Competition or Cooperation?

Since the earliest days of the church, followers of Jesus have struggled with division and disunity, so it does not come as a surprise when we encounter it in the church today. It is common for me to visit a church and hear members speak with envy about what the other churches in their community are doing. And I get it: I have spent countless hours strategizing how my church could gain in “market share” so to speak! Too often we view our church in competition with others.
It is easy to see how this disunity and division must grieve God, especially the attitudes that seek gains for one congregation at the expense of another! But I also see that God may be at work in a mysterious way through our earthly divisions. I profess a Lutheran faith because I believe it to be faithful and true as I read scripture. But I also know faithful Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Anglicans, and others who would earnestly say the same thing about their faith. And I do not think that it is God’s desire that we lock ourselves in a room together until we have hashed out an agreed upon faith so that there would be just one church on earth! Instead, the diversity of the church might be a part of God’s plan to reach the masses.
Christian author Ed Stetzer is famous for saying that it will take all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. And while I still hold to the truth of our Lutheran faith, Stetzer makes a point that is worth paying attention to. What if churches stopped viewing one another as competition? What if we started to see that together we are on the same team and each playing a different role towards a common goal? What if the prize to be won were the unchurched instead of the “other-churched?” What if Christian communities celebrated one another’s kingdom victories instead of being jealous of them?
Truth is that even within the Lutheran church, and even within our own association of congregations, we can view other Lutheran churches as threats. And if our primary target audience is the people in the community who identify themselves as Lutherans then that might be true since the pool of Lutherans is growing smaller and smaller by the day! But if our primary target audience is the people in the community who do not yet follow Jesus, then there is an abundant supply!
Jesus promises that the harvest is plentiful and states that the workers are few. Both statements are true, but we cannot mistake one for another: Churches should not be in competition for a finite pool of Jesus’ followers, whether Lutheran or not. Instead, churches are called to collaborate and celebrate the harvest-gathering, kingdom-building work of the whole church of Jesus Christ no matter what name or denomination is on the church sign. How might God be calling you and your church rethink your role in your community, especially in how you think of and relate to other congregations? I pray that we discover a unity of purpose even in our diversity of understanding as we move beyond competition to cooperation.