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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.