Am I Your Competition?
One afternoon I was sitting in the church office, talking with a friend. We regularly received UPS deliveries, for it was a time before the creation of Amazon. The same UPS driver always seemed to deliver our packages. That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard the door open and I looked up to see the UPS guy walking toward the office. Yet, there was one thing different. He wasn’t holding any packages.
As he walked into the office, I made some ridiculous dad joke about never ordering something invisible. Either he didn’t hear my lame attempt at comedy or it was, in fact, so lame that he made the decision to ignore what I said, in order to avoid any more embarrassment. He simply asked, “Do you know where Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church is located?”
I quickly made the decision not to even acknowledge his obvious repudiation of my sense of humor. So, I simply replied, “Of course. You take a right out of our parking lot. Go through the first light and it will be the second church on your left.” To which he replied, without skipping a beat, “I figured you would know, sense they’re your competition.” He then spun around and headed right back out the same door that he had just entered, a moment before.
My friend and I were speechless. We just looked at each other for a moment and then the moment was gone. Both of us just started to laugh. Yet, soon my laughter turned into concern.
Was he serious? Was he making a cultural comment about the state of competition within the body of Christ? Did he really think that we would view the church down the street as competition? Or was he, following my lead, sharing his own sense of humor? More disturbing yet, his comment made me look deep inside of myself to see if I did view the church down the street as competition?
What was most likely an innocuous comment on his part, became an existential crises in my faith life. For the first time I began to see that, from the outside looking in, Christian congregations could be seen as competition. Marketing similar products in different packaging. Just like McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s. All vying for an increased market share, in the name of Jesus.
My next question concerned my culpability. How have I contributed to this reality? How have my actions, my words and my decisions added to this perspective? Because, after all, I always make everything about me.
I started to think about polling the congregation to see if they actually did view the churches down the street as competition. What a horrible testimony. For I had convinced myself, in that short period of time, that the results of that survey wouldn’t be good news.
Why? Because deep down, in areas that I didn’t want to admit, I did view other churches as competition. I wanted my church to grow. I wanted to minister to more and more people, with more and more people, through more and more programs.
Now I wasn’t a heathen. I wanted this growth to mean that more and more people would come to faith in Jesus. But, I didn’t want more and more people to come to faith in Jesus, outside the realm of the ministry of my church. Or better stated, I didn’t care if anyone came to faith in Jesus, outside the realm of the ministry of my church.
My church, my ministry was all I ever thought about. (The very fact that I always referred to it as “my church” and “my ministry” shines a spotlight on the root of the problem.) Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, through the ministry of my church, was my perspective. In that moment I had to confess that the church down the street was seen by me as competition.
It’s hard to do church without taking ownership. For faith is a very personal thing, lived out in the company of others. As long as I saw it as “my church” and “my ministry”, I was doomed to always see anything else and anyone else, including other churches, as competition. In that moment, sitting there in that church office, I knew that I had to change my perspective.
Church isn’t about me. Church isn’t about you. Church is only about what God has done and is doing through the saving grace of Jesus and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus we are called to work our tails off to bring the good news of Jesus to the world. Wouldn’t this goal be better accomplished if we all worked together, as opposed to always seeing each other as competition?
Yet, how can we actually live out this perspective? That’s a topic for another blog 🙂