Dave Kraft has kindly contributed the following article, “The Comparison Circus,” to the blog. Dave serves as the Pastor of Coaching and Leadership Development at Mars Hill Church along with Mark Driscoll and the rest of the team. Kraft blogs at davekraft.org, where he provides a valuable library of articles and helps for leaders. He is also a regular contributor to the Resurgence blog. He authored the book, Leaders Who Last, published early this year.
Comparing myself with other people has been a temptation for me as long as I can remember. In high school, I would often get my sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-identity by comparing myself with others. How was I looking? How did others see me? How were my grades? my clothes? my athletic abilities? my popularity with girls?
High school was a long time ago, but comparison—especially among leaders—is still a huge issue. I have been to countless leadership meetings, and notice there that popularity circus is of epic proportions. When pastors or leaders from the same organization have a meeting, usually the “comparing games” begin. In most of these meetings, there is usually some featured poster child of the organization, providing the model for what I should be like, how big my church should be, or how we ought to conduct things. It’s usually very depressing.
It’s so easy for us to compare ourselves with others. We compare results. Size. Salaries. Cars. Houses. Responsibility. Fruitfulness. Breakthroughes. Baptisms. Victories. Achievements. Etc., etc., Other than being sick, harmful, dangerous, and unbiblical it is, quite tragically, normal. Normal, that is, for our fallen and prideful old nature, which (I am sorry to report) is in very good health these days among many leaders.
In my leadership ministry in Seattle, I confront this issue nearly every week. Last week, I spent some time talking with a young leader whose problem, as he openly confessed, was defining his sense of success and worth by establishing where he was in the pecking order with other leaders. Instead of rejoicing with other leaders over their successes, he would get discouraged and depressed if he wasn’t ascending the pecking order fast enough, or keeping up with the ones at the top.
Now, just in case you think the rest of this article is going to be a rant against comparing, let me submit my thesis: I think comparing is a good idea. “Wait a second!” you say. “I thought you just spent half a page telling us how bad comparison is! Isn’t this a contradiction?!” No. I think it’s perfectly fine and good, to compare where I currently am with what can potentially happen. It is good to compare where I am in my spiritual growth and ministry effectiveness, with where I can be, by God’s grace. The comparison circus begins when I compare myself with others who have different gifts, different callings, and totally different personalities. When I do that, I usually come out on the bottom.
It is healthy to engage in intense self-analysis, with my personal design in mind. It is healthy to compare me with me, but it is unbiblical to compare me with others. God wants me to grow, to achieve, and to bear fruit by depending on Him and being honest about who I am. It is devastating to try to be like someone else.
I don’t want to be like so many of the leaders that I know or read about. I want to be, by God’s grace, the best Dave Kraft I am capable of being. I will be different from everyone else, because God created me unique. No one else on the planet has my unique combination of gifts, personality, upbringing, capacity, and desires. God broke the mold after he made me (Psalm 139). I am constantly in the process of being delivered from the temptation to try to be anyone other than me.
Let me give you some Scripture that will help to guide us away from the “comparison circus” when it comes to your ministry, your calling, and your life.
- 1 Corinthians 4:7 – “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?” The Message. There is no point in comparing myself with anyone else, if I truly believe that everything I am and have are gifts from God.
- John 21: 21-22 – “Peter seeing [John], said to Jesus, ‘but Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? Follow me.’” In this passage, Jesus is dealing with Peter’s attempt to compare himself with John regarding their future ministry. Jesus needed to set Peter straight, telling him that what happens with John is none of his business. Peter’s business is to focus on his own walk with Jesus, and not compare himself with his ministry friends.
- 2 Corinthians 10:12 – “We dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” It doesn’t get much clearer than this. Paul is saying, “I’m not going to be part of the comparison circus,” like other people unwisely do.
- 1 Tim 6:6 – “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.” (The Message). There is joy and freedom in being who God made you to be—thankful and content with who I am, where I am, and what I’m doing. I’m not going to give in to the temptation of getting my sense of personality identity or self-worth by trying to figure out where I am in the food chain or in the pecking order.
- Luke 14:11 – “If you’re content to simply be yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (The Message). Here we find the explanation of biblical humility. True humility is being content to be yourself. It is not trying by your own energy or pride to be more than yourself, or conversely, running yourself down through false humility, to be less than yourself.
Comparing is always a losing game. I will always find people who are either better or worse than myself. I will either become proud or depressed, neither of which are good for my spiritual or emotional health. When your compare yourself with others, you are refusing to trust in the sovereignty of God. You are saying that you do not accept, nor are you thankful for who you are and what God is allowing you to accomplish. You are jealous and envious of others.
For me, I fight the comparison temptation by praying daily, by filling up my mental hard drive with verses like the ones above, by confessing it as sin as soon as I’m aware of it. I want to nip it in the bud before it starts to control my behavior. There are good days and bad days; but all the while, I’m moving in the right direction.
You can get in touch with Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org