Today’s post is by Aron Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.
Yesterday I made the point that competition is a fundamental motivator for many aspects of our culture. By harnessing my natural desire for recognition and reward, competition typically pushes me toward higher achievement. The underside of this spiritually is that human greed is nurtured and celebrated instead of crucified. The result is a compromised life spiritually for the individual. Today I want to explore a couple of the ways that competition affects us corporately.
When we introduce the concept of competition we automatically create winners and losers. We create categories of in and out. Whether in sports, honor societies, 500 Clubs, or even in churches, we find ways to create the category of other so we can feel better about ourselves.
This doesn’t please God. Jesus cleared the temple in Matt. 21:12-13 because gentiles were literally squeezed out of what should have been a house of prayer for the nations. Paul is also clear that one of the many things accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection was the abolishment of national prejudices (Eph. 2:11-22). Competition creates the category of other, which is sometimes less than, but akin to an enemy. We’re told to love our enemies, not conquer them (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:9-21).
Identifying the underside of competition might also impact our view of evangelism and cultural engagement. When I became a believer in college I treated apologetic encounters as a chance to prove myself and beat the other person into following Christ. Of course it never worked no matter how much I brushed up on my arguments. People intuitively took a defensive posture. This wasn’t ever taught by any of my mentors but something I assumed on my own. Perhaps if we identify how our culture shapes us we can send new converts down an altogether different path to begin with – one that overtly celebrates humility instead of subtly nurturing pride and triumphalism.
Fortunately most of these evangelistic encounters are still very redemptive, if awkward, because we can sit face-to-face and communicate care in other relational ways. As Christians our assumed posture of competition might be harder to overcome from a macro perspective. The public face of evangelical Christianity in North America, from the perspective of non-Christians, is defined heavily in political terms. As I see it this has two serious consequences for our mission.
- It has the same effect on cultural institutions and beliefs as it does on individuals. It puts them on the defensive and we end up building walls instead of bridges into the marketplace of ideas. When people perceive via our methods and cultural stances that we are treating them as enemies to be conquered they will take a defensive posture before we even have a chance to present our ideas. And we have good ideas – ideas with compelling reasons to follow Christ! There is a spiritual component to people rejecting us out of hand, but perhaps we own some responsibility too.
- Taking a posture of competition and conquest culturally just isn’t faithful to what Christ has called us to as Christians. That is to wage war as the world does. If we have really taken the gospel to heart, then we should walk into every cultural engagement with the attitude that the biggest enemy I have isn’t ‘out there,’ but within. In taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ, our corporate posture also needs to reflect the spirit of Matt. 5:3-12 and 7:1-6. Based on the public perception of evangelicals it seems we could do better at this.
Competition is part of life in the western world, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Viewing the world through the lens of competition can negatively affect my spiritual formation and gets in the way of living generously and graciously as God has called me. A competitive approach to life can also greatly hinder our public witness. Identifying these pitfalls though can help us push back against them, as well as create a deeper longing for the fullness of Christ’s perfect kingdom while we wait patiently for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ..
Aron is married to Jenn, and father to Abigail, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They live in Beulah, ND where he is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Aron has an MDiv from Denver Seminary, an MA in American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and loves to study the Bible. Aron doesn’t have free time, but if he did he would enjoy cycling, camping, and exploring the outdoors with his kids, in addition to reading on theology, history, culture, and leading better in ministry.