Every pastor, no matter the size of your church, has experienced the frustration of someone leaving your church for something “bigger and better.”
During those seasons it’s easy to feel like your leadership and church is “less than,” and the rich are getting richer. Before you know it bitterness and jealousy creep into your heart and we start making excuses why other churches are growing and ours is not. We assume that anyone who is experiencing results—results that we secretly wish we were experiencing— has cut a corner or sold their soul; We take cheap shots at the megachurch in our town; or make broad generalizations about growing churches and their lack of biblical commitment. When we’re angry, bitter, jealous, and discouraged, we’ll say or do anything to make ourselves feel better about our insecurity.
One of the five largest churches in the country resides in my city. A few years ago they planted a new campus less than 5 minutes from my church, and since that time has hired six full-time staff members from my congregation. As you might expect I’ve spent a lot of time battling feelings of insecurity and anger. When my victim mentality had reached its peak I knew I had to do something; things had to change. I could feel myself turning into a bitter leader, and what started as harmless jokes, became hurtful comments, and a rally cry for anyone around me who harbored bitter feelings of their own against the megachurch.
That’s the thing about victims; they know where to find each other. If you decide to play the victim, you will have no shortage of friends who will agree with you; it takes courageous leadership to believe the best in each other and give the benefit of the doubt to other leaders and churches. As is the case with a toxic soul, my bitterness had spread to some of my staff, so I knew I had to lead all of us as a group to a place of healing. What we did next wasn’t easy, but it was what we had to do if we wanted freedom from the bondage of comparison and a victim mentality.
Since I drove by the new campus almost every day, I was able to keep up with the progress of the project, and as the construction was starting to come to a close I told the staff we were going to take a field trip for staff meeting. I didn’t say where we were going because the truth is if I had they probably wouldn’t have gone.
We loaded up together in a van, drove down to the new campus, and I instructed them to spend the next 15 minutes praying in the building. When we finished praying, they assumed we were done, but I had one more thing I knew we had to do if we wanted freedom from comparison and a losing mindset. I pulled a check out of my back pocket for $1000. I told the staff we were making a donation to the megachurch’s building campaign, along with this letter:
We are the pastoral staff at Hope City Church on the south side of Louisville. We are located less than 5 minutes from the new campus you are currently building. While it’s common for churches to feel a sense of competition with each other for natural reasons, and we have even wrestled with some of those emotions since we heard you were building a campus near us, we want you to know that we believe in you and what you are doing to reach this city for Jesus.
Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made in the last 30 years leading the way in preaching the gospel to this city. Churches don’t grow by accident, and we celebrate the way God is continuing to bless you. We’re praying for you as you launch your campus, and believing Psalms 20:4-5 for your church:
May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers.
(Psalms 20:4-5 NLT)
Whatever day you officially launch please know our church will corporately have prayer together to celebrate this incredible endeavor.
We’ve included $1000 for your building fund. It’s easy to assume large churches don’t need money, but we understand every little bit helps. This is a sacrificial gift for our church to let you know how much we believe in what you are doing, and to remind us that we are a family serving this city together. If your treasure is where your heart is, then we want our heart to be for your success.
Good luck. We are praying and believing with you.
I knew our $1000 check wouldn’t make a dent in their budget, but I wasn’t giving the money because they needed it, I was giving the money because we needed it. If it’s true your heart is where your treasure is, I wanted my heart to cheer for and celebrate my brothers and sisters down the road. It’s hard to be angry at a church you’re praying for and giving to. We each signed the letter and drove to the post office together to drop it off.
I don’t tell you that story to brag about my team or myself. The truth is, it’s something we had to do for healing. I refuse to spend the next 30 years of my life repeating the same tragic story over and over again about how that church took our people or hired our staff.
I’ve met those pastors, the person who talks about what could have been if life, or a church member, or another church hadn’t done them wrong. Are there still times when I catch myself thinking of a witty insult? Yes. When I do, it’s just a reminder there is still poison in my soul I need to lay at the cross. I want to choose optimism over cynicism. I want to choose hope over hurt. The truth is the megachurch didn’t take anybody, people chose to go— they’re better for it and we are too. God is growing them just like he is growing me through every transition.
Nobody wants to follow a bitter leader. When you hear the voices providing you with excuses and blame to assign to someone else don’t play the victim. Even when your church is shrinking your leadership can be growing if you will choose to lean in to the hard times with a soft heart. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.