There it was, in big, bold letters at the very top of the screen, the first among a list of sponsors who were responsible for putting on a large ministry event in our city.

The name of our church.

Fortunately for us, we’d picked a name for our congregation that involved a number, so it was first on just about any alphabetical list. Good call.

I remember feeling a sense of pride as I looked over the rest of the list. Lots of businesses and corporate sponsors, but not very many churches. Tsk, tsk. So many churches in our city. Why aren’t more of them sponsoring worthy Kingdom causes like we are? Thank goodness we’re a missional church, doing good in our community so folks will come to know Jesus.

Really?

Sounds a whole lot more like the Pharisee who was praying in the temple next to the tax collector. “I’m glad I’m not like home skillet over there. I’m always doing good stuff, serving the poor, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

The sense of pride I felt betrayed my own heart. Pride. It’s such an ugly word. I’m shocked at how often I go there. I mean, you’d think that after being a pastor for 21 years, I would’ve matured beyond that point. But in reality, it’s a struggle almost every day.

And I think it’s a primary reason churches don’t work together. In fact, it keeps us divided. Here’s what I mean: pride fosters competition. Pride fosters a desire to get “credit” for something. What it doesn’t foster is a healthy environment for working together. Thankfully I’m not alone in my struggle. Jesus had to address this issue with his first disciples on more than one occasion. And it typically surfaced with a question.

“Who is the greatest?”

The disciples gathered around Jesus eager to hear his response. They actually posed this question to Jesus several times, usually right after he had just told them he was going to die. Apparently they wanted to get the pecking order worked out now, so that when Jesus was gone, they would know who was the new number one.

Did I mention that pride also fosters conflict?

It’s interesting to note that in almost every instance when the disciples posed this question, it was in the context of resolving an argument or “a dispute that arose among them.”

“Who is the greatest?”

The question reeks of competition and pride, and Jesus knows it. But how to teach them? Over and over again, Jesus would patiently give them a lesson about humility, how a humble child or servant was the greatest in His Kingdom. But it seems that they just couldn’t get it, couldn’t seem wrap their heads around it.

“Who is the greatest?”

Amazingly, the question is raised a third time at the last supper. Seriously. The very night that Jesus would be betrayed and then go to the cross, the disciples are beating that drum again. So Jesus pulls out all the stops. And takes off his clothes. In an incredible act of humility, Jesus strips down, wraps a towel around his waist, gets a tub of water and begins to wash each of his disciples feet. In doing so, he demonstrates in a very tangible way that, “the greatest among you is the servant of all.”

Jesus knows that pride and competition will keep his disciples divided in ministry silos, each building and protecting their own tiny kingdoms. But humble servanthood and genuine love will allow them to work together for the glory of God.

But it’s not just church leaders in this struggle with pride and competition. It’s infiltrated the ranks of those we lead. I was listening to a gentlemen just the other day talking with great enthusiasm about how great their church was, how busy they were, how active in the community, etc. However, he never once mentioned Jesus. It made me wonder about a couple of things. First, how often do I come across like that? Very proud of the congregation I lead, but giving only a cursory nod to Jesus, “the servant of all.”

The other thing it made me wonder is this: Are we more proud of our churches than we are of Jesus? 

“Who is the greatest?”

This question is still being asked by followers of Jesus all the time – across the lunch table, around the water cooler, at the ball game. Which church is the most active? Has the best programs? Is the most missional?  The most spiritual? And the question fuels the same kind of problems as it did in the first century: pride, competition, and conflict.

But not working together.

I’m a little concerned that much of what we do, even very good things, are done for the wrong reason. Jesus warns us, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.”(Matt 6:1-2, NIV) He points to the reason that many “religious” or “faith-based” groups do ministry. To be seen by men, to be honored by men. But it doesn’t bring honor to God and as a result, God doesn’t honor it.

But what would happen if we started working together? What if church leaders, and the congregations they lead, really began to express humble servanthood?? Where we had equal concern for all of God’s congregations in our city. Where we were no longer competing for higher attendance and bigger budgets. Where we were completely unconcerned about our church getting credit for something.

Maybe, just maybe, God would be glorified in the process.

Maybe that’s the kind of light Jesus was talking about in Mathew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

May it be so.

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