The trait I most dislike about myself is the fact that I get jealous insanely easily.
When I psychoanalyze myself, I wonder if perhaps this is because I’m an only child, used to having all the attention. Or maybe it’s because I was once abandoned by my best friend in grade school.
Whatever the reason, there are more times than I’d like to admit when jealousy rears its ugly head in my life.
Take my career in ministry.
Early on in my career, after worship one day, I walked out of our sanctuary only to run into a man who I’d never seen in person but who, nevertheless, looked vaguely familiar. A few minutes later, I watched as my kids crowded around this man, seemingly entranced by him. Eventually, someone told me that it was Adam, my predecessor. Yet, no one bothered to introduce us.
At my second church, I struggled with a severe case of ministry envy. Rather than rejoice in the success of my colleagues, I instead felt jealous of them, as though we were in constant competition with one another.
More recently, I’ve found myself jealous of the church across town that seems to be the place to be right now in youth ministry. It’s the church with the big fellowship hall and the new, themed youth room that magnetically seems to attract teens to it – even some of my teens.
I know that my feelings of jealousy are irrational. Yet, knowing that doesn’t make them any less real.
A few weeks ago, my church celebrated a major milestone in its history. We paid off the mortgage used to pay for an addition to our church.
From start to finish, the day was one of celebration. But what struck me most about the day was the presence of two men: Our senior pastor, Jim, and our congregation’s former pastor, Ken.
During worship, both Pastors Jim and Ken spoke about what an accomplishment it was for our church to pay off the mortgage, thereby freeing up additional money for ministry.
Though there words were true, in all honesty, I was a bit taken aback by Pastor Ken’s presence during this celebration. From my vantage point, he’s the reason we had a mortgage in the first place. It was under his leadership that the addition was built and that the mortgage was taken out.
In contrast, it was under Pastor Jim’s leadership that the Ministry Growth Campaign to pay off the mortgage was begun and finished. In my eyes, it was Pastor Jim and his team who deserved the credit, not Pastor Ken.
That’s why when I returned to the church later in the day for our Mortgage Burning Party, I was surprised to once again spot Pastor Ken in the crowd.
I was even more surprised when it came time to actually burn our mortgage and rather than give a speech, Pastor Jim instead acknowledged Pastor Ken’s forward thinking and then graciously allowed him to speak.
As Pastor Ken spoke, I felt my eyes tearing up and I realized that there was a second celebration taking place before me: That of two men, past and present, who view one another, not as competition, but as co-laborers in Christ; As people who respect and honor one another because of the roles they’ve both played in our congregation’s history and in the stories of those who call Faith their church.
In that moment, I felt shame over allowing my own feelings of jealousy to so often cloud my vision and prevent me from seeing that I, too, have co-laborers in Christ: Adam, my former colleagues, and the youth worker at the church across town are just a few of them.
I’m not so naïve as to think that identifying these individuals as my co-laborers in Christ will magically end my feelings of jealousy toward them. If it were that easy, I would have let go of my jealousy long ago.
But here’s what I hope.
I hope that identifying these individuals as my co-laborers in Christ will help me to see them as God does: As people who are first and foremost, HIS, and as people who have a unique role to play in His Kingdom. I hope that this, in turn, will help me to embrace the fact that there is room for all of us in God’s Kingdom. I also hope that identifying these individuals as my co-laborers in Christ will challenge me to reach out and actually partner with them and others in God’s Kingdom work.
I hope that when all else fails and jealousy once again rears its ugly head in my life, that those feelings will quickly be replaced by the image of two men – Pastors who are co-laborers in Christ – coming together over a burning mortgage to share stories of ministry and God’s goodness; Stories that by the grace of God, they each played an important role in.
And I hope that one day, I, too, might be able to join Adam, my former colleagues, and the youth worker from the church across town in a similar celebration of God’s goodness and the role each of us were fortunate enough to play in His kingdom work.