the shape of leadership

Avoiding Three Common Comparison Traps in Ministry

Stay faithful to your calling and celebrate others

Comparison is a common nemesis today in so many areas of life — both personally and professionally. It’s easy to scroll through your favorite social media channel and read everyone’s highlight reel. After just a few minutes, you feel worse about yourself, your accomplishments and even your ministry.

While there are many ways that we compare ourselves to others, I believe three are common in ministry. These comparison traps have a way of sucking the life out of us and making us feel inferior, inadequate or even incompetent.

The Comparison of Calling

When God calls us into ministry, there’s a sense of excitement, hopefulness and perhaps even a touch of fear. We sense the nudge of the Holy Spirit, inviting us on a journey that has the potential to transform lives … even the world. But it doesn’t take us long to bump into the comparison of calling.

We live in an age where calling is deep and wide. Some people are called to a very deep, specialized task, while others are called to a wide set of opportunities. When you hear about the callings of others, sometimes it can make yours feel a bit bland.

In John 21, when Jesus reinstates Peter, something interesting happens. He tells Peter what kind of death he will suffer, and then says, “Follow me!” (verses 18-19).

How does Peter respond? According to verses 20-22, “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’”

Peter’s first response to Jesus’ call was to compare himself to the disciple Jesus loved (probably John). If Peter was going to die, then shouldn’t John, too?

How often do we do the same? We compare our calling, the price of our calling and the size of our calling with others. The result is usually feelings of inferiority.

All of us are tempted to compare ourselves with other pastors, leaders, churches and ministries.

So, how should we handle the comparison of calling? Two ways. First, be faithful in your calling. Second, celebrate the calling of others. Faithfulness will keep your activity right, and celebration will keep your heart right. Faithfulness will keep you engaged in what God has called you to do. Celebration will make you an encourager for what God called others to do.

The Comparison of Ability

We live in a 15 minutes of fame culture. Everybody wants to be “discovered.” When we’re not, we compare ourselves to those who have. We compare our preaching with other preachers. We compare our leadership with other leaders. We compare our one-liners with another’s ability to create great one-liners.

How do you deal with this trap? Rather than spending your time comparing yourself against somebody else’s performance, compare yourself against your own potential. Ability was meant to be developed, not discovered.

If you’ll focus on developing your gifts, abilities and skills to their fullest potential, God will entrust you with the opportunities that He sees fit. What next step do you need to take to develop your ability?

The Comparison of Growth

One of the biggest comparison traps we deal with in ministry is growth. I’m a church planter, so it’s easy to hear the attendance numbers of other church planters and wonder, What am I doing wrong?

But here’s the truth about attendance: You’ll never be satisfied. If you run 100 people, you’ll wonder why you don’t run 200. If you run 500, you’ll wonder why you’re not running 1,000. If you run 5,000, you’ll wonder why you haven’t reached 10,000 yet. It’s a moving target. I’m not suggesting that attendance isn’t important. It is important, but comparison isn’t.

So, what’s the solution? Be a good steward. In Matthew 25, the master didn’t judge the servants on the size of their talent, but on the stewardship of their talent. Different amounts were entrusted to each servant, but they were never judged on those amounts. Instead, they were judged on what they did with what was entrusted to them.

The master determined the size, but the servants determined their stewardship of it. Interestingly, the two servants who were good stewards experienced growth.

All of us are tempted to compare ourselves with other pastors, leaders, churches and ministries. In fact, Satan would love nothing more than to drag you into a comparison trap where your confidence is decreased and your insecurity is increased.

Be faithful to your calling and celebrate others. Develop your abilities to their full potential. And be a good steward. Leave the rest to God.

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