In my formative years as a worship leader, I was lucky enough to spend time with several worship leaders/pastors and learn from them. When I was in college, I would “roll with” a worship leader I looked up to whenever he needed someone to keep him awake on the drive back home. It wasn’t exactly a “big” role, but I took my duties seriously. I thought it was so cool. One thing led to another, and eventually I was asked to sing background vocals on one of these trips. You would’ve thought I had won the lottery! An opportunity to be on stage, with all the pros, my heroes? Incredible! I was moving on up in my mind. I thought I was a big deal. I was thinking about what I would wear on stage more than the words I would sing. Eventually I was asked to sing for the biggest event I have ever done - in front of 14,000 people. That was it, I had arrived.
But pretty soon after, I stopped getting the call. “They probably don’t need any BGVs, that’s why…” I told myself just to hush the waves of insecurity within me. A few weeks later I ended up going to an event where that worship leader was leading and one of my friends was singing BGVs, instead of me.
My heart dropped. I had been replaced. His voice was more interesting than mine, he dressed cooler than me, and I was just distraught.
I went up after to say hi to everybody and it felt awkward. I told my newfound BGV nemesis that he did great and he said “man, I’m just trying to do what you would do.” That’s an incredibly kind compliment, but my insecurity molded it into a wounding blow. ‘That should be me up there’ was the thought that kept echoing through my mind as I went home utterly defeated.
It may come as a surprise, but there’s actually an example of how to approach jealousy within ministry in the Bible.
And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
“Look, HE is baptizing, and ALL are going to HIM.”
John the Baptist was the guy. He was eating bugs. He was off the grid. He was baptizing a ton of people. Then all of a sudden, some new guy from Nazareth shows up, and all the people start going to him. Not only that, but his friends come up to him and basically point out to him how popular the new guy is!
But John doesn’t respond with jealousy. He doesn’t act out of insecurity. He doesn’t get defensive.
A few things stand out in his response that are helpful to remember when jealousy, insecurity, and comparison rear their ugly head in ministry.
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”
That person has their platform/song/job/opportunity/etc because God gave it to them. It doesn’t matter whether you think they earned it or not- you’re not the one who gives the opportunity. They are there because God wants them to be there.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” - James 1:17
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'"
John knows who he is, what he’s called to do, and who he’s called to do it for.
“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice.”
If you are in the wedding party for one of your best friends, would you be sad, jealous, and bitter on the day of their wedding? No! You would rejoice with them, hype them up, encourage them, and support them on one of the biggest days of their lives.
“Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Now this is where it gets difficult. John not only rejoices for the success of Jesus’ ministry, but also for the decrease of his. This is Kingdom mentality.
That night was a pivotal moment in my calling.
My sin was so clearly exposed in that moment, and it was awful to look at. Just ugly; Pride, envy, selfish ambition, all clearly revealed in an instant. But the first step to putting sin to death is dragging it out into the light.
It was awful to see the sin that had seeped into my calling, but the Lord used that to start over and remind me why I was leading worship in the first place.
Not for my joy. Not for others. Not for approval. Not for a platform.
But for Jesus, alone.
A prayer for us (worship leaders):
Instead of being competitors, let us be champions of others.
Give us the awareness to see our sin, and the courage to confess it.
Forgive us when we long for glory and fame.
Help us to be holy.
Create in us John-like joy, that we might rejoice when God uses others for good.
Teach us to decrease.