The Competition-Driven Church


We are creatures needing affirmation. And the spotlight seems to promise us everything we’ve ever wanted. Whether it’s an actual spotlight on the platform, in front of an adoring congregation, or a more passive spotlight, perhaps you glow under the praise of a certain leader, it’s natural that we seek out opportunities in which we can shine at our best.

One of the problems I see plaguing unhealthy environments is ego. Ego can be loud and abrasive or it can be subtle and deceiving. Either way, it’s the antithesis of the character of Christ.

Society today is competitive. We feel that our voices must be the loudest and carry the furthest in order to be heard and validated. It breaks my heart when I hear pastors of small churches say, “we only had seventy-five people today” or “only two hundred people showed up.”

Only?

I’m sorry. Are those seventy-five or two hundred people not enough?

I am not going go into length discussing the perceived importance of numbers. Keeping track of “how many” is a valid metric to measure some kinds of effectiveness in what we are doing. Numbers do represent people. Christ did say that he would grow his Church.

However, our view is so limited as far as what that actually looks like in our church today.

Unfortunately, I think numbers have become an addiction. We flaunt our numbers, we despise our numbers, we fret about our numbers. Our numbers can validate us. But they shouldn’t.

We have absolutely no right to know how God is using us. We only need to know he is, and be grateful.

This spirit of competitiveness (whether clearly stated or implied) has damaged so many churches and leaders who haven’t seen the same “success.” After hearing it over and over again, leaders who aren’t as “successful” start believing the lies that maybe God just hasn’t blessed them like he “blesses” other churches or leaders. And at that point, those leaders either shut down or they begin to be driven by their need for man’s affirmation.

Just yesterday, I met with a church leader. She went to a church creative leadership conference (and she is self-admittedly a conferenceaholic, loving to meet other leaders to encourage and network). But after walking through some hard times in her own church and ministry, at the conference, she sat on the back row and wept.

“How can I ever keep up with this? I’m just not good enough.”

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Looking back, she knows that nobody is good enough and it is by the grace of God we do what we can do, but when most churches are under or around 500 people, with little resources, although aspects of these conferences are practical…it seems like a lot of times, they can do more damage than good.

Not because a host intendeds to flaunt their stuff. Not because they are able to hire professionals when someone else is lucky to have found Bob who can play guitar on Sundays. But because the church culture has gotten so competitive. And it’s happened so slowly, we don’t even notice it.

When we think our calling is to be the biggest, the most creative, or the best, we have completely lost sight of the only important fact.

And that is that we are called.

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From Mad Church Disease, (Zondervan, February 2009)

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