“Our church has the best youth ministry in town.”
“Everybody knows we offer the best children’s ministry in the city.”
“Our vision is to be the best church in the area.”
Over the last ten years I’ve heard statements like these with increasing frequency. Is this a good thing? Does our desire to serve God with excellence naturally lead us to want to be the best in town? Is the “best” classification the most honorable way to measure our success and effectiveness?
Most people probably view the quest for best as a helpful ambition. Driving to be better and better, at any endeavor, raises the level of quality for all. Right? Competition makes everyone better. Right? In many ways, that’s true.
But what’s necessary to be “best”? In any competitive field, in order to have winners you must have losers. In order to be best, you must conquer the others.
And that’s where the quest for best begins to turn ugly, especially in the church.
In the church, this spirit of bestfulness and competitiveness leads to pridefulness. This has not gone unnoticed by the public. A non-churched mom I interviewed said, “Churches today just want to be bigger and better than the next one. That’s not what church is supposed to be about.”
Yet, the quest for best seems intoxicating. Church gurus advise congregations to find something they can be best at in the community. “What makes you stand out among the others?” they ask. The trouble is, we’re not called to stand out. We’re called to stand behind.
In Mark 9 we see the disciples arguing about who stood out as the best disciple. Jesus confronted their quest for best. He said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” In other words, we’re not called to stand out. We’re called to stand behind those we’re called to serve.
If a church is not called to be the best in town, what is it called to be? It’s called to serve. Humbly. It’s called to touch lives with God’s love, one by one. It’s called to be faithful where God has placed it.
No disciple is called to conquer the other disciples in a quest to be best.
Jesus illustrated and summed up his lesson on humble servanthood by picking up one small child and urging his disciples to do the same, to faithfully welcome the small.
It’s not the kind of pursuit that will jetison a church to anybody’s Best 100 list.