When a pastor’s biggest competition is another preacher

Sometimes a pastor finds a neighboring pastor is sucking all the air out of the room. The new preacher is dynamic and exciting and crowds are flocking to his church.  He’s a media star.  He’s pulling people out of the other churches.

Sound familiar?  It’s not a new phenomenon.

“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in Scriptures, came to Ephesus.”  (Acts 18:24)

Sometimes you’re Apollos, sometimes you are Paul.  Early records indicate Paul was short and bald, nothing much to look at. And some said he wasn’t much to listen to. See 2 Corinthians 10:10.

What do you want to bet Apollos was gorgeous to boot.  A real hunk.  Articulate in the pulpit.  Wore these cool suits and had a trendy haircut.

Named for Apollos–a god of both Greeks and Romans, the champion of the youth and the sharpest thing on Mount Olympus!–this preacher would have made a great television evangelist.   He made an impact wherever he went.

What’s more, he was good.  He was spiritual and godly and not shallow at all. Not a flash in the pan.

Which just made it harder on his competition, the pastors of nearby churches.  They could not in good faith dismiss the guy as unworthy or a superficial rock star.

“Being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord…” (18:25).  “He vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (18:28). 

So, they couldn’t fault his preaching.  Apollos was a good preacher and what he said was dead on. Christians were impressed and his opponents distressed. But still….

Something was missing. “He knew only the baptism of John” (18:25).  So, there was something lacking about his doctrine, although we’d be hard put to know exactly how that played out.  As John MacArthur puts it, “Despite his knowledge of the OT, Apollos did not fully understand Christian truth.”

It turns out Apollos was humble, too.  (Is this guy frustrating or what?  We keep thinking there has to be a major flaw somewhere, but find none.)

“When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26). 

He was teachable.

Then, Apollos left for Greece (19:1).  Down in Corinth, they loved him (I Corinthians 1:12 and 3:4).

Okay.  Let’s pause here and talk about this phenomenon. 

The new preacher comes to town and suddenly, he’s all the rage.

Ever been there?

In the 1970s Dr. John Bisagno took Southern Baptists by storm.  At the First Baptist Church of Del City, OK, he began baptizing hundreds every year and caught the attention of our denomination. Then, Houston’s FBC made him their pastor.  There, he would baptize a thousand people annually and eventually lead them to relocate on the interstate with a zillion-dollar campus.  By any measurement, he was a flaming success.

Brother John was a powerful preacher.  He was handsome, funny, and personable.  What else?  He played the trumpet.  Oh, and his wife was gorgeous.  They were nice people.

Soon Dr. Bisagno was on the program of every pastors’ conference and evangelism conference around the country.  And he was wonderful.  He connected with the audiences and was a stem-winder.  A powerful and eloquent preacher.  Crowds raved.

I remember the day John Bisagno was speaking to our state’s annual meeting and was followed on the program by Dr. Ken Chafin, head of our denomination’s evangelism ministry through the North American Mission Board. Dr. Chafin was no slouch in the preaching/communication department, but not in the same league as Bisagno.  As he began his message, the buzz from Bisagno’s appearance still lingered in the air.  So, Dr. Chafin addressed that.

“You fellows in Mississippi love Johnny Bisagno,” he said.  “But let me ask you a question.  How would you like it if he were pastoring in your hometown?  You’ve been telling people for years churches can’t have revival any more. That people just don’t respond to the gospel like they used to.  And then, this preacher shows up and starts winning thousands to the Lord and packing them in to the rafters.  How would you like that?”

Chafin said, “You love him because he comes to your convention and delivers this rousing message, then gets on the plane and flies back to Texas. And you don’t have to compete with his great success.”

As things happened, within a year or two, Dr. Chafin himself became pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, the same city as Bisagno.  The two churches were vastly different and the preaching styles of these two men as unlike as it’s possible to get. As far as I know there was never any competition or ill will between them.  But Chafin had made a great point.

What if that happens in your town?  What if the young Apollos arrives and begins pulling in the crowds and charming the city and buying air time on the television station?  What if you begin noticing some of your people missing from their pews, and soon your office receives letters asking that their membership be transferred over to Apollos’ church?

How would you feel? What would you do? How would you handle it?

