The Danger of Comparison

Posted: May 17, 2022 in Uncategorized

(This passage was posted to a great new art and faith blog called Redeemer’s Heart please check it out.) Confession time: I committed to writing this post, but I struggled with an idea to write about until today, my deadline. My idea came from a strange source… a podcast about model building. In addition to my work in art, writing, and ministry, I am an avid model builder. I love to build little plastic cars, planes, monsters, and more. I call this hobby my “creative blockbuster”. When the creativity for my other pursuits is running a little low, I’ll go and paint or glue a few parts, and it will often help me to refocus. Maybe it’s the fact that models come with instructions. I don’t know, but somehow, after a little modeling, I can get back on track with what needs to be done. On top of that, for me at least, it’s fun. Today, I was listening to a podcast in which the guests were two modelers who have elevated models into an art form. They are widely regarded experts at the top of their game. They were on the podcast to talk about the storytelling aspect of their modeling. Oddly enough, neither of them thought they were very good storytellers and quickly pointed to others they considered far better. Now, perhaps this was humility, maybe even false humility, but I was smelling something else…the comparison game.

I’ve fallen victim to it too; how about you? You create your best work, but, rather than being pleased with it, you look at someone who you consider to be better and devalue your work. We need to stop this if we want to succeed and grow in our artistic abilities. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with letting someone else’s work encourage you to learn and grow, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Most of the work that I do occurs at the intersection of art and ministry, and it has brought me to a conclusion: comparison is deadly in the church because it tends to lead to one of two conclusions, both of which are destructive. If they allow themself to give in to comparison, most creatives will conclude something to the effect of: “That person is so much better than me; I don’t know why I should try.” The other alternative in the comparison game is to say, “I’m so much better than that person; I don’t know why they try.” Comparison often leads to discouragement or pride, both of which are detrimental to the church and the arts. There has to be something better, and, after beating my head against the wall and dealing with this for years, I believe I have found the solution.

But first, let’s take a look at a word that always makes me cringe when I hear it in a church, and especially in the creative ministry setting. That word is “excellence”. Now, I know this might sound counterintuitive, but stay with me for a moment. Of course, we should strive to be excellent, and we should always offer our best to the Lord, but often a demand for excellence and the comparison game go hand in hand. I once was told by a pastor friend that he was concerned because his church’s worship leader was not a believer. He was an excellent singer and the band sounded great, but how can someone who does not believe in the Lord lead a congregation in genuine worship? Furthermore, is that worship really excellent in the eyes of the One who matters most? Another issue with promoting excellence in the church is this… how can people ever become excellent if they don’t get the opportunity to exercise their gifts? Is a culture of excellence and polish really what’s best for the church, or will it eventually result in people with God-given gifts leaving in discouragement, their talent sacrificed on the altar of excellence? 

Did You?, pen and ink cartoon by Dave Weiss

About now I imagine someone is getting mad at me. They’ve sat through one too many worship services led by people who have no gift, being subjected to something that was poorly thought out and/or prepared. I feel your pain, but what is the solution? Here is my answer. The first thing we all need to do is PRAY. Scripture tells us to “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Bethankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT)

The second part of the solution is that the church needs to stop comparing the talents of its worship participants and redefine excellence to include a spiritual component. We should help people to find and develop their gifts while steering them lovingly to where God has created them to shine. Surely we can find appropriate opportunities for people to test and develop their gifts in the context of the local church. What if the church became the place in the community where people can build their gifts and grow creatively? Can you imagine all the good we could do shifting to that model?

You may be saying, “That all is great advice for a church leader, but how about for the individual artist? What can he or she do when stuck in the comparison game?” Here is my solution for that. Understand that art is subjective. Not everyone likes the same thing. Not everyone will like your work. Create it anyway. Seek the Lord for inspiration. Create your best work. Put it out there for the world to see and repeat. The best definition of excellence, the only one that is truly attainable, is to do your best work today and keep doing it as you grow. The people who find your work to be excellent are your audience. Create for them, giving glory to God, and you will free yourself from the chains of comparison and become truly excellent.

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