Envy and pride are two (of many) sins I’ve battled as a church planter. Ministry can be tough wherever you are, but when you’re serving in an area of deprivation, there are added pressures. Isolation, lack of finances, and failure to attract workers are three difficulties pastors and church planters in hard places face. It’s these struggles that, if you’re not careful, can lead you into a place of envy and pride.
After several years of inadequate funding, failing to find a consistent space we could meet in, and struggling to hire gospel workers, I didn’t take kindly to hearing how God was blessing other ministries similar to mine.
Instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice, I became envious of those being blessed and bitter toward those doing the blessing. I saw the blessed as competition and the blessers as misguided. Ultimately, I was angry with God for not blessing my ministry.
A Distorted View
This type of ministry’s unique nature brings both struggles and mystique. Its unpredictability and risk can present an image that people find exciting, edgy, and pioneering—which, again, if you’re not careful, can lead you into a place of pride.
For me, the pride came subtly. The isolation of being the only elder and the struggle to attract qualified gospel workers to our church was initially a source of discouragement. However, over time the isolation and struggles became a source of hubris.
I would look at other pastors and church planters ministering in more affluent communities and dismiss their ministries as half-hearted and less critical than mine. I would also look at myself and falsely believe my role was more pleasing to Jesus than theirs and that my faith must be stronger. Instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice, I became envious of those being blessed and bitter toward those doing the blessing. I saw the blessed as competition and the blessers as misguided. Click To Tweet
That is why I’m thankful for the convicting power of God’s Word, which has helped keep my heart in check, especially Ezra 1:1–2:
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.'”
These verses offer three essential truths for any church planter battling envy and pride.
It’s God’s Kingdom, Not Mine
It’s a sobering reminder that God doesn’t need me or anybody else. God uses who he chooses for his glory and purpose. Even if, as in the case of King Cyrus, he wants to use an unbeliever. Whether we don’t get the funding we applied for, the workers we advertise for, or the building we long for, trusting in God’s Word leads to peace instead of bitterness. Click To Tweet
I’m not sure what I found more humbling, that God doesn’t need me or that King Cyrus, an unbeliever, understood that God appointed him for his kingdom while I was frustrated by trying to build my own kingdom.
King Cyrus acknowledged that all he had was from God. He was appointed to serve him. These verses reminded me that I wasn’t acknowledging that God had given me all I needed to serve him, too.
God Changes Hearts, Including Mine
By far, the biggest encouragement and rebuke came from meditating on how God moved the heart of King Cyrus. How encouraging to be reminded that God can change the heart of anyone. This challenged me to regularly pray for God to change people’s hearts, starting with my own.
I prayed and continue to pray in repentance, asking God to help me overcome my envy and pride, to move my heart to be more like his. I pray for God to move the hearts of church members, too. My prayers for the lost have also intensified. I ask God to move their hearts first to repentance and baptism, and then for a desire to be trained for ministry. I prayed and continue to pray in repentance, asking God to help me overcome my envy and pride, to move my heart to be more like his. Click To Tweet
God’s Fully in Control, Not Me
Whether we don’t get the funding we applied for, the workers we advertise for, or the building we long for, trusting in God’s Word leads to peace instead of bitterness. Peace because we know if we need the money, the building, or the workers, God will move the hearts of the funders, the building owners, and the gospel workers. But even if he doesn’t, we can trust we have all we need to do what he has appointed us to do.
Let’s be faithful in the ministry God has given us. In hard places and in affluent communities, he is at work choosing, providing, and developing leaders to grow his kingdom.