Love Your Church, Not Theirs: 3 Steps to Avoid the Ministry Comparison Trap

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I check my social media accounts often. I check them on my laptop, my phone, and even my watch. I check in on my friends and strangers everyday. There they are with their new recipe for spinach artichoke dip, vacation pictures, and smiling kids who won the spelling bee. I like social media, but I often find myself comparing myself to my friends and strangers on social media. They take way better vacations than I do. Their houses are larger (and cleaner!). Their kids seem happier than mine. Their life must be awesome.
You also find yourself doing this. Right?

In her book Love Your Life, Not Theirs, author Rachel Cruze says this constant mental comparison is dangerous and can lead to all sorts of mental, physical, and spiritual issues. She points to recent studies that have shown a direct correlation between the increasing amount of time we spend on social media and increased rates of anxiety and depression.

I think this is especially true for ministry leaders. I’m a bit of a church geek. I follow way too many churches and ministry leaders on social media. I love seeing what other churches and leaders are up to. I learn from them. But sometimes, I feel a bit down when looking at them. I don’t feel as smart or effective as those leaders. My church isn’t as large as theirs. People in my church aren’t smiling like the people in their pictures. It must be me.

I’ve seen this phenomenon referred to as “Pastor Porn.” That title fits - ministry leaders viewing unrealistic versions of ministry and feeling down because of it. Pastor and author Carey Nieuhoff says “Someone else’s success should never make you feel like a failure.” But, it sometimes does.

When we look at the success of others online, we can’t help but think they are somehow at an unfair advantage. “If we only had their technology budget.” “If we only had their location.” “If I only had their staff..” That's jealousy. When we cross the line between comparison and jealousy, we start to feel helpless, apathetic, and a bit sad about our own abilities and ministry. Ministry is hard work. Trying to keep up with other ministries is harder.

When you feel yourself comparing your leadership abilities and your ministry to other on social media, pause for a minute. Here are some things that might help motivate you instead of depress you.

3 Steps to Avoid the Ministry Comparison Trap

1. Give Yourself a Reality Check

What you are seeing on social media is real, but it is not reality. You are seeing real pictures from a ministry in action, but those pictures do not tell the whole story - they only capture one moment in time. You are not seeing pictures of the people that are angry because of a recent change the pastor made to their worship services. You are not seeing pictures of the budget meeting. You are not seeing pictures of the pastor stressing over recently declining attendance. You are not seeing tired staff members wondering if they should look elsewhere for another job. I guarantee those moments exist in those ministries. They exist in yours. You don’t highlight and broadcast those moments, neither do they. In the past year, several high profile mega-church pastors had to leave the ministry because of burnout or personal failures. I follow them on social media. They didn’t post any of the events or feelings that lead to their downfall while it was happening. Social media wasn’t their whole story. Social media isn’t the whole story - don’t think that it is. They do ministry in the real world - so do you.

2. Think Blessed vs. #Blessed

Recenter your thinking on the blessings that you have in your ministry and the blessings in other ministries. Be thankful for the people and opportunities that you have in your ministry right now. It is also important to be thankful for the people and opportunities that other ministries have in their community and context. If you are thanking God for your opportunities and their opportunities, it is hard for jealousy to work its way into your heart. Focus on the real blessings in your ministry and not the #blessings you see in other ministries through the filter of social media.

3. Maintain a Learning Mindset

I do not suggest that you stop following other ministries or give up social media altogether. In fact, follow more ministries and ministry leaders. Learn from them. While comparing your ministry to others can steal joy, learning from others should motivate you. Look at other ministries, analyze them, and steal their best practices if they fit your ministry. Leaders are learners and learners are motivated by more learning. The dangers of constantly comparing your ministry to others are real. But the opportunities for real reflection and learning are just as real. It is a choice you must make Either approach what you see on social media with a learning mindset or a comparison mindset.

Do you compare yourself to other leaders on social media? How do you deal with it? Let me know!

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Bryan Blackford