radicalized theology.
- At my age, I’ve got some experience to share. I’ve preached long enough and Good Shepherd has accomplished enough that I have some morsels to share in helping younger pastors to hone their own ministry skills. And over the last couple of years, I’ve found that to be a part of this calling I enjoy the most.