The first time I became friends with Christians was during my service as a humanitarian aid worker in sub-Saharan Africa. I met mostly American Christians who had moved to Africa to share the gospel with Africans—and in the process, they shared the gospel with me!
We would share meals, play games, and vacation together. The love and care they showed me and my wife Nancy was compelling. It made me want to know about their Christian faith.
I saw them living and working in community across denominational and organizational lines. This was my first impression. I knew no alternative.
When we moved back to our home country of America, I began serving with a Christian ministry caring for the poor and disenfranchised in our local community. That’s when I discovered that the willingness to partner across “lines” is not a given.
In fact, I was really disappointed—not only with others, but with myself. I saw territorial attitudes, a lack of generosity, and jealousy. As I saw this in others, I saw it in my own heart. I even named it. I call it “Other Ministry Envy.”
Why is it so easy for us to fall prey to “Other Ministry Envy”? There are probably many things to say about this subject, but I have identified five reasons why I think this is such a struggle for Christians—and Christian leaders in particular. Additionally, I’d like to share several practices I believe the Lord has led me into to work against this tendency in my own heart, as His Holy Spirit works within me.
We Need Eyes to See a God of Abundance
If God is a god of abundance and generosity, then why do so many of us lead with a view of scarcity and a small view of God’s Kingdom? If we truly believe God will supply the resources He wants us to have for the work He gives us to do, then why do we have “Other Ministry Envy” when it comes to partnerships, particularly in relation to finances?
I wish I could say I am immune to this mindset, but my heart often goes dark with envy when I hear about a ministry that seemingly gets more financial contributions. I wonder what is wrong with me, my presentation of Serge’s work, and my relationship with Serge’s ministry partners. But time and again, when I have headed in this thought direction, the Holy Spirit has convicted me that there is too much me and not enough God in my thinking.
One way I’ve sought to inoculate my heart against “Other Ministry Envy” in this regard is to volunteer to help other Christian leaders as they consider their fundraising activities. Fundraising is tough for all nonprofits. Yet, we know there are generous partners out there who are ready to stand with us. When I give to other ministries by sharing my experience of walking with financial partners, I’ve discovered that God does a work in me—freeing me from “Other Ministry Envy”.
Knowing a God of Compassion
We serve a God of compassion. He is not miserly with His affections, and He doesn’t want us to hoard our affections either.
Christian leaders are often bombarded with many pressures at once: strategic planning, staffing, days/nights of travel, conflict, budgets, and the list could go on. As the saying goes, “It is lonely at the top.” I have never really liked that saying, but I’ve realized that when I feel stressed, my compassion meter goes way down. I become much more task-oriented and limited in my compassion toward others, including my wife and colleagues—not to mention leaders from other ministries.
When I get like this, the only antidote that works is the one I see in Isaiah 30:15: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Through God’s great mercy and grace, I have been able to repent. I repent to God for my lack of trust and dependence on Him, to my wife for my emotionally vacuous presence, and to my colleagues for valuing task over relationship.
Submitting to the God of the Universe
What do you do to contemplate the enormity of God? Consider this: There are an estimated two trillion galaxies. In our own galaxy, there are an estimated 100 billion stars. Yet the Bible tells us that the very hairs on our heads are all numbered. Therefore, Jesus said, “don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:7).
God is giving us a clue here that should inform our world and life view. His love should inspire us to help the multitudes our own churches or ministries seek to reach. But it should also prompt us to be open to letting God use us to help other ministries.
When things get rough, one of the first things that happens to me is everything gets puny. God seems small instead of all-powerful and mighty. I need others in those moments to remind me of God’s goodness and power.
For more than 10 years, I have been meeting with a small group of Christian brothers who help me with this. They remind me that God has not forsaken me and that He wants to use trials for His glory and the good of others. I am grateful for these brothers. Most of them lead other ministries. In a fleshly sense, we could be competing, yet by God’s grace, we are able to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and to run the race God has before each of us.
Hoping in a God of Unity
I truly believe the church’s weakest witness to the watching world is our failure to get along across denominational and organizational lines. Those who are yet to receive Christ know the pain of family dysfunction, conflicts in the workplace, and the hopelessness displayed on the news every day. Why would they want to get more of that from churches and Christians? I am envious when I see people who do not believe getting along, being cooperative, and helping the poor and disadvantaged.
Most of us have witnessed division in our personal lives and in the church, but I have to confess that I see it in mission agencies as well. Mission organizations would be much more effective if we worked together strategically and shared what we do best with other agencies. Honestly, I see more of this competition in the U.S. than I do abroad. I believe that is because, for those engaged in mission on the ground where resources are few, they need each other. But we need each other in the U.S. also, and we need to work in ways that are inter-dependent.
I give thanks that, for decades, Serge has had the privilege of sharing our life-on-life Sonship discipling ministry with many other agencies. I am not trying to take credit for this practice, because it pre-dates my service with Serge. I have seen how Serge’s discipling ministry has made other agencies stronger and helped their people stay longer in international mission service.
Yet, like all ministries, Serge still has room to grow when it comes to partnerships. I’ve found that it takes humility for any Christian, church, or ministry to join in partnership. We have to acknowledge that we have something to learn and we would best learn it from a sister ministry.
Resting in a God of Victory
Why do we constantly get mugged by the schemes of Satan? We know about his tactics intellectually, theologically, but it is as if we have spiritual amnesia when it comes to spiritual warfare. We know that unity in the body of Christ brings God much glory and emboldens believers to live lives of faith and service. Satan hates this. So we shouldn’t be surprised when doubt, discouragement, and divisions occur in the body of Christ.
I find myself deeply encouraged in a worship service when the pastors incorporate a call to pray for other congregations in the same community. At Serge, I love it when we have leaders from other ministries and mission agencies come to our weekly prayer meeting and we hear about their ministry and pray for them.
No one church or ministry can single-handedly fulfill the Great Commission—that is why we need to work together.
On Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Following His resurrection, Jesus poured out His Spirit on all people. Those who could not understand each other could suddenly communicate. This is the unity only God can bring as we seek to carry out His mission together.
May we be daily renewed in our work by His grace, through His Holy Sprit. May we move from “Other Ministry Envy” to love for God and others.