A Theology of Competition

For those Christians critical of capitalism, competition tends to represent a key part of the argument. Let’s unpack that statement.

Business seemingly situates its industries in a zero-sum game where your product or service competes directly with a similar product or service.

If a customer needs to fly from Seattle to Denver, a variety of airlines offer such an itinerary, yet the customer can only choose one service offering. As such, one airline wins and the other airlines lose.

The Problem of Monopolies

For Christians critical of business, the need to win in competitive business situations can lead to monopolistic tendencies where the behemoth in the game takes advantage of the minnows to the point where competition no longer exists.

While such a scenario depicts questionable business actions, it doesn’t necessitate competition as an evil end for those in business. In fact, the monopolistic tendencies for which Christians are critical aren’t true competition anyway.

Defining Competition

Competition, instead, is the equal pursuit of an end. In sporting events, competition sees team 1 play against team 2 for a specific end goal. Team 1 and Team 2 share a similar playing field and work toward accomplishing that end goal—namely a victory. The event would not be a competition if one team played with 11 players and the other with 1.

So if we accept this specific definition of competition, a theological component emerges. Competition, in fact, becomes a good thing.

Iron Sharpening Iron

For starters, competition requires continued innovation. As you work, you must always be prepared to shift so you can continue to provide goods and services that are valuable to your customers. When other businesses in your space are competing for the same customers, you inevitably must remain sharp. In this way, competition becomes an iron-sharpening-iron accountability factor.

Additionally, competition does not necessitate a rivalry. Those businesses that have similar services can often provide added value to your customers as you seek to fulfill their needs. Sometimes, the supposed “competition” becomes a valuable partner that allows for better delivery and a more satisfied customer. For example, the airlines in competition for that Seattle to Denver itinerary could also form a partnership to ensure that a traveler arrives at the destination promptly if one airline experiences an unforeseen delay, a win-win for all “competitors.”

So, the next time you think about “competition,” remember that such a phrase does not represent a necessary evil in your work life. Competition keeps you on your toes and helps you toward excellence. And those competitors might, in fact, be your partners if you seek to build relationships that add value to your customers.

Photo Credit: Agberto Guimaraes

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