“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.… Whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Philippians 1:15,18
It was my second pastorate and, like many pastors, I had a few nagging insecurities about other churches in town that were outstripping us in terms of head count. To compound my sense of inadequacy, one of those churches took great delight in flaunting their success, with “KOKOMO’S LARGEST SUNDAY SCHOOL” painted in large letters on their buses as they trundled around town each weekend. They were laying claim to being the best church in town. Which meant, according to their self-promoting boasts, that we weren’t the best church in town. That bothered me a little!
To make matters worse, on one Easter Sunday morning they announced an Easter egg hunt on their front lawn to attract even more kids and to no doubt become the “largest” largest Sunday school in town. “Aha!” my evil heart thought, “Now everyone will see how shallow and commercial they are.” I was convinced that my orthodox stand against trivializing the Resurrection with Easter eggs on church lawns would win the day. Then “Kokomo’s Largest Sunday School” church decided to also make that Easter “Friendship Sunday.” Which meant that their members would invite friends—some of whom were members of our church—to this Easter-egg hunting, fastest-growing church in town. To top it off, a prize would be given to the person who brought the most friends. I must admit that their competitive spirit had my spiritual britches in a bunch.
On that Easter Sunday night, before the evening service, I was getting a drink at the drinking fountain in the hallway at our church when I heard someone approaching. I stood up, no doubt with water dripping from my chin, only to be assaulted by a very intense woman.
“Pastor,” she began, “do you know how many people were at that church this morning? They had 1,500 people there. And you know what really bothers me? Some of those people were from our church. They should have been here this morning!”
I’m not always this spiritually good—especially when it comes to dealing with Easter-egg-hunting-friendship-churching competitive Christians—but I had recently been studying Philippians 1, so the Spirit immediately brought verse 18 to mind. “Wow!” I said, “Are you telling me that this morning 1,500 people in our town heard the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t that just thrill your heart?” Needless to say that was a real “show stopper” for her.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to the rivalries and factions that crop up in church-world. Even while he is imprisoned for the gospel, he tells the Philippians that other Christians are slandering his name and seeking to profit from his incarceration by competitively seeking to outdo him. And yet Paul, in a staggering moment of humility, says that ultimately it doesn’t matter. All he cares about is that the gospel is being preached. He is nothing, and the good news of Jesus is everything!
So let’s measure our attitudes. Do you mutter when you hear news of the success of other churches or get upset when your friends go there instead of to your church? As Paul reminds us, envy and jealousy have no place in God’s kingdom. The stakes are too high for us to focus our energies on interchurch food fights and petty rivalries.
The reality is that when other biblically healthy churches grow, the kingdom grows. It’s not about “they win” and “we lose.” Rather, it’s a genuine win-win situation. Be a cheerleader for the gospel in your town!
- Have you been caught in any food fights lately? If a “rival” church has come to mind, take a few moments to pray about your attitude toward that church.
- Take some time to pray for the spiritual health, focus, and growth of other churches in your neighborhood. Genuinely seek God’s blessing for those congregations and their leaders.
- Now pray for your church. Pray that God will free your fellowship of any jealousy, envy, or pride that would keep you from effectively demonstrating the unity of the gospel.