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Envy and Rivalry in Ministry

And behold, I saw a white horse. Its rider’s name was Success, and Envy followed him.

Envy is a movement killer. And if you ask me, it is probably the fundamental danger facing the Young, Restless and Reformed movement in the next 30 years. First a definition: Envy is a feeling of unhappiness at the blessing and fortune of others. In the words of Merriam-Webster, it is the painful and often resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by someone else. Envy, Solomon tells us, is a bone-rotting sin that sweeps us off our feet. In the grip of envy, we weep at those who rejoice and rejoice over those who weep. It’s a gnawing worm, a green-eyed monster, the relentless ache of the shriveled heart. At the same time, envy is a subtle chameleon with many faces. It masquerades as the smooth flattery of imitation one minute and righteous indignation at injustice the next.

God Multiplies a Movement

If you listen to the Old, Restless and Reformed talk, they’ll tell you that 30 years ago, there was no Reformed “movement” to speak of. Sure, there were Reformed churches that preached the whole counsel of the sovereign God who saves helpless sinners with unfathomable grace. But there was no larger “movement” of God-centered theology and worship and preaching.

When the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors was started in 1988, there were only a handful of Reformed conferences nationwide. Now you can practically forego church altogether and just attend Reformed conferences year-round (I don’t recommend this). Now there are multiple organizations dedicated to planting biblically-rooted, Christ-exalting, sovereign grace-proclaiming churches in America and around the world.

The faithfulness of men like Packer, Piper and Sproul, as well as catalytic conferences like this one, has born much fruit. Now there are thousands of God-centered pastors around the country, pastors who share a God-entranced and gospel-shaped vision of life and ministry. There are hundreds of Christ-exalting professors scattered in colleges and seminaries nationwide. And there are thousands more in churches and colleges and seminaries who are eagerly preparing for whatever God has planned for them. And thanks to blogs, Twitter, affiliated networks, the proliferation of solid publishing houses and the rabbit-like multiplication of Reformed conferences, we can all know each other’s names.

The Danger of Success

Which is why envy is such a danger for the Restless and Reformed, both young and old. When thousands of God-besotted men reflect on the same Scriptures from a similar theological viewpoint, we’re likely to reach similar theological and pastoral conclusions. Which means the questions easily become: Who will preach that message first? Who will preach that message best? Who will write that book or blog first? Who will write that book or blog best? Who will plant the gospel-centered church in that city first? Of the gospel-centered churches in that city, whose is biggest? Whose is growing fastest?

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Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary and author of Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles.