By Sam S. Rainer III
I enjoy a little friendly competition.
Last October, I used my kids as a front to scope out another local church’s Fall Fest. That, and they had a large amount of free candy. My affinity for candy corn sucked me into their festivities.
The pastor and I are friends. The “competition” is really nothing more than us poking fun while cheering for each other.
The reality is, many churches don’t compete on friendly terms. In fact, in a given city or zip code, the likelihood is that many pastors do not even know each other. Reasons exist for this lack of connection, and not all of them are malicious. Pastors can get swept into the busyness of their own churches. I’m guilty. It takes effort to manage relationships with other pastors.
With your friends and acquaintances, you tend to hope for the best. With those you don’t know, you tend to default to apathy or distrust. Whether the distance is intentional or not, it can create an unnecessary cloud of suspicion. Then you will either stop caring or start competing.
What are some of the warning signs?
- Automatically assuming malicious motives. When you don’t know someone, the tendency can be to assign ill motives, even when none are present. Wait … they had how many in worship last week? Those numbers can’t be correct.
- Bitterness at their success. You tend to celebrate the successes of your friends and lament the achievements of your competition. They rely on gimmicks, not real ministry.
- A desire to beat them at their own game. Competing pastors engage in a battle of one-upmanship. We can run that program better than they can. We can perform that worship song with more energy than they can.
- Having a sense of territorialism. When pastors compete, the mission field becomes a battlefield. Don’t cross certain lines or you risk raising the ire of another pastor. Why are they planting a campus here? It’s so close to us!
The problem of competing churches begins with the pastors, not the people. The solution also starts with the pastors. And it’s simple: Hang out and get to know each other. Become friends.
- Friends assume the best. Cooperating pastors do not assign malicious motives. They hold each other accountable. When pastors hang out, they ask edifying questions of each other rather than viewing each other with suspicion from a distance.
- Friends celebrate successes. Cooperating pastors enjoy hearing about their friends making strides for the kingdom of God.
- Friends help each other. Cooperating pastors pray for each other. They look out for each other. They champion the work at each other’s churches.
- Friends don’t have territories. Cooperating pastors don’t slice up the community into market territories. There is no need to fence off a territory when you desire to be around someone.
I realize the tone of this post is idealistic. You can’t get to know every pastor in your area. And not every pastor will want to be your friend.
However, you have to try. The solution begins with you.
Your approach with other churches should not be one of competition, but cooperation. Your enemy is not the church down the road. Stop competing and start hanging out.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research, 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.