Jealousy, Envy, Insecurity and the Heart of A Pastor

You’ve felt it.

Someone you know (or follow) is experiencing ‘success’ in their lives and leadership in a way you’re not. Maybe their church or ministry is growing faster than yours, or yours isn’t growing at all.

Or their marriage looks so much happier than yours. Or…they’re married. And you’re not.

Maybe their kids look more together than your kids, or they’ve built the killer team you always wished you had, but don’t.

And deep inside, you feel it.

Sometimes it shows up as criticism or excuse-making (Well, if I had their location/money/building/people I’d be that effective too).

Or it shows up as you questioning their integrity (I wonder what they had to do to get that. Betcha they have zero family life).

Often it just shows up as misery, a sadness that makes you feel bad about yourself, angry about your circumstances and maybe even frustrated with God (hey…you called me into this. I mean, come on…)

What is that?

Well, it’s at least three things: jealousy, envy and insecurity.

Every pastor and church leader feels them at some level, and if you look at the issues they cause inside us, around us and in our churches, it’s troubling.

If you’ve felt that at all, what do you do with it?

I Guess It’s All Of Us

Just know that if you feel these things, you’re not alone.

My last blog post was about that seemingly eternal debate about ‘church growth’ and whether church growth can actually be healthy (5 Hard Truths About Healthy Church Growth).

As I was trying to find an explanation for why this subject is so explosive in many church circles, I quickly wrote this one line.

The line? Someone else’s success should never make you feel like a failure.

Sometimes as a writer, you pen things that you have no idea will resonate like they do.

I didn’t think much about it until I saw that quote show up again and again (and again) on social media. All over the place.

I guess it struck a nerve. A big nerve.

Someone else’s success should never make you feel like a failure.

As much as that’s true, most of us do feel like failures when someone else succeeds. It’s pretty natural to feel that way.

But it’s killing us and our churches.

Here are three ways jealousy, envy and insecurity mess with our lives and leadership, and then a few things you and I can do to get our motivations moving in a healthier direction.

1. Envy is the Dark Underbelly of Ambition

In my younger days as a leader, there were days and seasons where jealousy and envy would get the best of me.

Why do they have more X than we have?

Why is he more gifted?

And why does she seem so happy? 

And at times, envy would drive me on to do more.

There is a godly side to ambition. But ambition has a dark underbelly too –  if it’s driven by envy, jealousy, and insecurity.

Strangely (and maybe mercifully), scripture suggests God often even uses our poorly motivated ambition for his glory.

But that’s no excuse to keep our motivation poor.

Theodore Roosevelt was right, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

If envy is the dark underbelly of your ambition, it will never create the kind of love, joy or peace that well-motivated ambition does, in you or your church.

You will always feel less. Nothing will ever be enough. And you will listen less to God and more to others.

And it steals much more than that, especially in the church.

And my guess is the people you lead will always suspect that something is ‘off,’ even if they can’t put their finger on what it is.

2. Jealousy Fuels Potshots and Criticism

You ever find yourself dismissing someone else’s accomplishments, or being constantly critical of what they’re doing?

Look inside.

Often, that’s jealousy.

If you have a constant string of negative thoughts and words about other people, that may be a sign that you have some confessing to do (see below).

People want to be led by a leader who can celebrate the success of others.

Never build yourself up by tearing others down.

3. Insecurity Creates an Unstable Foundation

Most of us come by our insecurity honestly. It’s not that we feel too good about ourselves. It’s that we feel too badly.

Of course, that’s a spiritual issue. The truth of the Gospel, to paraphrase Tim Keller, is that our situation is far worse than we ever imagined, and God loves us far more deeply than we ever dreamed.

It’s not that either is true; both are. The truth of our sin is brutal, and the love of God runs deeper than any of that.

If you don’t deal with your insecurity, you build an unstable foundation for both your life and your leadership.

Insecurity makes your emotions rise with every success and plummet with every failure.

If you anchor your security in Christ and what he’s done for you, you end up being not so fickle. And neither does your church.

