Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Genesis 9:18-29, Hebrews 6:1-12, John 3:22-36
The ministry of John the Baptist was a big success. Business was so good he had customers lined up from Bethany to Aenon, where he moved because it had more water to let him do his job. He had his own disciples and irritated all the right authorities. Yet when Jesus arrived on the scene, John willingly gave it all up. John knew something we often forget: successful ministry is not determined by numbers or longevity, but by how well it advances the message and mission of Christ. When John’s followers began flocking to Jesus, John didn’t start planning how to win them back. Instead he said of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Christian ministry is not a competition, but our competitive nature can sneak into it. Choir solos, sermons, fundraisers, offerings, praise hands, potluck contributions – sometimes we can’t help comparing these things, especially if we are good at them. If healthy competition pushes us to do our best work, the ministry may benefit. When we start thinking of our collaborators as rivals, we do a disservice to everyone, and undermine the community and the ministry. Whether an individual or church, we let our lights shine to illuminate the love of Christ, not to put a spotlight on ourselves. Even if we are the very best at something, sometimes we must intentionally step aside to let others play their parts. Being our best – not the best – is what matters.
Mature preachers will say praise and criticism are the same. In other words, they hear feedback, but do Christ’s work for the sake of the work, not the reaction. Praise does not swell their heads, and criticism does not defeat them. This ego-free attitude requires cultivation, but our work will be the better for it. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a compliment for a job well done, but if our focus moves from Jesus to acquiring compliments (or members, or money, or readers), our work suffers.
For others to increase, sometimes we must decrease. But if we do it to help Jesus increase, we rise along with him.
Comfort: The best ministries are collaborations; you don’t have to do everything yourself.
Challenge: Whenever you feel competitive with someone, ask yourself whether it is healthy or unhealthy.
Prayer: Gracious God, teach me to appreciate the diversity of the Body of Christ. Amen.
Discussion: Where do you find yourself competing when you could be cooperating?
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