Ministry is tough. The daily work is a thankless job. You rarely see the progress you desire. Organizational change takes time. People do not mature overnight. Leadership is already hard, but when you add our tendency to compare ourselves with others, it grows more difficult.
We compare everything: our social media numbers, the size of our congregation or ministry, the opportunities we receive to write or speak, what we degrees we earned, our blog traffic, or our podcast success. This only names a few. The comparison trap is easy to fall into. We look at the work of others and measure ourselves. We hear stories of the great things God is doing in other churches and ministries and wonder how we stack up.
One reason comparing ourselves – or the things we lead – to others is unhelpful is that we are all in different contexts and have different variables. Some people minister in booming suburbs and others are in rural areas. There are churches with large budgets and others with very restricted budgets. One church may own a great facility and location and another one may be in a portable situation. One pastor or leader may have a large staff that helps lift the load so he can write. Another pastor may be understaffed and does most the pastoral counseling and shepherding. None of these are bad. But it shows that comparison is unhelpful because we rarely compare apples-to-apples.
Here are two remedies for comparing yourself to others.
1. Anchor your identity in Christ.
We are not what we do. Our identity is not public recognition or acknowledgment of our work. Weighing our value, worth, or usefulness to God by how we measure up to others dooms us for failure. Why? The standard of success we create in our minds – and recognition we desire – are empty idols that cannot satisfy our souls.
Full transparency here. I planted a church over twelve years ago. It has been hard work. In the early years, the mountaintop number of people that signified “making it” – I hate even saying that – was 1,000. That number seemed like a big deal. When we crossed that number guess what happened? Nothing. There was no confetti dropped from the ceiling. The news stations didn’t call to interview me. Leadership Network didn’t send me an email wanting to do a cover story on my great leadership. Nothing happened. Our team showed back up on Monday and continued to do the work of ministry.
This past year our church was on Outreach Magazine’s “fastest growing churches” list. We ranked 47th. Did my life change? Nope. Has leadership become easier now? Hardly. Are there fewer problems to fix or people to disciple in my church now? Negative. My life has not become more satisfying, but if I am not careful, my heart can become more desirous of climbing the list. Comparing ourselves to others is soul-crushing.
Leaders, don’t idolize successes, achievements, or recognition because they are not ultimate. When you hit a milestone or experience a success, high-five your team, give God the glory, and put your nose back to the grind. Do not expect it to satisfy you. Only Jesus can truly satisfy you. The sooner we grasp this the more liberated we are.
2. Lead your ministry to be the best it can be.
I recently met with one of our staff members who leads our student ministry. We met to work on developing him as a leader. He is young and inexperienced in ministry, but gifted and called to the work. He loves the Lord, loves the church, and loves doing what he is doing. However, his inexperience was hindering him as his ministry grew larger and more complex. I had to take ownership of helping him and not just hope he would figure it out.
We scheduled a time to meet to work through a strategy and plan. I opened the meeting by telling him I had one goal for him and his ministry: to have the best student ministry The Journey Church can have.
I did not give him the goal of having the best student ministry in the country. He is not responsible for having the best student ministry in our city or county. He does not control the variables that determine that. There are churches with larger budgets and nicer student space than us. There are student ministries in larger cities with more schools to minister in. He does not control those things.
We cannot compare his work to other churches and other leaders because they are not the same situations. He is accountable for effective leadership at The Journey Church. The measuring stick is not the church down the road or across the country, but how he is stewarding his leadership at The Journey Church. The same thing true for him is true for me and true for you. Our goal is to make what we lead the best it might be. If we do that, we have done well, regardless of its size or whether others recognize it.