Wednesday, January 13, 2010

93. Competition...Good or Bad?

Competition has a always been a two edged sword to me. I am a very competitive person and I love a good challenge. Especially if it falls within the areas of my skill sets or expertise. I have been reading a cool book called Flow: The psychology of optimal experience and it has a really cool section about competition that I dont think I have ever heard any one explain the way he does. Competition can be a cut throat activity where winning is the only goal. This kind of competition borders on being only about us, what people think about us, or more importantly, what we end up deducing about ourselves if we either win or lose. Competition will always put us into the orbit of the "self", but the self is not the enemy. It is how the self interfaces with others, or with the environment, or even how the self interacts with the self.

We have all played games with people who were so intent on winning that the game was not any fun at all. Their competitive spirit sucked out any joy, or personal satisfaction that the game was designed to facilitate, and it became an intensely personal agenda, saturated in ego and insecurity. The outcome of the game merged with their own sense of personal identity, and on a micro level, their own personal destiny. They saw the results of the competition as a commentary on their own person, their own value and competence.

Mihaly makes a really cool observation about competition and how it can contribute or detract from our sense of enjoyment.

"In many ways, competition is a quick way of developing complexity: "He who wrestles with us", wrote Edmund Burke, "strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper." The challenges of competition can be stimulating and enjoyable. But when beating the opponent takes precedence in the mind over performing as well as possible, enjoyment tends to disappear. Competition is enjoyable only when it is a means to perfect one's skills; when it becomes an end in itself, it ceases to be fun."

There are many applications to the wisdom poured out here from Mihaly, but since I am thinking about apostolic leadership now a days, I will allow this piece throw a new shade of light into that area.

Apostles typically have dominant personalities. They have a strong sense of drive and adventure, and thrive in the midst of a challenge. Apostles are definitely prone to competition. Paul is real clear in II Corinthians 10 that he is not into competition, comparing himself with other apostles and their ministries and credentials. My college basketball coach would often tell us when we were competing against a team that all of knew were better than us "We are not competing against this team. We are competing against the game of basketball. Our goal to night is to be the best basketball players we can be" When he said this, it always took the pressure off of us and allowed us to focus on the skill of playing basketball, not the other team.

Apostolic ministry finds its metrics in the gospel, in the cross and resurrection. We are not in competition with other apostles, their ministries and their success and influence. Apostles are called by God, which means they answer to God, and not the standards of some one elses ministry. Competition implies an opponent, and our opponent is the great enemy and the powers of the present evil age. (Galatians 1:4) There is a definite skill set to be learned and perfected in apostolic ministry, but we are not competing in a tournament against other apostles. While there will always be false apostles, apostles are on the same team, though they occupy different locations on the field, different territories as Paul would say in II Cor 10. Apostolic ministry has its ups and downs, but these should arise from two kingdoms colliding, not from a misplaced focus of competition.

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