This is an article in our"Dear Pastor" series, where we provide real pastors with fictionalized scenarios and ask them to respond in a letter. This situation—while made up—represents countless pastors who experience similar struggles.
Our goal is to serve you, dear pastor.
A dear friend calls you. He has been a pastor for a number of years. The discouragement in his voice is apparent. He admits that his church his shrinking, but that it feels like every one of his pastor-friends' churches is growing. Their churches are going to multiple services and bringing on new staff to keep up with the growth. Meanwhile, he just had to make his associate pastor part-time because the budget was too small. He's trying so hard, he says, but nothing just seems to be working.
You pray for your friend and do what little you can to encourage him in the moment, but you can't get him off your mind even after the phone call is over. So you sit down the next day and write him the following:
Thank you for your honesty as you shared your heart with me. As you described, it is discouraging to labor with all your might only to see other churches reaping more visible rewards. Maybe some people would be surprised to hear that pastors wrestle with ministerial jealousy, but let me assure you, your struggle is common. You must understand this concern is not unusual among pastors.
That being said, no matter its prevalence, sin must be dealt with quickly and completely. Indeed, jealousy is an issue we must confess. It is only when we desire the things of the Lord that we can leave earthly envy behind. I encourage you to throw off the fetters of pastoral envy and find a more profound sense of trust in the Lord. Consider these three questions to aid you.
Why do we struggle with ministerial jealousy?
Shepherding can be exceedingly discouraging. You love your people, pray for them, labor to feed them the Word, and yet you may experience minimal growth. Do you spend week after week giving yourself to your precious people only to watch attendance wane? Do they murmur and seem disinterested in sharing the burden of ministry? It stings. You mentioned that you follow other pastors on Facebook. When you monitor posts or hear stories of other churches who are forced to add multiple services and hire additional staff to keep up with booming attendance, you open yourself up to despair. Where despair is allowed to take root, it will not be long before the joys of others become a source of jealousy for you.
In our social media world, we see the “beautiful side” of countless other churches. At times, it seems like every church is flourishing except our own. While a great gift, technology can be a constant source of insecurity, feeding our feelings of inadequacy. We often experience ministerial jealousy because we compare the low points of our ministry to the highlights of others. I urge you to not do so.
Why is ministerial jealousy so dangerous?
When we allow jealousy to dwell in our hearts, we fail to put God’s glory above our own. If the Lord chooses to allow a specific church, pastor, or ministry to receive visible fruit from their labor, it is an opportunity for us to worship and praise the Lord. But, when envy takes root, we rob the Lord of the glory due His name and, instead, nourish that seed of envy and allow it to grow.
Further, ministerial jealousy turns other churches into our competition, rather than co-laborers. We must never forget that wherever we see the Lord at work, He is giving us reason to praise Him. Of course, we want to see our own church do well, but we must keep a view of God’s work that is larger than ourselves. In other words, ministry is about the Kingdom, not our address. If we forget this, we will begin to view other congregations as rivals rather than rightfully viewing them as brothers and sisters, partnering with us to serve the Kingdom.
What are some practical ways to overcome ministerial jealousy?
I would like to offer practical ways to fight jealousy that I have found to be useful. First, begin a structured method of genuinely praying for other pastors. For me, I pray for other churches and pastors as I think of them, but I have also implemented a system to pray for other congregations. I get to my study early on Sunday morning, pull out my “pastor-prayer list,” and begin praying by name for these men and their churches. I have my list divided into three categories: pastors in my home state, pastors I stay in contact with from seminary, and then pastors I know from around the country and other nations. By praying for these men every week, I ask the Lord to bless them and strengthen their churches. Having done this for years now, I feel a part of their ministries as I pray for them.
Consequently, when I hear of God at work among them, my heart is filled with joy! Jealousy is driven far away as we support each other in prayer. Each victory is shared among us all, for the glory of Christ!
A second practical strategy is to stay in constant communication with the men you are lifting up in prayer. After I pray for these men (my list has about 65 pastors and churches), I send them a brief text letting them know I have prayed for them. I want to remind them and my own heart that we are partnering together in the work of preaching the gospel. Of course, there are times their churches may have more visible signs of growth than my own. There may be other seasons where my ministry has more discernable fruit than theirs. I have found, though, that weekly communication with these faithful men helps me genuinely long to see good things happen in their ministries and allows my heart to sow seeds of support, not envy. After all, when I hear reports of God’s work among them, that is literally an answer to my prayer.
A final encouragement is to ask yourself this question regularly: Was I faithful to the Lord this week? We often wonder what our congregation thinks of us. We wonder how other pastors would evaluate what we do. Yet the only issue ultimately worthy of our constant attention is what the Lord thinks of us. I have found that asking the Spirit of God to search my heart and deepen my faithfulness to Him alone is an effective way to keep me satisfied in the privilege of being a servant of Christ.
When we allow jealousy to bear its wicked fruit, we become dissatisfied and long for what someone else enjoys. We understand that none of us are shepherds of God’s flock because we have earned it. To be sure, this calling is costly and continually challenging. Yet we are privileged to be spokesmen for the Most High God. He saved us, redeemed us, called us, equipped us, and now will use us as He sees fit. He has been more gracious toward us than we could ever deserve. We serve for His glory, and no amount of recognition or esteem from men could ever equal what we have already been given in Christ.
So take heart, my brother. You are not alone in your struggle with ministerial jealousy. But also, take action, my brother. Jealousy is not a weakness to be tolerated. We turn to the Lord in repentance and seek His help. Pray for your fellow pastors. Take an active role in praying for their spiritual success. Then rest in knowing the Lord has called you to the place you are, and rest in the joy of knowing it is His pleasure alone that must be the ongoing desire of your life.
Your brother in Christ,
Are you a pastor facing similar situations in ministry?
We'd love to pray for you.