4 Perils of a Competitive Church

Luke Baker

On August 2, 2012 an app swarmed the market with unparalleled reception.

Boasting in its ability to make you a stronger strategist and the chief in charge, millions were sold on this free game. And seven years later many of us are still collecting elixir, building barracks, training barbarians, and clashing with other clans for the sake of building ours up. As of today, Clash of Clans is the highest-revenue generating app in the App Store, reporting over 600 million downloads and earning nearly $6 billion.

This mobile strategy video game is just one of the countless offerings that exposes a truth hard-wired deep into each and every one of us- we crave to build a kingdom.

Our cravings are meant to point us toward the truest things of life, but sin is conceived when cravings are distorted and sought to be satisfied with improper means and motivations. This is why Augustine referred to sin as “disordered love.” And the most common way we see our kingdom-building cravings lose their order is by each of us choosing to build our own personal kingdoms rather than uniting to build under a common King.

This way of living is proven and perpetuated with empty adages such as “you do you”, “follow your heart”, “live your truth”, and many other lines that fill the latest top-selling self-help book.

We place ourselves on a false throne and waste our lives attempting to build around it. And when your life is focused on building your own kingdom, every other kingdom is viewed as an obstacle or fuel for yours. Your neighbor is transformed from companion to competitor.

Since the local church is comprised of people like you and me it is prone to suffer from the same game of thrones. Like the Tower of Babel, we may be working toward Heaven, but it’s often fueled by the desire to make a name for ourselves. We may have set out with good intentions to learn much from our business friends, but one way the church was never meant to be like the brands we love is the way we approach competition.

Leader, if you view your local church as your kingdom to build up, then it will create an Us vs. Them mentality. Competition will be rampant where competition was never supposed to exist. How does this play out on a weekly basis?

When we view our local churches as a brand to build up, we will measure the wrong things. Our disordered loves create disordered measures of success. Do we have the most members? Are we the most creative? Most giving? Most downloads? Most locations? Best social presence? Best building? All measures only made possible by looking at our neighbors.

If competing is defined as “striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same,” then there is no space in the local church for this attribute to mark our work. And when there is, there are 4 destructive realities that we are walking into.

1. We show the world that we are not much different.

To make myself clear, the Church should be the most and least competitive space known to mankind. While there should not be an ounce of competition between our brothers and sisters, we should unleash a force of competition against the spiritual forces at war.

Paul said it best in his letter to the Ephesians:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."- Ephesians 6:12

When we fall for the trap of competing against flesh and blood, we show the world that what matters to them is also what matters to us- being the best by earthly measures of success. The world desperately needs to see that there is another way of working that rebels against the pressure to be better than the man next to us.

2. We turn our brothers and sisters into opponents.

How can we say we love our city yet spend more time competing with our neighborly churches than competing against false ways of thinking and living in our city? We are on the same team, building the same Kingdom. Heaven is coming; there is no time to fight for credit, titles, or glory.

Competition’s role is to sort people in an order of value. But the work of the Church is to be fueled by humility, the ability to forget the self. To compete is to lose sight of your dependency on God. It’s to believe you can create something in your own power that is better than what your neighbor could do in theirs. God is doing the work, leader. You are the vessel for the work and glory of God. This reality places us all, regardless of roles and abilities, on a level playing field.

Listen to Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth:

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”- 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Competition in the church stems from leaders wanting to build their kingdom rather than God's, gripping His glory rather than seeking it. We demolish competition by giving God what is rightfully His.

3. We prevent the impossible

The tower of Babel is a story that shows both the limitless possibilities and the dangers of humans partnering together for a common goal. Before God dismantled their plans with chaos and confusion, He made us aware of the power of unity:

“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”- Genesis 11:6

The builders of Babel were of the same language, innovating their way to new heights, and sharing resources for the sake of achieving the same goal. Their efforts were in alignment, but their end goal was not.

In our current climate, it’s common to be guilty of retreating to the opposite end of the pendulum. We can be too successful in the call to scatter, while neglecting the call to partner with our neighbors. We can expand our personal ministries and claim to be working towards glorifying God, just preferring to do so in the comfort of our self-built safe havens.

The impossible begins with the embrace of partnerships beyond our own walls.

4. We miss out on our true mission

If you want to know the health of your church’s motivations, then look at what you’re measuring.

Competition is evident in our caring too much about surface-level numbers such as attendance, giving, locations, downloads, etc. These metrics matter, but they should not be the drivers behind our work. Yes, all healthy things grow, but not all things that grow are necessarily healthy. Many growing things can actually be deadly. Check cancer and addictions.

We need to care more deeply and expend more creative energies in measuring matters of depth- character, restoration, reconciliation, discipleship, justice, transformation, and redemption. Your weekly attendance doesn’t much matter if you can’t get a gauge on these matters.   

The true mission of our labor is to usher in the Kingdom of God. You have a yearning to build something that lasts. You can choose to build your kingdom, using your neighbor as a measuring rod to create a temporary building. Or you can join Jesus and your fellow brothers and sisters to build a Kingdom that stretches into eternity.

Luke Baker is the Digital Content Producer at Catalyst. He enjoys tea, has socks with his dog's face on them, and cares way too much about his Uber passenger rating. 

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