So Who Made This Into a Competition?


John 3: 22-30 (MsgB)

After this conversation, Jesus went on with His disciples into the Judean countryside and relaxed with them there. He was also baptizing. At the same time, John was baptizing over at Aenon near Salim, where water was abundant. This was before John was thrown into jail. John’s disciples got into an argument with the establishment Jews over the nature of baptism. They came to John and said, “Rabbi, you know the One who was with you on the other side of the Jordan? The One you authorized with your witness? Well, He’s now competing with us. He’s baptizing, too, and everyone’s going to Him instead of us.”

John answered, “It’s not possible for a person to succeed—I’m talking about eternal success—without heaven’s help. You yourselves were there when I made it public that I was not the Messiah but simply the one sent ahead of Him to get things ready. The one who gets the bride is, by definition, the bridegroom. And the bridegroom’s friend, His ‘best man’—that’s me—in place at His side where he can hear every word, is genuinely happy. How could he be jealous when he knows that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a good start?

“That’s why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for Him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.

For so many of us in America, life has become one big competition. We compete for nearly everything in life. Good parents. A good grade in school. A good-looking girlfriend or boyfriend. A good college. A great job. An even greater spouse. A good home. A good neighborhood with great friends. Good kids. A great salary (or two). A good life. A very good car (or two or three). A great vacation and benefit package. A good retirement plan. And, finally, a good death.

Some say, in the entirety of human history, Americans stand alone when it comes to our spirit of competition. But, in truth, since human nature is basically unchanged since the days of Adam and Eve, it should come as no surprise to us to find some of John the Baptist’s followers in 30 AD operating with a level of competition that could easily compete with the best of our American traditions.

We so easily forget when we’re reading the Bible that those who were very godly people in Jesus’ day often struggled with the very same problems in life that you and I wrestle with today. In truth, the spirit of competition was alive and well when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Israel just as it is today in our culture. From what John’s Gospel tells us here in Chapter 3, many of John the Baptist’s devoted followers had to wrestle hard with their human emotions when Jesus, the new rabbi in town, stepped onto the main stage in Jerusalem, overshadowing their hero, John.

But as we’ve discussed earlier in this blog series, John the Baptist would have nothing to do with the spirit of competition when it raised its ugly head in his camp. My question is this? Do you suppose we men and women of God, overseers of God’s people in our generation, would do likewise when (not if) that same spirit of competition arises in our camp?

My heart says yes, but my gut tells me that it just isn’t going to be that easy to defeat this ugly monster when push comes to shove. After about 50 years of Americanized church, choosing to pattern our ‘leadership’ styles after corporate models used so successfully in the American business world, it won’t be easy to stop the ‘dog eat dog’ mentality that rules our culture. While we Christian leaders put on a nice smiley face when we’re with our brothers and sisters from other churches across town, let’s be honest. In the privacy of our own church offices or boardrooms, we plot ways to develop ministry programs that will out-do and out-perform the good folks down the street.

As I see it, when the 3-B’s get wound up tight in our competitive minds, success is only found when we have the biggest (B)uildings, the largest stack of (B)ucks, and the most (B)utts in the seats on any given Sunday morning. Come on, pastor. Let’s be honest here. There’s a reason the first question out of our mouths when we meet another pastor is, “So how big is your church?”

Let’s face it, guys and gals. John the Baptist had the right attitude and, quite honestly, most of us in Americanized church simply don’t.

It’s time to face up to the highly competitive way we play the ‘bigger is better’ game in our churches. It’s time to stop the farce and lay down our pride and ambition, slipping off to the side, as John, the gospel writer puts it, so that Jesus can take center-stage.

Is that a penalty whistle I hear? Off-sides, you say, ref? Unnecessary roughness? What do you mean? I was just…

Whoops. Don’t argue with ref, when it’s Jesus. 15 yards for roughing the passer? Sorry, coach. I guess I need to sit out the rest of this half. Anybody wanna join me on the sidelines?

My prayer: The truth is, Lord, my competitive spirit gets in the way of doing my best work for You. How often I find myself seeing Kingdom ministry as a game that must be won instead of a journey to be enjoyed. Holy Spirit, I ask You to be my referee, throwing a red flag out every time I overstep my boundaries as an overseer of God’s people. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How can I consciously remove the spirit of competition in the midst of the ministry I oversee? Knowing that most Americans are highly competitive, how can I model a leadership style for my people that refuses to play the game of high competition where it’s all about winning and getting the most points?

So what is God speaking to you today as we follow Jesus the Nazarene, the Leader of the Church?

Between now and the end of 2015, we will be sharing with you a blog series we first developed in 2013. We call it Follow The Leader: Re-defining Successful Leadership from the Gospel of John. In order to keep all 46 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Follow The Leader home page for ease of use. ENJOY!

Click here to go onto the next blog in the series.

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