The Longing Behind Pastoral Envy

Sin often takes something good and turns it into an idol, or it takes our desire for what is good and twists it. Yet underneath the sin is a legitimate longing. We try to fulfill that longing in illegitimate ways, or we turn what we long for into an idol and value it more than we value God.

Underneath pastoral envy is something good: a desire for the church to be all that we long for. When pastors envy other churches, this longing is twisted into something evil. It can turn our pastoral ministry or even a local church into an idol. This destroys us.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
but envy makes the bones rot.
(Proverbs 14:30)

If you struggle with church envy – and it’s not just an issue for pastors – then it’s worthwhile to step back and acknowledge that we’re really longing for something good, something that will only be realized in eternity: the perfect church. This longing is good, but let’s not allow it to become envy for other churches here and now which will never measure up to the church that we long for.

In a sermon on envy, Tim Keller tells the story of J.R.R. Tolkien. He and C.S. Lewis decided to write fiction they way they thought it should be written. Lewis kept producing book after book. Meanwhile, Tolkien labored over one book and never felt satisfied.

One night Tolkien had a dream about a man named Niggle. Niggle is an artist who paints a picture of a great tree, but is never satisfied. Before he can finish the painting he dies. On the train to heaven he sees the tree that he had been trying to paint. The tree he sees is the true realization of his vision, not the flawed and incomplete form of his painting.

Niggle was never satisfied with the tree he tried to paint while on earth, just as we’ll never be satisfied with the church here on earth. But our longing for church to be more will one day be realized. The church we long for is not the church down the street; it’s the church we’ll be part of one day. That’s the church we long for.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada