Competition is Killing the Church
The American Church faces many unique challenges.
Despite trillions of dollars in debt, people keep saying America is one of the richest countries in the world (even though most people saying that are politicians hoping to get (re)elected). With our wealth comes our freedom. The freedom the speak, worship, pray, shoot innocent animals, and enjoy life. Which also means we are sports crazy, competition-loving, in-your-face, capitalists.
Ah yes, the land of competi– I mean, opportunity. A “christian nation,” we all call it… despite the very unchristian ideals of pure competition. But I digress.
Back to church. I often wonder how the landscape of American church outreach would change if church leadership placed a ceiling on how much money they’d keep in the bank. You know, a pow wow saying, “Hey, once we have XXX dollars, we’ve got too much, and we need to think about putting that in the neighborhood in some Jesus sort of way.” How much good could be done if two or three (out of what feels like fifty) churches in the neighborhood practiced this on an ongoing basis? How would it change the perception of the church? How might it change the Christians attending and participating in the projects that result?
Even more, what if churches worked together with that “grace surplus” continually, to serve their neighborhoods, beyond the special holidays and one-time events? What would happen? What could happen?
I suppose talks of “profit ceilings” are silly here in America. Who does that? Not me, not the business I work for, and certainly not the average American church. It feels ludicrous to even consider. It’s so upside-down, so counter-cultural, so opposite of the way this country does things. When it comes down to it, in the backrooms of church leaders and deacons meetings, it feels darn near impossible that an American church would choose community over capitalism, and cohesiveness over competition. It seems church offices would never sacrifice church growth for church serving… would they?
And maybe we’re all fine with that.
Let’s face it, we Americans like collecting stuff. Money, for sure. But china. Bedspreads. DVDs. We love that stuff. Present company included. The American church doesn’t seem much different in the disenchanted eyes of many. Only the church doesn’t stop with money. It likes collecting members and programs, catch phrases, and fake smiles. Disingenuous conversation. Faux encouragement, etc… The American church plays by capitalism rules — rules of survival and wealth, progress and vertical growth. And the unfortunate result is that people have become a commodity or an asset to leverage rather than souls to love and serve.
Where the love for each other should be planted and germinating in the hearts of communities and individuals, it often seems such “serving” is the means to the capitalistic ends of growth and expansion. In the end, the folks we are called to care for are seem more like commodities. Assets. A number, a stat. And a collection of people are a medal or prize worthy of exploiting for the growth of our American church empire.
As a result, the perception of God’s people suffer, as church culture creates a room people are too afraid to be themselves in — an untrusted culture, lacking true authenticity, filled with hypocrisy and lies.
I hate admitting that America’s churches fall abysmally short as the answer to people’s need to escape the rat race of the world. Most of today’s churches do not seem to be the answer it should be to the question asking why folks feel so compelled to compete in everything. Before long, seekers end up finding out that, behind the scenes, churches are running the same rat race they are. They find the church playing the same game as corporations, organizations and businesses. While McDonald’s is trying to steal Wendy’s customers, this church is trying to steal that church’s members. While AMC is offering better seats and a better show experience than Cinemark, churches are one-upping each other’s programs, trying to be the coolest, or most hip, or whatever.
The body of Christ was never meant to compete against itself. Has your toe ever competed with your fingers, your arms with your eyes? Absolutely not. That’d be absurd. In the body, each limb, organ, and philange functions independently, yet cohesively, as the head directs.
We need to de-capitalize God’s work. We need to understand less is more, and to teach people to care less about how big our churches are, or how many churches we’ve planted, or how cool our ministries are. We want to be the model of love, not the model of empirical growth, power and influence. Our sacrifices should outweigh our profits, and our love should overshadow any hint of personal or corporate ambition. Our care should not be an afterthought.
If we do this, we will lead the way of helping people care that we care. About them. About the world. About more than ourselves and furthering our programs. That’s the way Jesus did it.
I hope this article reaches pastors and leaders of churches to spur along a new way of thought. And frankly, I think it might. But the “American Way” of opportunity (read competition) and capitalism is so ingrained, so embedded in the psyche of society, that they’ll probably just nod their heads at the idea of it all, then go right back to the pursuit of that American church dream. And that’s a shame. A shame indeed.
Don’t believe me? Just ask the next pastor or minister you know if churches, regardless of denomination, can work together on a regular basis… and watch the cynicism in their eyes.
Question of the Day?
Do you think competition is good in spiritual matters? How do you feel about the Church? Do you think it competes against itself?
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