You can withstand the storms because you know you’re not nearly as bad as your last failure or as amazing as your last success.

And you were loved through all of it.

That’s a far more secure foundation.

5 Disciplines That Will Kill Envy, Jealousy and Insecurity

So how do you move past envy, jealousy and insecurity?

Fundamentally, I think it’s a spiritual thing. Years of prayer, scripture, counseling and even some coaching is helping me move through mine.

But there are also five disciplines that, over the years have helped.

If you want to kill envy, jealousy and insecurity, try these.

1.  Be generous with your praise

This might sound trivial, but it’s not.  Insecure people are often jealous people.

One of the best ways to combat jealousy is to privately and publicly commend and compliment others. Especially if you don’t feel like it.

If you’re afraid of building others up because you think it might diminish you in some way, that’s the perfect time to do it.

Don’t remain silent. Don’t give them a back-handed compliment (it’s about time he did something good) and don’t qualify the praise (it was pretty good given her track record).

Publicly celebrating the success of others will move you much closer to what Jesus was talking about when he commanded us to love enemies and people who persecute us.

Strangely, most of the people you don’t want to compliment aren’t close to being enemies.  So in those moments when others make a difference (there are many), smile and acknowledge it: privately and publicly. Be generous with your praise.

2. Recruit and promote people who are better than you

I had to wrestle this one down a number of years ago as we added staff and key volunteers. I had to hire people who were better than me at so many things.

In fact, I’m only ‘best at’ a few things in our organization right now. My goal is to continue to give as much of even that away as I can.

Another way I had to deal with this head on is when we started Connexus Church as a strategic partner of North Point Ministries. That means when I’m not teaching, Andy Stanley is. If you really want to wrestle down insecurity, just put the most gifted communicator around on the screen when you are not teaching.

It will teach you quite quickly to celebrate what others are amazing at and to be content with the role you also get to play.

3.  Give thanks for who you are instead of lamenting over who you aren’t

At the root of much insecurity are two beliefs.  First, that God somehow got it wrong when he was creating you. And second, that you need to compensate for this.

That’s why insecure people are jealous or resentful of others and why we somehow feel we need to ‘right’ the situation by withholding praise, refusing to hire or recruit better people because it might make us look bad, and trying to control things so they work out in our favor.

Why not start each day thanking God for how he created you?

Why not say “God, you have given me everything I need to accomplish what you’ve asked me to accomplish and you’ve given others exactly what they need to accomplish their mission”?

That shift will also help you relinquish your controlling tendencies.

4.  Learn instead of comparing

Comparison is a losing game no matter how you try to play it. You end up feeling inferior (wrong) or superior (sinful) to others every time you compare.

It corrodes your heart.  So how to do you interact healthily with others?

Learn from them. Plain and simple.

You grow by being around other people, so grow.  What do they do well? What could you do differently?

And what are the charts and numbers telling you? How can you develop from what you’re learning?

5. Get ridiculously honest with yourself (and God)

I had a powerful moment in my journey a number of years ago.

It was one of those moments where I wasn’t reading the scripture, the scripture was reading me.

I was jealous of another communicator who I thought was better than me, but I didn’t know how to kill the jealousy.

One morning as I was reading the Bible, this passage in James stopped me dead in my tracks. It described to a ‘T’ what I was experiencing in that moment.

Instead of blowing it off and ignoring it, I admitted (to my shame) that it described me.  I prayed about it.

The next day I went back to the same text, reading and praying through it again.  I didn’t leave those four verses until the ugly things they described relinquished their grip on my heart. It took over a week.

Every time I’ve read that text in the years that have passed, I stop and give thanks to God for what he dealt with inside me in that season. I’m so grateful. But you don’t get to that kind of breakthrough without ridiculous honesty about what’s really going on.

So level with yourself.  And with God. We are masters of self-deception.

Of all the lies we tell, the ones we tell ourselves are the most deadly.

When you stop the mastery, change begins.

What Helps You?

