“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:17
I recently learned that coveting is not just an issue of houses, spouses, or cars.
Our town is a college town, which means this is the time of year when every church within shouting distance of the university is trying to attract as many as college students as possible. The university tries to be a good neighbor by inviting churches to set up tables at their Organization Fair and by providing a breakfast on Sunday mornings for students and churches to help make it easier for students to get to and from local churches. The unfortunate result of this is that, often times, these events can leave one feeling like one has walked out of a spiritual used car lot, with every church representative doing whatever they can to get as many students as possible to pay them attention.
I was representing these churches at one of these events and found myself at a table next to another minister who I consider a very good friend. This guy is relatively new to the area and came to me a few months ago to find out how his church could connect with students. I told him he needed to make sure they were represented at these events. So here he and I were, right next to each other, trying to hand out various types of little gifts to the hundreds of students passing by our tables in the hopes that they might stop long enough for us to tell them about our church. I found myself occasionally feeling sorry for myself because a group of students would stop at his table and talk to him and not pay our table any attention. “Am I not young enough? Cool enough? Are we not offering the right ministries? Are we not offering the right gifts?” I look back now and realize what I was doing: I was coveting.
I wonder if this is something a lot of us pastors, maybe even a lot of us church members, do more of than we might admit. I had a colleague who used to say that there is always one church in the community “where God lives”. He meant by that there always seems to be one church that is the church everybody just has to go to. As for the rest of the churches, they are left either trying to copy what that church does or find some reason to belittle that church for “selling out” or “compromising the gospel”. Is it possible that both of these responses are simply different forms of the same sin of coveting? Shouldn’t we be able to celebrate that a church is reaching people with God’s love, even if that church isn’t our own? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about identifying who God is calling our unique congregation to be rather than trying to be a Xerox copy of the big church across town?
As a pastor, I can now see in my own life what “coveting my neighbor’s church” or “coveting my neighbor’s ministry” does: it separates me from those brothers and sisters in Christ that God calls me to work with, it fractures my view of God’s kingdom, it keeps me from a spirit of celebration and joy that God intends for me to have in Christ, it distracts me from the call that God gave to me years ago, and it prevents me from challenging my own church to ask the question: “How is God calling us to serve in our community?” None of these are healthy for my own spiritual well-being or the well-being of my church or any church.
Anybody else out there ever find yourself coveting your neighboring church? Let us pray for and with one another.