Jealousy, Envy, Insecurity and the Heart of A Pastor

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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.

Someone else's success should never make you feel like a failure. Click To Tweet

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.

Envy is the dark underbelly of ambition. Click To Tweet

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.

Never build yourself up by tearing others down. Click To Tweet

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.

Leaders, you're not nearly as bad as your last failure or as amazing as your last success. Click To Tweet

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.

Insecure people are often jealous people. Click To Tweet

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.

If you want to kill the jealousy you feel, publicly praise the people you're jealous of. Click To Tweet

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.

Want to become more secure? Recruit and promote people who are better than you. Click To Tweet

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.

Insecurity says God got it wrong when he was creating you and you need to compensate for this. Click To Tweet

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?

Instead of comparing yourself with others, learn from them. Click To Tweet

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.

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

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.

Can't find the time to get it all done? Become a high-impact leader without burning out (or sacrificing yourself).

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  • Overcommit and underdeliver
  • Have no time for what you actually want to do
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Sean CannellFounder and CEO, Think Media

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.