It happens every Monday, in pastor’s homes and studies around the world – we look back on yesterday, and ask, ‘How did I do?’ And then we wonder about the numbers (up, down, good for the time of year?), the trends, the reasons (raining, sunny, they knew who was preaching).
And then our glance slides to The Other Church. Maybe the one down the road with the cool young pastor. Maybe the megachurch on the web whose sermons you admire, and occasionally steal. Maybe friend’s where they’ve just opened a new kids zone. And we wonder, “How did I do, compared to them?” And before we know it, on the day of the week when we are feeling more tired, beaten-up, wrung out and generally open to attack and temptation, on that very day of the week, we open the eyes of our hearts to pastoral comparison games.
And maybe we start to do the maths on our attendance trends, trying to see if there’s a why we can do the maths to show growth, wondering if the real trend is down.
When we are more in charge of our selves, our reactions and our emotions, we don’t give in to such toxic self-examination. We can do the maths responsibly, and shared with others. We can learn from other ministries. But Monday mornings can be a day, the day, when we drop our guard
Hear Paul, on the silliness of the Corinthian leadership: When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise (1 Cor 10:13). And remember, in the Corinthian letters being ‘wise’ is being in line with the gospel and its values, and being ‘not wise’ is more than being a little stupid.
Consider the spin-offs
Pride. That was the first result – and the intended one. They wanted to look good, be praised. This was a corporate pride too – they commend each other. Pastor A speaks at Pastor B’s conference, and Pastor B writes a commendation on Pastor A’s book. Now there’s nothing wrong in commending books or speaking at conferences, I hope, but the motivation is what’s at stake: the commendation is written to puff the conference attendance, which will, in turn, drive books sales. This is, remember, not a side show, but the intention.
Envy grows in the margins. Envy in those who don’t get invited to speak or write, or whose stuff doesn’t get the applause. Or the loudest applause. Or in those who only get the seminars, not the main stage. Or in those who write books but don’t get asked to speak. Or who organise conferences but can’t speak well. Or who assume that those who are more visibly successful must have compromised the gospel. Or…
You see the poison in all this? It. Is. Not. Wise.
Weariness. Despair. The longing for the silver bullet. The desire to have just a little bit of the celebrity pastor’s glitter. Just one corner of the spotlight. For a moment. And then a moment longer. Just one bit of all the kingdoms of the world. For a second. That would be enough.
And above all, prayerlessness. Because the #1 temptation in ministry is to think that we are capable and competent to achieve anything of eternal value by ourselves. And that’s where it all goes wrong, when we glimpse at other servants and their ministries, and see – we think – that they are achieving more than us, and so we start to loathe them, and ourselves, and our ministries, and our churches.
Be encouraged. The gospel, the church, the conversions, the disciples, do not stand or fall by our efforts. Those whom we suspect are faking it will be shown for what they are. Those who have been faithful with much will be rewarded. Those who hide their gifts will be rebuked. And those who have been faithful to the end will hear “Well done.”