The conversation jumped off to such a good start.
"Pastor, I have some news. My granddaughter Candice got saved and baptized," Lucille said.
"I'm thrilled, and I know you must be," I responded.
"You should see the church they attend," she added, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons — a trap that had sprung too many times.
"They have a Saturday night service and two on Sunday morning," Lucille added. "Parking attendants direct traffic. Greeters are everywhere. Juice and coffee are served throughout the building. They even put the words to hymns and choruses on big screens."
Glancing over the material Lucille left behind, I thought about another newsletter from a church up the road. After scanning information about their Christian school, media library, "musical notes," counseling/singles ministry, "eye on missions," student work and "children's corner," I noticed that 18 people had joined the church membership in the previous month. But no one had come to the altar at our church in weeks.
I don't feel so bad when I read the Scriptures and realize that prominent leaders succumbed to comparison as well. No doubt Saul felt satisfied with the thousands he put to death until the women raved over the ten thousands David slew.
After receiving Jesus' sobering words concerning Peter's death, Peter looked at John and inquired, "Lord, what about him?" (John 21:21). The comparison trap snared this impetuous disciple, a danger that often ignites such distorted feelings as:
Left untreated, the comparison trap can be volatile. However, the following options serve as excellent modes of protection and direction.
When I mull too long over God's blueprints for someone else's ministry, I have trouble discerning my own.
When Peter asked about John along the shore, Jesus answered, "What is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:22). Pursuing Christ's plan for my life draws me away from the sideshows of comparison.
A cotton-patch sage once said, "If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, it's probably growing over the septic tank." That proves true along the side of my house, as well as along the landscape of my spiritual journey.
I think I want to pastor a bigger church until I get into a heart-to-heart conversation with someone who does. I'm enamored by those who fly around the country telling the rest of us how to do ministry until I realize the toll it sometimes takes on their families.
We learn to savor God's path for us when we realize others don't have it as good as we imagine.
I have a minister-friend who smiles a lot. He reads through his Bible every year. His churches have thrived. I can't get him to say a bad word about anybody. He's an excellent preacher and fair golfer. In fact, he serves as a mentor to me. I try to be more like him, knowing he strives to be more like Christ.
Paul urged his fellow believers at Corinth to imitate him (Corinthians 4:16). Spend mentoring time with a believer you admire and trust, and you can learn much. Those around you will gladly help you avoid the potholes and pitfalls they've encountered.
After Elijah unpacked his woes, regained his strength and hid out for a while in a cave, God said, "Go back the way you came ... anoint Hazael ... anoint Jehu ... and anoint Elisha" (1 Kings 19:15-16). This was no time to mope — vital work awaited.
During a spiritually and professionally frustrating time in my life, I asked God to intervene. Shortly thereafter, God created an opportunity for me to work in Russia on a short-term missions project. I preached, helped build a church and enjoyed the fellowship of believers in another part of the world, and it actually refreshed me.
I avoid the comparison trap most effectively by tapping into God's hope and purpose for me (Jeremiah 29:11) rather than trying to duplicate what He intended for someone else.
There is one question that pastors do not like to talk about much. In fact, some don’t believe it is even theologically valid to ask it. Should I change careers?
I think the one thing that I prayed for most often during the three decades of my pastoral ministry was revival in the church I pastored. I remember praying at first for a return to something, although I wasn't exactly sure what — just something that once was, a happening, a spirit, a feeling.