Monday, October 4, 2021

Kingdom not Competition

As the Executive Minister of our denominational region, Charles Revis, so wonderfully preached through a section of Acts 9 this past Sunday, there was one piece of the story that stood out to me like a sore thumb. Now, in sharing this I realize I'm revealing myself to be a sometimes jealous and petty person, but I can't shake the amazing actions of Barnabas in the story.

For those who weren't there on Sunday or need a quick reminder, in Acts 9:26 the Apostle Paul arrives in Jerusalem. But at this point in the story, Paul is still an extremely new convert to the Jesus Way and has not yet earned the trust of the early disciples. To them, Paul is still the angry, murderous bounty hunter who has been traveling from town to town, seeking out Jesus followers, and throwing them into prison, or worse. So when Paul shows up in Jerusalem, proclaiming his conversion and seeking to join the disciples in ministry, you can understand their distrust of this (formerly) disdainful man.

Which is why the actions of Barnabas are so strikingly beautiful and profound. As the story goes, "...Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus." Barnabas takes this young, untrusted Paul under his wing, vouches for the integrity of his conversion and subsequent ministry, and pleads with the other disciples to trust him as they move forward in collaborative ministry.

It's an amazing act of faithfulness on Barnabas' part--one that literally changes the course of human history because of the work Paul will go on to do in the world--but it wouldn't have had to happen. If Barnabas were like me he might have been jealous that this new minister had come to town, brimming with skill and potential, already loaded with stories of ministry success. If Barnabas were like me he might have constantly compared his own ministry to that of Paul's. If Barnabas were like me he might have incorrectly assumed that if Paul has ministry success and gains public notoriety, then that says something bad about himself. If Barnabas were like me he might have felt intimidated by someone else's presence and not self-assured enough to celebrate the addition of a new ministry partner. And worst of all, if Barnabas were like me he might have secretly wished for Paul to fail so that his own ministry would seem more successful.

Now, of course, these descriptions of myself are hyperbole and usually only describe me on my worst of days, but the temptation is always present to think about ministry in terms of competition and not Kingdom collaboration. For me, it's easy to see other pastors and/or churches having ministry success and think lower of myself or my ministry. Or it's easy to see that other pastor and/or church that is struggling and think higher of myself or my ministry. And I'm guessing I'm not alone in this--that you also find yourself comparing and contrasting your own stills, abilities, and successes with those of the people around you--and feel competitive and not collaborative as we engage in this life together.

So, the invitation from Barnabas is to lay aside our jealousy and pettiness to view our work in the world through the lens of kingdom collaboration, not competition. Let's cheer one another on. Let's love and support one another in both our successes and failures. Let's celebrate the good work God is doing through other people and churches, rather than feel disappointed about our own work. Let's remember it's about Kingdom, not competition.

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