As members of the body of Christ we have been designed for completion of one another rather than competition.
Designed for More
By Lucas Ramirez
In our culture, competition is god. Many economists have argued that the more competition we have in an economy, the more beneficial it will be for the people. When there is competition, the consumer benefits. For example, if there is only one shop in town to get your coffee fix, then you will gladly pay whatever price they set. But when a new coffee place opens in the same town, prices will inevitably drop and customer service will get better. With competition, you can choose where to sip your latte. As a result of competition, each coffee shop will get better to attract as many customers as they can.
Competition always makes things better. Right?
An entrepreneurial spirit and competition in the marketplace are amazing things. However, is it wise to apply those mindsets when we approach the Church?
The truth is, when applied to the fellowship of believers, competition reduces the Church to nothing more than a manufacturer of a product. But we, the church, are called to greater works. And Jesus is not a product, he is a person. The Scriptures call us to be vehicles for his love through a spiritual family (where free market principles do not apply), and not a corporation. In Jesus’ final prayers in John 17 he asks that the church be one so that others will believe in him. In other words, the world is going to look at us and then decide what they believe about Jesus. So the question is, do we believe our call is to be better than the church next door or to help the church next door become better?
I have been blessed to experience ministry in many different settings. During my years of volunteering or interning at ministries, I never once concerned myself with the numbers or size of the ministry. As an intern or a volunteer, for me ministry was all about relationships and impact. Yet without fail, the moment I became a full-time youth pastor, right out of college with a paycheck, I started to think about numbers all the time and how many people were showing up to programs. Numbers have their place, because they do represent souls, but by allowing numbers to be my sole measurement for successful ministry, I became consumed by a burden to perform and produce. Thinking back, it’s clear to me how my misplaced focus fueled a sense of competition with others and was rooted in my egocentric desire to succeed and be respected.
For believers not in formal leadership positions, it would be easy to shrug this off and to claim that as Christians we are not personally guilty of competition that contributes to disunity. It’s easier to blame the leaders or put the responsibility on our pastors. But we all are part of the body, therefore we all carry a responsibility. We may also be tempted to say there is a difference between disunity and good old healthy competition. But let’s be honest. We have all felt jealousy toward another ministry. At some point we have all compared our ministry to another and felt inadequate, compared our ministry to another and felt superior, or looked at the other churches and ministries in our community and thought, I have to be better. The hard truth is that at times in our ministry, we have each taken our focus off of Christ and instead, spent our time, energy, and resources on simply trying to look better than the church next door. When this kind of shift becomes the norm, we stand on the brink of failure in sharing the Gospel and making disciples. Our very mission is in the balance. With leadership also comes a burden to lead toward the unity Christ longs for.
Fueled by egocentric ideas, we tend to see ourselves as individuals rather than as members of a living body. The cultural machine, from birth it seems, teaches that goal number one in life is to get ahead, beat the competition, climb the ladder and live at the top. It is vital to identify that the cultural trend of competition changes the culture of our churches in many ways down to how we manage time, use money and strategize marketing. If the culture in a church is that of competition, then profits, finished products and success will drive our energies. Church, is this what Christ has called us to?
So where does this dominant cultural trait of competition come from? It actually has its roots in the ideas we hold about ourselves. Our individualism is the root problem and the antidote is interdependence. It looks like this:
Root problem: individualism = creates competition
Root solution: interdependence = creates completion and unity
Our egocentric tendencies actually have a positive turning point: If we use the ability to think about ourselves for self-evaluation and growth rather than selfishness, the natural ability becomes an asset. There is also positive turning point for the cultural trend of competition. Economists consider that competition actually regulates individualism (or egocentrism) in a market. We live in communities with other people and their mere presence diminishes an individual’s tendency to act for their own benefit at all times. In other words, in the marketplace we are accountable to those around us. Totally egocentric and selfish individuals are pushed aside in a competitive market, which regulates individualism.
The biblical call is not for competition or individualism, but completion. In the same way that a puzzle comes together or the parts of a human body complete one another, Paul calls individuals and churches to strive toward this state of interdependence and completion. In 1 Corinthians, Paul goes on to reprimand tendencies for pride and competition: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). This idea comes to life when everyone offers their strengths without concern for who gets the credit. The key is knowing who you are and what your role is in the function of the body. We must be willing to find community-wide strategies and think outside the walls of our individual ministries. This will require weighing our motives so that our focus is on how to serve well rather than on trying to outperform other parts of the body.
Our task is to first realize the cultural influences impacting our decision making to move past competition and into the powerful sphere of influence God designed us for: completion.
Excerpt taken from Designed For More, FaithWords 2018. For more from Lucas Ramirez, visit, LucasRamirez.org or @TheLucasRamirez.