As you get honest with yourself (and others) as a leader and deepen some of the practices above, I think you’ll eventually discover that someone else’s success no longer makes you feel like a failure.

And as we do that, our churches, our families and our relationships will all get so much healthier.

What helps you overcome insecurity, envy and jealousy?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

19 Comments

  1. Abdullah on May 17, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    Carey,

    This is probably the best post I’ve read in years. Thank you. I really needed it.

  2. Pastor Wilson Tiony. on March 22, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    I’m a pastor in Kenya and I’m encouraged to move on with where I’m gifted and give others there chance(God is the one who shares the gifts).

  3. Rev. Charles Bledsoe on January 22, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Carey…Thank You. Your insight and wisdom is convictingly refreshing. I find clarity and understanding for my own life as well as some others who had authority over me. Where the light we receive is personal or general it is still “light’.

    Thank you, again.

  4. Mike on January 15, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Great article, Carey.

    #3 hit me where I live. I have a constant narrative running in my head that says I’m not good enough. It can be very challenging to not believe it.

    One voice that contributes to the feeling is (unfortunately) the Christian church. I know people that are most decidedly unorthodox in their beliefs, yet they are among the most loving and affirming people I know. To protect myself from self-harm I had to leave the local church and everything that it stands for.

    If church leaders were to truly apply #5 to their organizations what do you think they would discover?

  5. Barry Pendergast on January 12, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    Certainly sums up our expulsion from two Canadian churches – the last a Canadian Mega church. Insecure leaders just plain envious of our passion, skills and love for others. Leaders operating with total disregard to scripture and a strict church staff behaviour covenant. Feeling at peace no longer a part of a faith centred on greed, power and control with nobody willing to or too fearful to challenge the aberrant & documented behaviour to us and others. All churches badly need a transparent conflict resolution process – no excuse for avoiding one, otherwise couples like us will be permanently scarred

  6. Richard on January 12, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    My long-term practice for dealing with envy is to pray for God to bless those I envy. I begin by doing it grudgingly, but as God changes my heart, it becomes genuine.

  7. Will on January 12, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    This article really spoke to me today. These encouragements are so simple, yet they are often very hard to put into practice. I went to a community interfaith event last night, and I barely got out of the building before I was criticizing the host pastor over some very superficial things. I have a hard time accepting criticism of my ministry because I hear those comments as personal attacks. I continue to pray about this tendency and to seek to grow in this area. As someone mentioned above, sometimes it’s hard to hear advice from someone who seems much more successful. It is easier to surround yourself with people you can dominate and feel superior too, but learning from people who do things well is essential for growth. Thanks Carey for this article, the podcast, and all the work you do.

  8. Larry R. on January 12, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for this relevant and necessary post. Pride manifests itself in so many ways and we must be vigilant to resist the temptation to engage in prideful thoughts and behaviors. Romans 12:3 and 2 Corinthians 10:13-18 help me to refocus on the broader goal of making Christ known and reflect on God’s unique gifting in my life/ministry.

  9. Scott on January 11, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    If you can recognize that a thought you are having is jealousy, at that moment kick the thought out of your head. Think about something else. When it comes back, kick it out again. Do this enough and it becomes a habit and the problem is basically solved. That’s what I do. Works pretty well for me. The hardest part was first believing that I could control my own thinking habits. The second hardest part was recognizing the unhappy jealous feeling for what it was.

  10. Gordon Bassett on January 11, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Great and challenging article, Carey. I have been on both ends of this challenge: i) when i was leading the fastest growing church in town, and others wondered why they didn’t have the growth that we were having, and ii) where I wonder about others who now have the incredible growth that i hope for. So, a lot of inner challenges, but a big call for me to make contact with a couple of Pastors whose churches are doing really well and to allow them to speak into my life and ministry.

