Over the course of many years in Christian ministry, I have discovered there is a thick, competitive spirit in virtually every aspect of it. Our consumer-driven, Americanized Christian culture has been a primary fuel that has led many in ministry to utilize the cause of Christ for personal gain and ministry empire building—at times, myself included. Sadly, the fame-seeking sentiment communicated by Bob Wallace in the iconic movie White Christmas is highly relevant in describing much of the modern scene that is Christian ministry, “everyone is working an angle.”
The competitive currents circling within the oceans of Christian ministry can be so strong at times, it’s hard not to get pulled into its spin unaware. Soon, your entire sense of worth, success, and value as a person, Christian, and minister subtly becomes connected to the numbers—baptisms, budgets, book deals, attendance charts, speaking engagements and the like—been there, done that, have the t-shirt.
Less than a year ago, I began to write seriously as a blogger, focusing on communicating a voice of advocacy for those disillusioned and harmed by conservative Christianity—namely the de-churched, spiritually marginalized, religiously condemned, and LGBT communities. Somehow, in stepping back into the world of Christian ministry in a fresh way, I believed things would be different. Perhaps within these circles, the nobility, urgency, and plight of these causes would leave little to no room for the onset of a competitive spirit among those who seek to be a light in the darkness.
Yet, after I reached out to a few highly prominent, progressive bloggers for their wisdom and guidance, sadly, most of what I heard was centered around gaining followers, watching how many hits your website gets, and how to package your writing for greatest appeal while harnessing your personal branding. One of the top challenges asserted… how to transform subscribers into financial contributors. I have to admit, at first, I got a bit caught up in the allure of it all. My writing was gaining a good bit of attention and once again, the apple of “ministry success” was dangling all so deliciously in front of me.
That is, until the cold splash of water. A highly beloved, popular, Christian blogger clearly, intentionally, and knowingly criticized and sought to undermine me in front of my audience. The ego and purposefulness of their actions was so obvious that others reached out to me in shock. It was then that I realized, we’re not in Kansas anymore. The wild wild West of Christian ministry had indeed pushed up a stool within the saloon of my new blogging venture, revealing to me a clear problem that not only exists, but that I too could potentially become.
To be sure, I am certainly now fully aware of my gross naiveté, but back then, I truly never thought that within the arena of Christian blogging, especially among progressive circles, there would be personalities and ministries more territorial and exclusive than the Mafia in Vegas.
I find it interesting that in the New Testament, the word translated as “evil” has a deeper meaning. The Greek word “poneros” actually means, “full of labors.” When the Biblical writer asserts, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” the evil that is being referred to points to one who is not stereotypically carnal, denying, or doubting, but rather one who is full of labors—a person who is seeking to make a name for themselves, who embodies a kind of internal striving to produce something worthy of their life, a performance-driven mentality that looks to one’s abilities for the procurement of success. It’s the heart that concludes… my identity, worth, and closeness with God are intrinsically tied to my achievement, skill, and performance. One may never say it that way, but so many of us are living that way—self-aggrandizement, self-improvement, self-actualization. Call it what we will… “best practices,” “excellence,” “ministry effectiveness,” “promotion,” “radical Christianity,” “faithfulness,” “personal branding,” “marketing,” or “platform building.” When it’s done out of spirit of success-gaining, ministry empire-building, or competitiveness, it not only sucks, but God calls it “evil”—everyone and everything subtly becoming a leverage towards a personal ministry future of our envisioning and creating. It’s the difference between a dream and a scheme, and sadly, many of us in ministry are doing more scheming than dreaming. The same narcissistic erosion that has engulfed the contemporary Christian music industry I fear is beginning to sink its claws into the Christian blogging world. If only we can pump the breaks before we all are neck deep in the ditch.
As humans, it’s easy to medicate our insecurities with the pursuit of ministry “success.” In a performance-driven, church-franchising, personal ministry empire-building, consumer-addicted Christian culture, this becomes even more alluring and deceptively tempting.
I guess it’s unrealistic to think that any aspect of Christian ministry would be devoid of the exclusive “cool leaders” lunch table to which only the select are welcome and invited. Yet, that is all the more reason why voices like Michael Hardin, Brian Zahnd, Daisy Rain Martin, Susan Berland, Matthew Distefano and Robert and Susan Cottrell, to name only a few, are such a breath of fresh air, giving hope and a sure example upon which to aspire.
The day that the sun sets on competitive Christian blogging (and ministry) will be a beautiful day.
May the coming of that future begin with me, and begin with you.