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When I wrote I Am a Church Member, I noted the key role 1 Corinthians 13 plays in defining what should be expected of a church member. Of course, many view this “love chapter” without understanding that Paul wrote it in the context of speaking to church members about their attitudes and behaviors in a local congregation.

So I often propose “What if?” questions to church leaders and members with 1 Corinthians 13 in the background. What if I am patient with members and leaders in my church? What if I am always kind to them? What if I put their needs before my own? What if I viewed my church with all of its imperfections in light of unconditional love?

You get the picture.

Unhealthy churches have numbers of leaders and/or members who do not practice 1 Corinthians 13 in their local congregations. These persons tend to seek their picture of an ideal church rather than loving their current church, her leaders, and her members. They are thus constantly comparing some aspect of the church with some other church or members or leaders. As a result, six unhealthy consequences unfold when these comparisons take place.

  1. Comparison creates dissatisfaction among members with the pastors and staff. “The current pastor does not preach like the pastor at some other church.” “Our student pastor is not as dynamic as the other guy at the other church.” “If only our pastor would keep his sermons as brief as my former pastor.” “I know that the pastor at the other church visits the members more than our pastor.”
  2. Pastors and church staff can have the “green grass” syndrome when they compare their churches and its members with some other church. I once asked a friend to name his favorite church of the several he had served as pastor. His response was both amusing and sad: “The next one.” He would move from one church to another seeking that perfect congregation. Of course, that place does not exist.
  3. Comparisons create unhealthy expectations. Being a church member is somewhat akin to being married. How many of us have thought our marriage could be so much better if our spouse could become something he or she is not? No church is perfect. All struggle in some way or another. When we compare our church to some other congregation, we may be creating an expectation that is neither realistic nor healthy.
  4. When we compare, we become consumer members instead of serving members. The role of church members and leaders is to serve. We are to serve God first, and our fellow members next. When we compare churches, we are putting our self-interests and perceived needs ahead of others. We engage in “church shopping,” a phrase you will find nowhere in the Bible.
  5. Comparing creates a culture of criticism. Leaders and members constantly note where the church and its members fall short. They regularly assess the pastor and other leaders as to ways they don’t meet expectations. The natural outflow of such a mindset is unholy dissatisfaction and criticisms.
  6. When we compare, we don’t take time to “look in the mirror.” In my first church where I served as pastor, I became irritated and frustrated with the members. My experience was nothing like I had anticipated or hoped. When I started complaining to God about “those people,” God convicted me of my own inadequacies, my own sins, and my own problems. I had spent too much time looking at the splinter in others’ eyes rather than the log in my eye.

I have been guilty of comparisons in local congregations, both as a church member and as a pastor. But I have found the greatest joy when I stop comparing and start serving. I’ve got plenty for God to fix without spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about how other church members, pastors, and staff can become better from my own imperfect perspective.

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Comments

  1. Darryl Williams says

    Spoken like a true pastor. Thanks for the reminder. Your posts are normally good challenges for me to “chew” on. You’ve painted a great picture of the kind of church I want to pastor. I need to set that tone as pastor in my local church.You even helped for tomorrows sermon prep. Phil. 2:1-4. Thanks Thom.

    Darryl

  2. says

    I am preaching on Phil. 2 this weekend as well and have been convicted of many of these things. My struggle in comparison is more of what “they” have and we don’t. So your post was another reminder that I needed this week! Thanks for all your work for his kingdom.

  3. says

    Thanks for this reminder Thom! I have used Philippians 2 many times to cast vision for designing small group ministries that produce group members who are “others centered.” Hadn’t thought of 1 Corinthians 13 as teaching this same idea…but it clearly does!

    mark

  4. Mark Dance says

    I totally agree and am guilty as charged. What if we helped Dr Rainer by seeding a future blog with ideas on how to build community instead of comparison or competition? His best selling book was inspired by our input through this blog!

    I’ll start. Several years ago, I swapped pulpits on Sunday morning with Pastor Rick Bezet from New Life Church in Arkansas. It was a new experience for both of us, as well as for our churches. Our whole community was abuzz with excitement and curiosity. Plus, I think it pleased our Savior and irritated our common Enemy. Since then, I have traded pulpits with several evangelical pastors in Conway, Arkansas – though not always on the exact same Sunday. I believe pastors can be either the primary problem or solution to the church comparison dilemma.

    Pastors – please share ideas on how your church has helped to build unity in your community.

  5. Mark Dance says

    After I read this blog this morning, I read 1 Corinthians 12-13 again to see the context to ch 13 that Dr Rainer mentioned. Chapter 12 is largely a strong rebuke against comparison, while ch 13 shows us “an even better way.”

    “And if they were all the same part, where would the body be?” (1 Cor 12:19 HCSB). I’m glad our Lord has shown us the beautiful unity and diversity of His Church in these powerful chapters.

  6. Lazarus says

    While I agree in essence to what you are saying I have known of a pastor who has used this to justify his laziness and not doing what is expected of a pastor in terms of pastoral care and administration amoungst other things.

  7. Andrew Hayes says

    Comparing means evaluating, how does our church meet different biblical standards relative to other churches? Do we have biblical preaching the way one church does? Do we minister to one another the way another church does?

    Aside from very petty things such as the talent of the organist or the willingness of the pastor to maintain the yard work around the church grounds the concern of being “consumerist” is misguided

    . There is danger in comparing but not mentioned her. That is being content, that because we have a good preacher, enough people for every ministry and everyone is goodlooking and can sing well we are where we ought to be.

    The important thing is to evaluate and compare according to biblical standards.

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