A while back I got a voicemail from one of our church planters saying that the largest church in the region decided to hold an Easter service right across the street from his new church--and at the exact time. I left a message saying something along the lines of, “That stinks, but it shouldn’t even effect you.” And he left me a message saying, he just needed to vent and he “felt weird that feelings of competition had risen to the surface.”
Weird feelings of competition--many of us pastors and planters struggle with them. Certainly those of us who score high on the “StrengthsFinder” for “competition” and those with Type-A personalities have them.
Competitive feelings are strange. We know that other churches are not the competition. Recreation and busyness and obviously, the devil--they are the competition. But we still fight the feelings.
In 1 Samuel 24, when David is hiding from Saul in the cave, and an opportunity arises, “David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe.”--1 Samuel 24:4-5
David is conscience-stricken, he knows he should have done it because Saul was the Lord’s anointed. When Saul finds out he feels strange too:
“Saul asked, ‘Is that your voice, David my son?’ And he wept aloud. ‘You are more righteous than I,’ he said. ‘You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.’”--1 Samuel 24:16-17
Even David and Saul felt the pangs of competition with other people who were supposed to be on the same side.
At a recent church conference some of us talked about how awkward those pastor conferences can be because of the tendency to compare yourself with everyone else. Paul said, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves they are not wise.”--1 Corinthians 10:12
So how do we handle these feelings of competition?
I must admit I’m not sure, I struggle with this.
In our first church plant, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the competition among churches was cut throat. It was horrible. I took out my feelings on the softball field and made it our goal to win the church leagues. I’d think, “Maybe your church is better than mine, but I went three-for-four and we ten-runned you, so there!” Hey, lighten up on me, I was a kid.
In our second church, in Benicia, CA someone from the city paid for all of us evangelical pastors to go to a conference together. We roomed together, ate together and became good friends. It was a small enough town that if someone left my church to go to another one, I could talk to that pastor about it. As friends, the competition was diffused.
In my present church I tried to befriend the local pastors, but over time and with my schedule, I haven’t been able to invest that time. So, what do I do?
In the business book called, “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Hansson there is a chapter on competitors called, “Who Cares What They Are Doing?” That chapter really helped me. Here’s a few excerpts:
“In the end it’s not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway. Why not? Because worrying about the competition quickly turns into an obsession. What are they doing right now? Where are they going next? How should we react? Every little move becomes something to be analyzed. And that’s a terrible mind-set. It leads to overwhelming stress and anxiety. That state of mind is bad soil for growing anything.”
“Focus on yourself instead. What’s going on in here is way more important than what’s going on out there. When you spend time worrying about someone else, you can’t spend time improving yourself.. Focus on competitors too much and you wind up diluting your own vision.”
“If you’re going to be like everyone else, why are you even doing this? If you merely replicate competitors, there’s no point to your existence. Even if you wind up losing it is better to go down fighting for what you believe in instead of just imitating others.”
The point is clear: Let’s embrace our own uniqueness.
When Peter asked Jesus about John’s ministry, Jesus replied, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”--John 21:22
God has great plans for you and me, let’s embrace that, let’s follow Him, and let’s not get too worried about what the other churches in our area are doing.
By the way, my friend’s church plant wasn’t effected at all by the large church meeting right across the street. His new church had a ton of visitors and its largest crowd ever. And that planter actually called up the pastor of the large church to encourage him, and invite him to lunch. Now they are friends.