The Zero-Sum Bias Ministry
Have you ever heard of zero-sum bias? In simple terms, it is to incorrectly assume in any relationship involving two or more people or groups, that one can only “gain” at the expense of another’s “loss.”
In business, religion, political ideologies, or any social setting those exhibiting a zero-sum bias mistakenly believe that tearing down the competition (albeit an individual or group) is the same thing as advancement.
This is what is sometimes referred to as the “fixed pie fallacy.” The mistaken belief that there is only a limited amount of admiration, respect, love, and intangible reward—only so many pieces of pie—to go around.
In families with multiple siblings, one child may mistakenly believe their parent’s love is finite and become jealous of the parent’s love for another sibling. In zero-sum thinking the parent’s love for one child reduces the amount of love the parent has to give to the other children. This is not true, which is why it is a fallacy, but this often fuels sibling conflict. One feels they are loved less because another is also loved.
It isn’t that common ground can’t be found between the siblings but rather because of the adversarial relationship, the siblings don’t want common ground found. Misha Glouberman, an expert in negotiating, gives this example of a father and his two daughters.
There is only one orange left, and both want it. The father does what he believes to be fair and cuts the orange in half, giving both daughters equal parts. A while later he asks how that worked out. One daughter talks about how she wanted to make juice and only having half an orange didn’t allow for much to be made. The other daughter tells how she was baking, and the recipe called for an orange rind, but only having half of an orange rind didn’t work for her recipe. What was fair actually did not solve either problem.[i]
This zero-sum fallacy can also affect ministers and ministries. One minister fears loss so he becomes envious of other surrounding ministries and takes opportunities to talk them down. An older established church refuses to allow a young church plant to take advantage of its underused facilities because they fear the younger plant will draw converts away from them. Both act as if there is a shortage of sinners in the world as if God's ability to save is limited.
This can even fuel passive-aggressive behavior. I've seen it. Ministers, ministries, or people “can’t understand” (that’s always how the PA post begins) why those people or that church over there isn’t “doing ministry” as “perfectly” as they are. This mental disorder has turned Apologetics from the noble discipline it was intended to be, into a "gotcha" "caught cha" club of the disgruntled self-righteous.
This zero-sum bias stimulates interpersonal conflicts, fuels self-righteousness, breeds unhealthy competition, causes unnecessary divides, and distracts us from obeying the Great Commission.
So, what is the solution? My answer is going to sound overly simplistic, but it isn’t.
Here is the solution: An absolute resolute unyielding belief and confidence in the sovereignty of God. The more one believes in the sovereignty of God the less they should feel the need to control others.
[Caveat: Which is why where the greater support for Law’s Amendment in the SBC comes from still surprises me. Its promoters aren't from the more Armenian sector of our convention but rather the more Calvinistic. That is almost ironic however, that is a conversation for another time.]
If God is sovereign, then nothing can happen that He does not allow. If God is sovereign, then other ministers and ministries don’t need my scolding to right their path. The Holy Spirit will guide His people into all truth. If God is sovereign, “whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul.” If God is sovereign, then nothing in God’s behavior or work is limited.
God is sovereign therefore we are not and should never be in competition.