I have always been fascinated by foreign languages. When my daughter started attending a German-focused elementary school, I was more excited than she was; I imagined learning the language alongside her, progressing to the point where we could have deep conversations in Deutsche. Unfortunately, seven years later, I’ve really only learned the words for “hello,” “good,” and “bathroom” (badezimmer, in case you are curious).
I did discover one thing while looking through my daughter’s vocabulary lists: the Germans love long words. The language is full of massive terms, created by cramming simple words together to form a single mega-word. We have nothing in English like torschlusspanik (the panic one feels when a gate is about to close).
I could not see how the Lord could possibly both validate my call and have nearby churches be more prosperous.
One German word that’s gained some popularity in recent years is schadenfreude. This combination of the words “malice” (schaden) and “joy” (freude) essentially means finding happiness at the misfortune of others. While it is a difficult word to pronounce (and spell), it unfortunately describes the perspective that some churches have toward other ministries.
In the darkest recesses of our souls, we Christians, especially ministers, can become insanely jealous of the success of other churches—and we sometimes secretly delight in their struggles.
My Calling v. Their Calling
Although this envy seems like a textbook case of coveting, I suggest that it’s a little more innocent. The roots of the jealousy can be traced back to our very purpose. Ministers respond to the Lord’s call to do great things for His Kingdom. When they watch other pastors get miles ahead, while they themselves fight for every inch, jealousy invades the mind. They believe that other churches’ successes somehow limit the possibility of their own. To avoid this sin, ministers justify it by questioning the validity of other’s work:
- “That church focuses on entertaining more than worship.”
- “They are just stealing sheep from other ministries.”
- “They must be watering down the gospel.”
This staff sentiment can flow over into the members’ mentality as well.
I can offer this assessment because I lived through it. When we planted a church in urban Cincinnati in 2005, our growth was tediously slow, especially compared to some other churches in the neighborhood. My jealousy of other’s victories had very little to do about them—and everything to do about me.
I could not see how the Lord could possibly both validate my call and have nearby churches be more prosperous. I developed pastoral schadenfreude. While I could appreciate the ministry of a church of 3,000 an entire state away, I critiqued the church of 300 just down the street. I had difficultly cheering on local churches because I viewed them as obstacles rather than allies. Fortunately, over the past decade, I purged myself of this jealousy.
Whether you are a minister or a person in the pews, I suggest the following action points for a healthier perspective on Kingdom partnership.
3 Steps to True Partnership
1. Pray for the ministries around you.
Even though we know it to be true, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are all on the same team. Like other avenues toward spiritual growth, one of the best ways to pursue peace with others is to constantly lift them up before the Lord.
Dan Smith of Momentum Christian Church in Cleveland has a methodology for pursuing this goal. He encourages people to create lists; in this instance, it would be labeled something like, “Local Churches We’re Competing With.” After compiling a thorough roster, he recommends crossing out the original heading and relabeling it as, “My Prayer List.” This is a great first step to viewing other churches as coworkers instead of competition.
2. Focus on your church’s call.
Because the business influence on ministry continues to increase, we are more data-minded than ever. Part of this analysis tends to include the other businesses in our space. Rather than over-fixating on what the ministry down the street is doing, we should be more vigilant in critically evaluating our own stewardship of God’s resources.
In CDF Capital’s work of helping churches grow, we see that congregations who are aware of their own flaws tend to be the healthiest. And the success of nearby congregations should be an encouragement to us. Remember the old aphorism: “The rising tide lifts all boats.”
3. Constantly encourage other churches.
We often overlook an imposing statement that the apostle Paul shared in his letter to the Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
It has been far easier for me to mourn with other ministries than to rejoice with their successes. So I actively seek opportunities to collaborate with and promote the churches around ours.
One of the main ways we addressed this in our context was by adding a page to our church’s website. As we describe the visitor experience, we also provide a list of nearby churches. If our church isn’t right for people, we still want them to be part of a nurturing fellowship. On multiple occasions, in talking to the ministers of these recommended churches, I have heard that our website is why people joined their congregations. Sure, this encouragement might mean that a few less people never come to our fellowship, but as long as the Kingdom benefits, does it really matter?
My hope is that all of us can continually remember the value each of our churches contributes to the Kingdom, plus the value of us pursuing Christ’s mission together. Maybe the Germans will be forced to invent the word freudefreude to describe how our churches lift each other up.