By Sam S. Rainer III
On a recent Sunday, I preached about envy.
In my sermon preparation, I tend to downplay or ignore the areas of which I am most guilty. It’s easier to skip over the personally convicting passages and focus on the sins of others. Of course, I must push through such temptations. I’m guilty of the sin of envy.
I fear a lot of pastors are envious of other pastors and their churches. When a church leader with a national platform falls, it’s not that a bunch of envious pastors publicly relish the fall (though they may do so secretly). It’s rather that there is far too little brokenness. It makes me cringe. I make myself cringe. That spark of elation you feel when first hearing about a mega-platform megachurch pastor falling, it’s envy. I’ve felt the flicker of “I knew it! I knew he was a slime ball!” without even knowing the person. Envy must be stomped out.
Church envy happens at the local level, as well
Some will look at the church with the bigger budget or more talented staff and believe pragmatism must be driving the success, not the Holy Spirit. Some pastors will attack the largest church in town simply because it’s the largest. These same pastors likely have never visited the church nor met with the leadership. Even if the megalithic megabox church spews heretical garbage (a few do), I don’t believe it’s healthy to bash them from a distance. For most of us, it’s envy that drives the bashing.
What are the dangers of church envy?
Envy causes resentment. What is a key signal for envy? When you’re unhappy that others are happy, you’re likely guilty. To covet is to be disconnect with what God has given you and want something someone else has. To envy is to resent the person for having it. When you scoff at salvation reports from another church, you not only resent that church, you are dangerously close to resenting the gospel.
Envy triggers restlessness. A constant negative focus on other pastors and churches produces a restlessness in your ministry. When you are green with envy for another church, the grass will always be greener at a place other than your current church.
Envy drains your energy. Do you need to see something wrong with another pastor? If so, it’s envy. Envy drains you of what’s positive and fills you with self-pity. Pastors filled with self-pity are often lethargic and caustic, a deadly combination for leading a church.
Envy poisons gratitude. It’s difficult to be thankful for what you have when you’re internally griping about what you don’t have. Pastors who make constant comparisons out of envy will not enjoy their ministries.
Envy clouds your vision. Envy pulls your heart away from God’s calling in your local church. When your heart is not in it, you lose your passion. When you lose your passion, you lose your vision. It’s impossible to know where to lead your church if you’re envious of another church.
Leadership envy remains hidden for most leaders. The reason is because envy is petty. And we know it. So, we internalize the sin while it slowly eats at us.
Envy may be the biggest reason why some pastors become shells of their former selves. At the same time, envy may be the least discussed leadership sin.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog, samrainer.wordpress.com.