The Danger of Comparison
To be completely honest, I don’t understand social media. It’s not that I’m too old for it; I’m only 40 years old. It’s just that scrolling through a Facebook feed, or checking in on Instagram hardly ever crosses my mind. Sometimes this comes back to bite me, especially when I learn really late that someone in the church had endured hardship, but I didn’t know since I missed their post.
For the most part, my life seems to operate just fine without a consistent diet of social media.
On occasion, I have found myself sucked into the never-ending stream of social activity on Facebook, only to “wake up” and realize I just wasted 15-20 minutes doing nothing but scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. There is a danger in this. The danger is not just in wasting time (see Ephesians 5:16 about that). Another danger is that, in exposing myself to the successes and joys of countless people–rather than sharing in that joy like I should–I can fall into the comparison game. Things like:
How come I can’t make a quesadilla look that good?
I wish I had been able to capture my 4 year old dancing in a funny way.
I wish our worship services were energetic like that! I should go buy some LED tape!
You get the idea. I’m just glad this doesn’t happen to me very often.
My heart aches for worship ministers, teams, and congregations who have fallen into the dangers of the comparison game.
This is one game you will almost always lose. While there are many benefits to social media and YouTube, the danger is that we are constantly exposed to people who simply “do it better than us.” If we’re not careful, we might find ourselves trapped in attempting to find value from the comparisons we make rather than learning from them.
Don’t – Gain value from comparison.
The first danger of comparison is that we find a false value of ourselves.
In a video series, Chip Ingram said it this way: “Comparison always leads to carnality.” If I compare myself to another worship minister, team, or church, I will either think of myself more highly than I ought (a danger spoken against in Romans 12:3), or consider myself to be of lesser value than I actually am in God’s eyes (a danger spoken against in Matthew 6:26).
Comparison tends to lead to an improper view of self.
It’s no wonder that we live in an era of unprecedented social anxiety and depression. These are very real concerns. How much healthier could our culture, churches, and selves be if we limited the amount of exposure to social media which fuels the comparison game?
The second danger of comparison is that we inadvertently think our opinions and desires should be catered to.
Manuel Luz wrote,
“Because a narcissistic worldview has become so embedded in us, we have inadvertently created unspoken criteria for worship, and then appointed ourselves the judges of it. But this is not the way of the kingdom. So the next time you want to rate the worship on a Sunday morning, I encourage you not to look at the band or the song selection or the style of quality of music. Look into yourself. Ask, ‘Did I come with a pure and humble heart? Did I give my worship freely to God? Did I come prepared and motivated to worship? Did I put aside my own tendencies to be a consumer of worship? Did I love God today?’”[i]
We give lip service to the fact that worship is not about us, but we evaluate it as though it is. I believe it is an unholy thing to rate a worship service or sermon in the same manner we rate a restaurant or movie. This is consumer mentality, and I believe that a danger of the comparison game is that we rush into that mentality.
I am not opposed to critical thinking. A critical mind is fine. But a critical heart is from hell.
The reason we are often unhappy with our own worship services is that we have assumed there is another worship experience somewhere where our needs will be met, and this is where our satisfaction in worship is sure to be found. This is, of course, the wrong target.
God is the target of worship. Any other target–even my own best intentions–can become an idol. As Matt Papa wrote, “Idolatry is essentially misaimed worship.”[ii]
He would go on to say that we don’t have a worship problem. We are always worshiping something. We have an aiming problem.
But is there a healthy way to play the comparison game? I think so. The healthy way to play this game is when we learn from it.
Do – Learn from Comparison
As hard as it can be, humble worship leaders will not feel defensive as they watch the latest YouTube release from Elevation or Bethel. Humble leaders actually learn to celebrate the successes of others. When we come objectively to the qualitative elements of a worship service, we are able to determine what works and what is truly effective in our context.
Learning from comparison allows us to glean ideas from others. Jon Nicol, curator of the Worship Workshop and columnist for Worship Leader Magazine, says a good rule of thumb for worship bands is to “approximate, don’t duplicate.” In other words, don’t bear the unnecessary burden of trying to sound exactly like the live album. Instead, take the most important components of the recorded version of that song and aim at approximating those features that make that song that song. In other words, learn by comparison.
One idea that I have used in the past with my own team is to take them to another church to attend the other team’s rehearsal. This is a win on multiple levels. First, it allows us to learn from what others are doing. Either we get fresh ideas or confirmation on things we are currently doing. Sometimes, confirmation is just as good as new information. The second win is that we are able to connect relationally with another team. After the rehearsal, I will encourage members from both teams to go out for coffee or ice cream together to build on those connections. This kind of solidarity is sorely needed within worship ministries. This single idea puts us in close proximity with others from whom we can learn and grow.
That is healthy comparison.
I’d like to wrap up the matter with some really helpful words from Stephen Miller, as well as A.W. Tozer.
“Allow me to put an end to this game. God does not have one ounce of concern to make you like that person you keep comparing yourself to. He doesn’t want to form you into their image. He wants to form you into the image of His Son, who loved you and gave Himself up for you! No identity that you can create is better than the one that God has given you in Christ.”[iii]
And Tozer said:
“Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”[iv]
I guess the comparison game is dangerous no matter how you play. Even if you aim your comparison to the right target, you are still in dangerous territory. For when you make Christlikeness your goal, you risk losing a lot of the things you’ve grown accustomed to living with: inflated ego, anxious mind, critical heart. You might even become an imitator of God as a dearly loved child and live a life of love…just like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Worth it? Indeed.
[i] Manual Luz, Honest Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2018), 25.
[ii] Matt Papa, Look and Live (Bethany House Publishing, 2014), 66.
[iii] Stephen Miller, Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars (Moody Publishers, 2013), 515.
[iv] A.W. Tozer, A Disruptive Faith: Expect God to Interrupt Your Life (Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 2011), 5.