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Mar31ThuIt's easy to look at other churches and wish we had their resources, people and programs. However, this usually just leads to feelings of inadequacy, frustration or bitterness. So, how do we combat church envy and start focusing on what we do well? March 31, 2011 by Captain Rick Zelinsky
When I opened up the new menu at my favourite chicken restaurant, I found that they now serve a variety of food items, including perogies. I was confused that I could order the food of my ancestors at an unlikely location, a restaurant whose jingle touts “for the love of chicken.” What prompted the shift in the menu? Are they seeking greater market share through diversity or have they lost their identity? Can I still get a quarter-chicken dinner?
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
These questions, except for the chicken one, are oddly similar to feelings I've experienced in relation to ministry. Have we become too diversified to be supported by our human and financial resources? Have we lost our identity? Why can't we be like other churches?
When I was the officer of a small, rural congregation, I became frustrated with the responsibility and effort required to fund the needs and demands of ministry. The feeling was even more palpable during the holiday season with the massive effort related to our Christmas assistance program and the harried pace of our kettle fundraising. The feeling that emerged may not be obvious, but I think it is one many people can understand. It was envy. I was envious of the other churches in the city who were having church Christmas dinners, children's pageants and carol sings, and who were focusing on all the fun things that come with Christmas. All the while we were busy chasing 30,000 loonies to fund our Christmas assistance program. I was jealous, and it ate me up inside for a while. Here's the rub. I don't think I'm alone in how I was feeling, and I don't think jealousy is limited to the Christmas season. It's just more obvious for us. I think many congregations pine for all the programs and cool things happening at the church down the street, or in the case of a large city, among our denominational peers.
I came to realize this type of envy isn't healthy—personally or corporately—and can halt our progress. The purpose of this discussion is not to stir up anxiety or guilt, but rather to offer insight into how we can combat church envy. If you have found yourself experiencing these feelings, then let me suggest the following:
First, you need to repent. I don't say this in judgment, but in the sense that to repent means to make a change and do things differently. Recognize that the feelings you're experiencing are not healthy or helpful, and set your heart and mind to make a change. Be honest with yourself, the congregation to which you belong and ultimately with God, and resolve to focus on a new direction.
With a new resolve try celebrating the success and advances that others are making in the church. Listen to your colleagues' stories of blessing and then celebrate with them. This can shift focus away from your situation and help support your desire for change. Just don't be phony. While you may not feel like celebrating, if your response flows from the desire to change, it won't be perceived as disingenuous and God will honour your efforts.
Now it's time to ask for help. Work in conjunction with God and ask for his guidance. Invite people in your church to pray with you to this end. When we needed assistance establishing a worship team in our church, we approached a church with an abundance of musical talent and asked them to tithe some human resources to our struggling worship team. It was a huge day for our congregation when the local Mennonite church blessed a great guitar player on his way over to The Salvation Army. Go ahead and ask. You may be surprised at the result.
Change doesn't happen overnight, so you have to look at the long-term goal, even if people in the congregation aren't as patient. There is always something you can do to experience renewed vitality. In the words of another chicken restaurant, “We do chicken right!” Figure out what you do well and get comfortable in your own skin. If you visit North Toronto Community Church, I guarantee that after your first few minutes in the building you will deduce that it is a very friendly church. We do friendly right!
How about your church? What do people tell you that you do well? What do you like to do as a church? Maybe you have great potluck dinners and you do hospitality right, or perhaps you have a cool Sunday school. Ask the people in your congregation. Ask visitors or new members to your church what they like, why they stayed or even why they left. You may discover your niche isn't being like other churches, but rather being really great at what you already do. Just remember to get your chicken right before you add perogies to your menu.
Captain Rick Zelinsky and his wife, Deana, are the corps officers at North Toronto Community Church.