  11. Jose T. Leosala on January 11, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Thank you for this article. It goes inside me and it works…

  12. Jenny on January 11, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Fantastic reminder! As a church planter in a city that’s just caught the church plant bug it’s hard not to feel this way sometimes. I do tho agree with the praise point so greatly. We are so full on about this in our personal and church social media accounts, but one of the most powerful ways to make sure those feeling aren’t just for show is behind closed doors talking praise about people to your spouse. The one you can vent etc to. Then I’ve found real heart change happens as you speak life over others so you speak life over yourself. I really resonated with this thanks for posting.

  13. Doug on January 11, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    I both enjoyed and needed this article. Our church plant is only 3 years old and we have done very well in an area that has mostly stagnant churches. Yet I find I an still prone to compare our church to a few other local ones that are doing better. I suspect it is because I am an older church planter and I wish I was younger like the other pastors so I could do more and connect with more Millenials. I think the worst part of envy and jealousy is that makes you rejoice when others weep, and weep when others rejoice. Hardly a way to build community with your peers. So thank you again for these helpful tips . . . and the James reference! That was powerful and poked me in the chest. I will reflect on that one for a while.

  14. Ron on January 11, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Carrie, what an insightful and bang on post. I’m jealous and envious of you (just kidding…well maybe not too much). Talk about real and practical steps to overcome this joy stealer. I have been a very insecure person throughout my life but when we realize that the infinite, all powerful and all knowing Creator of the universe uniquely designed and made us, then calling into question our abilities is to call into question his plan and execution of that same plan. Thank you for inspiring and exposing lies with truth, God’s truth.
    Ron

  15. Larry Myers sr on January 11, 2018 at 10:57 am

    I loved it. Thanks very much for sharing. This was perfect timing. I needed to hear, now sharing with my pastor and deacons. Again, thanks.

  16. Rich on January 11, 2018 at 10:44 am

    I’m sorry, but it’s very easy for a success like yourself to write these things. I’m guessing you live in a neighborhood of your choosing, in a house you like, and you obviously work in an awesome church. I’ve seen your photo, so I know you’re handsome and healthy. I’m guessing you have great kids. I’m a gifted pastor (Haddon Robison himself told me I’m an amazing preacher), but I can’t catch a break because I’m overweight and child-less (the two unforgivable sins for pastors in today’s growing churches). You have no one of whom to be jealous, and, therefore, no moral authority to write this article. Once you’ve spent years in a crappy parsonage, in a neighborhood that requires you to keep a gun by your bed, with church “leaders” who don’t qualify as even minimally Christian, then I’ll listen to you.

    • Tim on January 11, 2018 at 11:39 am

      Rich,

      Sorry that you have had some challenging circumstances. I pray that the Holy Spirit helps you through them and you grow through them with a great testimony to share some day. It’s probably not fair to say Carey has no moral authority to write this article. You and I do not know everything Carey has been through in ministry or in life. Judging his authority based on where he is now seems shortsighted. I’ve listened to many of his podcasts and read many of his posts and God has brought Carey through a lot over the years and I find it encouraging that someone has a testimony of how they got through it and gives hope for those currently facing difficult situations in ministry. Maybe we can extend some grace and not cast judgement on someone else’s experience that we don’t actually know everything about? I think there are some things we all can learn from one another and by God’s grace, grow closer to Christ. God Bless.

  17. Chuck on January 11, 2018 at 9:40 am

    That “Hey you called me into this …I mean come on!” line is aimed right at me. I use it way too much. And it doesn’t necessarily arise from comparison to others. It’s more a generalized frustration with circumstances or, let’s call a spade a spade, a lack of patience — a lack of willingness to wait on the Lord. I am soooo guilty of that. Tried. Convicted. Sentenced. (I’m thinking that line alone is worth a few blog entries!)

    Good call!

  18. Breshana on January 11, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Thank you Carey for such a heart-provoking post; beginning to end. Jealousy, envy and insecurity is something we must overcome throughout our life. I’ve learned it’s not something that goes away and stays away, but the enemy will always try to find a way to turn our heart to things that displease God.
    I truly believe that being grateful and preferring others over ourselves is the antidote to this spiritual poison that tries to infiltrate our heart.
    thank you for sharing such great tips.
    Breshana

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