Mark 9:34 (ESV) But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
The Spirit of Competition
The spirit of competition is prevalent among many Christians. Who sings the best? Who worships the best? Who preaches the best? Who gives the best offering? Which church is the best? Which ministry is the best?
This issue is not new as we find it prevalent among the disciples of Jesus. There was a spirit of worldly competition among the disciples. This was caused by jealousy and envy. Adding to this, the family members of the disciples were involved in supporting and causing more of this. The mother of Zebedee’s sons, James and John—came and asked Jesus:
Matthew 20:20-22 (ESV) Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”
This caused a rift among the other ten disciples and they were angry:
Matthew 20:24 (ESV) And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.
A “Party” Mentality
Is there a spirit of competition in the local churches that we need to be alert to? I believe there is. There is sometimes, a horrible kind of immature and foolish competition between churches and ministries; among pastors and other leaders; among Christian singers and worship leader and bands; a party mentality-where one group attempts to defeat and humiliate another group, and feel proud of their defeat of the other side.
What is the Issue—Competition or Truth?
There are some pointless, adolescent and disrespectful battles among preachers where competition was the issue and not truth. The competition, “I know more than you.” This is sometimes majorly caused by the assembly or congregation, by exalting men, playing favourites and choosing sides. Wasn’t this a big part of the problem in Corinth? Of course, it was. It is childish; it is worldly, and it is a great hindrance to the work we were all called to do.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (ESV) But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Who is your Standard?
Paul calls this a childish nature, a carnal nature, where are competitions and comparisons. Our standard of living as a Christian is not another pastor or leader; another ministry or church; another gospel singer or band; another church building, hall or auditorium; another mega-church or gifting: our standard is Jesus Christ and His holy Word.
This manner of competition and the repulsive rivalry has broken down some churches and ministries apart—not over matters of principle, doctrine or truth, but matters of carnal envy and strife.
This is a huge problem in our Christian culture and sometimes it is brought forth by brothers who calculate, plan and manipulate in a vain effort to exalt themselves above others.
“Who is greatest among the elders?” “Who is greatest in the local church?” “Who is the leader over the plurality of elders?” and all of this has led some to mock the church of Jesus Christ.
This kind of thing is annoying, unprofitable, childish and unproductive of any positive fruit. We need to guard ourselves, the local ministry and the whole church against it. These immature disputes of personal and party rivalry are sinful, but at this point in their journey with the Lord, we find the disciples asking, “Who is the greatest?”
Plurality of Elders
Each congregation and centre of leadership is to have a plurality of elders and not a one-man rule. If it is a congregation which may be small in number or have new believers, then it may not be possible to have a plurality of elders until leaders are raised.
Acts 14:23 (ESV) And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 20:17 (ESV) Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
Philippians 1:1 (ESV) Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.
The Apostles had appointed elders in every church.
A Mentor will help!
Many Pastors and leaders are novices and instead of being mentored: start to mentor their local congregation independently. The accountability to a spiritual mentor is missing. Many of these leaders are ambitious, competitive and not led by the Spirit of God and His Word. There is a refusal to receive mentoring or the choice of a mentor is inaccurate. A mentor will help and guide through various decisions and also help recognize inaccuracies and errors in ministries.
Many leaders are motivated by their need to feel important based on the growth and success of other churches and ministries in their locality. This is a serious issue among some pastors and causes much self-induced stress and feelings of inadequacy, depression, and insecurity.
Some are influenced by their favourite ministries or preachers and then initiate a drive in their congregation to be like them. This leads to a lot of friction, as we need to take many factors into consideration before we try to shape our local assembly into the mould of another ministry or church. Many leaders look at fancy Church buildings or auditoriums and a desire roots in their heart to have one for their ministry or church, without recognizing the need or God’s heart in this matter.
Church Growth and Health
A church growth numerically must be proportionate with the church health, and if it is not, it is a sure sign that the leader is driven more by ego and/or insecurity, than the pure desire of obeying their God-given assignment. This competitive spirit has led many leaders to secretly rejoice when a fellow leader is struggling. If a leader is discouraged when another ministry or church in their locality prospers and grows more than theirs, this is a sure sign of the spirit of competition at work.
Driven by Insecurity
Pastors and leaders are confused when a local church in their area is increasing numerically and their own fellowship does not grow as fast. This causes them to speculate about what they are doing wrong and what the other leader is doing right. This is driven by insecurity. We must not compare ourselves with other leaders or ministers but learn from others. Paul teaches the leaders in the Corinth church not to compare themselves with others.
2 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV) Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
Is it Possible Today?
Are we seeing these principles taking place within ministries and churches today? The spirit of competition has deeply penetrated the Church, and accordingly, many churches, ministries and Christian organizations approach ministry like a sports event. We must remind ourselves that we are all co-workers and fellow servants and that we are all on the same team—The Kingdom team! We should be seeking to impact the world and spread the kingdom of God, and not increase our own influence.
1 Corinthians 3:9 (ESV) For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
2 Corinthians 6:1 (ESV) Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
God’s Image Generation
When pastors understand that the kingdom of God is greater than their local church, then competitive feelings will begin to dissolve. Let us understand this clearly that the Church is much more than an entertainment institute. Let the days of performances, church idols, celebrity preachers and ministry idols be done away with. God is raising a generation—an exact image of Christ in His likeness and oneness. Authority is never given by God apart from responsibility.
James 3:1 (ESV) Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Philippians 1:15-18 (ESV) Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.
Those who are held responsible are accountable to God who appointed them.
The Day Of Pentecost
On the Day of Pentecost, this is precisely what transpired to the new believers. Earlier we know they had grappled with this same problem, but after the pouring of the Holy Spirit, there was a dramatic shift in their midst. The spirit of competition was removed from their hearts, and it was a sovereign move of the Lord. It was something they needed (and we all need) and something we can ask the Lord for. Picture the possibilities in your church, when everyone start placing each other first genuinely from their hearts.