There is something about the Church that sets us apart from the world. It is a characteristic that makes us look, speak, and act differently. It is also an attribute that Jesus Himself prayed that we would have in this world. The thing that sets us apart? Our unity.
Looking at the worldwide Church, you may think that we are anything but unified. We have thousands of denominations with varying theological, political, and societal viewpoints. It is no doubt that the Church has had its fair share of divisions. Yet, even amid that all, we can still find common ground that doesn’t shift or change: belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Consider the words this Savior prayed in John 17:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”
This is a powerful piece of Scripture because it reflects God’s heart for His disciples: for them to be unified so that the world gets a clear picture of God’s love for the world. And guess what? We too are disciples and we too are commissioned to meet this same goal of unity in the world!
This unity plays out actively in the Church through community. A community can be simply defined as a unified group of individuals who share common interests. The emphasis in this word is that there is a sense of “togetherness” within a particular group and a strong bond that holds them together.
Comparably, when we look at the word commune, there is an intimate exchange that takes place between one person with another. Communion then represents the exchange we experience between God and ourselves as we partake in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.
As you can see, community is key to the life and livelihood of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is the glue that not only binds us together but also joins us to our Savior who Himself “holds all things together” (Colossians 1:17).
One of the biggest killers of a healthy community is competition.
If you’re an avid athlete (or passionate board game connoisseur) you know that competition can sometimes be a good thing. It can motivate you to perform better and can even be a bit of fun if you’re in the presence of other competitive people. Competition is even the driving force in the business world where companies strive to outdo the competition and rise above.
However, when it comes to the church world, competition is the absolute antithesis of the Gospel. Competition breeds arguments, divisions, and even a sense of self-righteousness. At the heart of competition is a measuring of oneself against somebody else.
Paul has some pretty direct words regarding competition in Galatians 6:3-5, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their load.”
Competition tends to make you believe that you have it all figured out. In the church world it can look like this:
“Yeah, our worship is so much more engaging than Church ABC down the road.”
“We have so many more volunteer opportunities here than they do.”
“Our pastor's sermons are the best in our entire city.”
At the most unhealthy level of competition, you can get a church that leads to complete isolation and a cult mentality. At a moderately unhealthy level, you get a church that just thinks they’re better than everyone else, even if they don’t verbally express it that way.
If we are to be a Light to the world around us, competition cannot be a part of our Christian repertoire. If we are to be the kind of church that invites the lost and broken to belong, we must be a people of community.
How can we actively work to value (and perform) community over the competition? Here are three practical ways we can do just this.
Our tongues are deceitful and dangerous little things if we don’t learn to tame them. The Apostles James says, “With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
A competitive mentality can come out through negative or even rude words about other churches. Subtle put-downs and comparisons can really cause a lot of damage not just to the other church, but to our hearts. It also kills the community.
The best way to curb this is to speak about other faith communities in your town or area. If someone asks you about another church, tell them about all of the positive things that church does in your community. Genuinely think highly of our other churches not just to emphasize community, but because they too are a part of the Body and Jesus cares about them.
Competition doesn’t just happen from church to church, it can even happen right in a single faith community!
No matter the size of your church, divisions can easily sneak their way into your midst. The church is a messy place full of different personalities, beliefs, and ways of relating. Tensions are bound to happen, but they do not need to fester to the point of grueling competition.
A great way to cut down on your pride is to celebrate others and their accomplishments. Celebrating another person requires immense humility and humility isn’t always easy. Paul instructs us in Romans 12 to “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
It is almost impossible for pride or competition to fester when we make a habit of celebrating and rejoicing with others in our community.
This instruction is directly from 1 Corinthians 2:16 and minces no words, but it is easier said than done. Immense humility is a key element in eliminating competition and one that Jesus was pretty much known for. If we want to value community over competition, we must learn to humbly take on the mind of Christ.
This begins with an understanding that it is no longer us who live, but it is Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). We are no longer our own, but Jesus has given us His Holy Spirit who is our guide in all godliness. God gives us Himself so that we can truly be like Him in the world around us!
God did not abandon us to just try to figure life out, He has given us this Helper. This Helper wants to foster the same unity Jesus prayed about in John 17. We must allow God to work in our minds and hearts so that we can kill competition and build up the community.
Paul sums it up perfectly in Ephesians 4:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Our prayer for your church is that it is known to be a healthy, thriving community. Our prayer is that people from all over will see the mind and heart of Christ in you and want to know Him more as a result.
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