As the month of madness is underway, team spirit heats to fever pitch and loyalties run the gamut from blasé to passionate to downright ugly. I usually hang out toward the apathetic end of the hall when my K-State Wildcats have often dropped out early – if they even got invited to the Big Dance at all. I am more hopeful this year with a solid top 10 team, but our in-state rivals (the KU Jayhawks) squeaked out an overtime win when they visited us, then soundly thumped us when we played there. While it will make me pay more attention to brackets and scores than I have in quite some time, it’s also gotten me thinking about rivalries.
Players and coaches may shake hands at the end of a hard-fought game, and even be great friends off the court or field. That amounts to a hill of beans for rabid fans often fueled by alcohol and a mob mentality. Some of the cruelest things I’ve ever heard chanted have been in the big games against our rivals. How guilty is the church, and youth ministry in particular, of allowing sanctified rivalries to derail us from the purpose we have in common?
Time to let a skeleton or two out of my closet. I have been guilty numerous times over the years of being intensely jealous of other youth leaders, even in my own group. My carnality has reared its nasty head as I have silently wished that other leaders would just go away, or at least leave my kids alone. Perhaps they were younger or more attractive, or maybe they actually did have a way with kids – at least certain kids – that I just did not have. There have been times when I have invested so much emotional energy into a couple of kids that when another leader dares to even talk to them, I nearly fly off the handle. Many times it’s been at summer camp, where my (full time) co-leader is years younger than me. But those other leaders are simply doing what they felt God was calling them to do. Just like I was, or so I thought.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Phillipians 1:15-18)
It’s easy to assume one is on the “good will” side of this dichotomy and ascribe the “envy and rivalry” to the others. But if there’s an “us” and a “them,” we who use those terms are guilty of the rivalry ourselves. Yes, God is glorified whenever and however Christ is preached, but He is immensely more pleased when we work together than against ourselves. Paul continues and sets an even higher standard in chapter 2.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
I repent of my selfishness and envy of other youth leaders, both in my church and in other churches that get the spotlight more than mine does. I repent of scheming to arrive first and get the praise for myself. I repent of failing to pray for God’s blessing on the church down the street and the website with more hits than mine. The Lord, as well as the students I purport to serve, deserve so much better. This is not about me.