Second place is first winner

In America, we have imbibed the idea that winning is everything. You may have even heard someone say, “second place is first loser.” We apply this principle to our sports teams and to life in general. While this attitude may be helpful with regard to sporting endeavors, it is absolutely devastating in the church.

This morning, I was reading in 1 Samuel where Saul began to be jealous of David because people were ascribing greater success to David as a battle commander. Saul’s resentment of David went so far as to cause Saul to attempt to kill David.

Contrast this with the attitude of John the Baptist when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John understood his role and was willing to step aside an allow Jesus his rightful prominence.

Unfortunately, I have seen the drive for success to cause some church leaders to act more like King Saul than like John the Baptist. While these leaders may verbally acknowledge that Jesus is the head of the church, they find “spiritual” reasons to make sure that they stay in the prominent role.

When I have seen controlling pastors, I suspect that they are controlling because of underlying insecurity. My observation is that they lack confidence in Christ’s ability to lead his church and as a result feel pressure that was never theirs to bear.

On a positive note, I know of a situation where the founding pastor of a church has retired and remained in the church to encourage and support the man who replaced him. The founding pastor is willing to be in the background and allow the new pastor to grow into his larger role.

The question for all of us is whether we are willing to accept the role that we have been given. The even harder and more foundational question is “for whose glory am I working?” If my heart is in the right place and I am working for God’s glory alone, then I will be willing to accept whatever role is given to me by God.

In the case of John the Baptist, he rightly understood that Christ alone deserved the honor and that his role was to point people to Jesus.

In the case of King Saul, he failed to understand that the role of Israel was to point to the glory of their God and his role as king was to be an example of doing so. David was God’s provision for the needs of the Nation of Israel and to fight against David was to fight against God.

In the same way, the church is to be pointing all the glory to God and as church leaders we need to be supporting anyone who is is doing that well. We need to make sure that we are not skimming off some of the glory to feed our own insecurity.

In leading the church, we need to understand that second place is first winner when we surrender to Christ and allow him to build his church. We win because Jesus can make something more beautiful than we can even imagine.

If we let him do so.