Scripture addresses this subject, as it does almost every one we can think of.

The church members at Corinth began choosing their favorites.  Some said, “I prefer Paul.”  Others, “It’s Apollos for me!”  And still others, “Cephas (Peter) is my man!”

And, some in the congregation stuck their noses in the air and said, “We’re of Jesus’ party!”

One was as bad as the other.

So, Paul addressed this cliquishness which afflicts carnal church members and torments the rest of us pastors.

“Who is Paul? And who is Apollos?  They’re only ministers (servants) whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”  (I Corinthians 3:5-6).

He continued, We are God’s fellow-workers.  You are God’s field, God’s building…. I laid the foundation, and another built on it… But Jesus Christ is everything. (My paraphrase of I Corinthians 3:9-11.)

We’re all in this together.  We are team members.  We each need the other.

Sometimes we are the darling, sometimes we’re the one left on the sideline.

When you are the star, the Apollos of your town…

You’re young and excited and the new pastor in town.  All the churches around you are being led by older men, settled, perhaps a little boring. The field belongs to you, and you eat it up.  Crowds flock to hear you preach, teens adore you, and you’re asked to serve on the Chamber and speak to the civic clubs and join most of them.

You’re tempted to believe their acclaim.  To think there’s no one else like you.  That the other pastors are failures, and you alone are faithful.

Take a deep breath.  It’s a passing fancy. Soon, the crowd will move along to the next flash in the pan.  Your balloon will burst and you will stand on the sidelines watching your members chase after the next ministerial attraction.

Read Acts 14 and take a lesson from Barnabas and Paul.  After healing a man in Lystra, the crowds made these two apostles their champions.  “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” they cheered. As they brought animals to sacrifice before them and garlands to place on their heads, it was all Paul and Barnabas could do to stop this madness.

It wasn’t to last.

An hour later, troublemakers from the last town Barnabas and Paul had visited arrived to attack and slander them.  The same crowd that wanted to worship them now gathered stones to kill them.  “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (14:19).

So much for the adulation of the crowd.  Fickle is hardly strong enough a word.

So, when they make you their idol, don’t let it go to your head.  Do your work. Keep your eyes on Jesus.  It’ll soon pass.  Never forget that the crowd that cried “Hosanna!” to Jesus on the first day of the week was calling “Crucify Him!” a few days later.

And if you are the pastor on the sidelines watching the new darling take your town by storm…

Pray for him.  Speak well of him.  Be very careful not to appear jealous or small-minded.

Do not envy him or resent him.  Appreciate the good he’s doing.  Look for things to compliment if you can.  Put in a good word for him with the other pastors, some of whom may be seething with envy or suspicion or resentment.

Do your job.  If you are losing members to the new guy, keep telling yourself (and your leaders who may be panicking at the empty pews and low offerings), “This is not about us, but about the Lord Jesus.  And if they’re doing a better job over there, then let’s pray for them and encourage them.”

“A million years from now, all that will matter is that we all were faithful to Jesus.”

Let his success spur you and your team on to greater effort.  Make sure you’re doing your very best for the Lord, that you have not been lulled to sleep.

Drop the new pastor a note of welcome and appreciation.

Invite him to lunch, and bring along two or three other pastors.  Try to guard against discussing the phenomenon of his church pulling away members of your churches.  This too will even out in time, and the craze will pass.  Get to know him and accept him into your group.  You will likely find out that he is a little surprised and overwhelmed by the reaction of the community.

He may end up becoming one of your best friends.  I’ve seen it happen.

If he happens to be one of those pastors who is a loner, who ignores your overtures toward friendliness, do not be discouraged.  Keep your eyes on the Lord. Pray for him and speak well of him when you can do so honestly.  If you watch his sermon on television and were blessed, drop him a note to say so.  And do not be discouraged if you get no response.  You are a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 14:4).

Teach your people the principles of I Corinthians 3 at a time when this is not an issue.  That way, they are prepared for when it becomes one.

How does the old joke go? Sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield.  (I’m not sure if that fits here, but it seems like a good way to end this.)

One thought on “When a pastor’s biggest competition is another preacher

  1. As usual, right on target!! Thanks! I was at the State Convention and heard the remarks by Dr. Chafin. Have never forgotten that meeting!

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