Pastors and ministers pretend that it is not real. We tell ourselves that it is a figment in the imagination of others. After all… how could we stoop so low as to be envious of another person’s ministry or church or methodology? But, in our heart of hearts, we have all felt the clawing nature of envy toward someone else’s church.
I grew up in a vibrant, growing church where we regularly saw people put their faith in Christ, be baptized, join the church, and become active in the ministries. Then I went out into the big, bad world to become a church leader as well. Quickly, young church leaders learn that it will not be like the portrait they have in their minds. Relationships are often won through battles. Trust is not a given; it must be earned. Positional authority is the stuff of myth and legend. Furthermore, some churches seem to reject the very change that they called you to initiate. Who would have guessed??? At any rate, we find ourselves in fields of ministry and wonder why it is “so easy” for other people in other churches.
Even pastors fall prey to the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome.
Church leaders give in to ministry envy and it makes us do foolish things. Here are a few ideas to help us move from muddling through to embracing God’s call on our lives.
1. Be renewed in your calling. You are doing all of this because of a personal encounter you had with God. Your personal calling should override any envy over someone else’s calling. Go back to that moment and breathe it in again. In fact, take some time and journal about it so you can once again solidify the importance of your calling.
2. Love the people of your church more than the potential programs of your church. Planters some time fall in love with a methodology before they fall in love with the people of a community. Leaders in established churches can do the same. Envy is often born out of what you think is the unabated results from other people in other leaders’ churches. But let’s face the facts… you don’t know the people in those other churches and you don’t know the travail it took to see those results. You know (or should know) the people in your church and community. God sent you to love them. So love them.
3. Lead the church because of disciple-making instead of decision-making. Your role in this life is not to be a person who simply pushes a mass of people down a path toward a preferential future. By virtue of being a believer first and a leader second, we all have the responsibility to make disciples. Stop trying to make congregational decisions as your main objective. Make disciples as your life’s priority.
4. Don’t believe the hype. All of the leaders that speak at conferences, write books (and blogs), and lead networks or denominations are all experiencing the pains associated with leadership. We tend to look at them and their churches through rose-colored glasses; and we are usually the ones that impose the hype on them. But each of the well-known leaders will tell us that they have walked through just as many fires and fought just as many battles as you have. They are trusting God for the growth in their church just as we have to do the same in our churches.
5. Focus on personal spiritual formation. Envy is a mask. It hides our own weaknesses and insecurities. Every time I face the envy of my own heart, it is often stems from the desire to escape facing a weakness and have it instantly substituted with success. The only way through the issue of envy is to admit the sinfulness of it. Admit that you have created a ministerial idol and ask the Holy Spirit’s help in tearing it down. Then, seek after God as the sufficient answer for security and meaning in ministry.
6. Settle down. God has given you an assignment and He will make you competent to complete it. Envy comes when we are anxious. I was recently reminded by Marty Duren of a great statement once made by Eugene Peterson: “Discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction.” Settle down and settle in for the long haul of walking with our Master.