I would guess that all of us have experienced this little monster at some point during ministry. The last time I spotted it was at a gathering of youth ministers in my area. People were sharing what was going on in their parishes, and what new projects they were working on. The ideas were creative and exciting. And all of a sudden, it showed up: ministry envy. At first I thought how cool it was that all these other youth ministers were doing these things with their youth, but then jealousy started to put its foot in the door of my mind. Why am I not creative like that? Why can’t I have teens sign up for events like that? Why don’t I want to sleep in a cardboard box to raise awareness for the homeless? Why don’t I have the energy to do back-to-back retreat weekends?
As I heard these thoughts in my head, I realized I had to put an immediate stop to them. It was relatively easy for me that morning to crush the envy monster, but only because I have had lots of practice over the years doing battle with it.
For whatever reason, it can be pretty easy to play the comparison game in ministry. We’re looking for affirmation, so we try to measure up to those around us. Sometimes people do this forthrightly, actually declaring how great their ministry—to be able to feel affirmed when the rest of us make remarks laced with jealousy. Sometimes, the envy rises inside ourselves, with those around us completely unaware that it has made its move.
How can we combat ministry envy? We need to recognize that each of us has different charisms. Because of that, where we each excel in ministry will be different. Also, each of us are at different places in life—whether our age, vocation, experience, and parish make up—and all those factors will also make a difference in the strength of our ministry. Instead of being jealous, we need to celebrate how God has gifted that other person and encourage them to use their gifts, not tear them down or discourage them because we can’t be like them.
At the same time, we need to recognize that we have our own strengths. Usually when the jealousy monster appears, we don’t think that the other youth ministers might be jealous of our strengths. We tend to only see our weaknesses, not our gifts. Thus, we can combat the envy by recognizing how God has specifically gifted us, be faithful to whatever He has called us, and, recognize that it is God who has gifted those of whom we might be jealous.
Just as important, we need to remember that we are not in competition with each other in ministry. All of us are working for the same goal. Instead of being jealous when someone succeeds, we should be encouraged and excited.
Also, when we hear about great things that others are doing in ministry, we need to view it as an opportunity. Instead of being envious of their great ideas, we can look on it as a potential idea for our own ministry. Then, instead of walking away feeling deflated, we can walk away feeling excited about the new, potential ideas we have just heard about.
Of course, sometimes the other person is being proud and trying to make us jealous—not just excitedly sharing. In that case, the best thing to do is to probably pray for them. For whatever reason, they are finding their affirmation and consolation in their ministry, rather than in Christ. Pray that they may come to know how loved they are as one of God’s own.
Don’t let envy win! If it takes root, it can do some pretty ugly things, taking our ministry off track. Instead of being faithful to what God has called us, we focus on trying to keep up with the parish down the street. So, the next time the envy monster starts to show itself, do your best to quickly shut the door on it.