COMPARISON, COPYCATS, CARICATURES
Today people have access to the best sermons and church music in the world, at the touch of their fingertips. So why don’t they just stay home and listen from the comfort of their beds on Sunday mornings? For those of us who are leading church communities, putting forth our best effort week in and week out to craft sermons and songs that might impact our communities, how do we deal with the reality that our people can more conveniently stay home and listen to the Tim Kellers, Andy Stanleys, Francis Chans, and Erwin McManuses of the world—gifted communicators whose content is, more often than not, far more engaging than anything we could come up with on our own?
Put your hand out about six inches in front of you, in your line of sight, with your palm facing you and your fingers spread wide. Then, fix your eyes past your hand, to something several feet away. With your eyes fixed past your open hand, describe to me, in detail, the various lines and contours of your palm and fingers. Really, go ahead.
Pretty difficult to do, right?
This is how so many of us in church leadership today are crafting, creating, and leading our worship gatherings. The communities we’ve been called to serve are right there in front of us, with all of their unique quirks, untapped potential, and original stories. They’re brimming with possibility, waiting for creative, visionary leaders to see what most cannot yet see and paint a picture of what could be and come alongside them to make those things a reality. But so many of us aren’t doing the work of creatively leading our own communities, because our eyes are fixated on something far away.
We’re fixated on what this church or that church is doing and figuring out how we can do that too.
We’re fixated on the next hit Christian worship album and figuring out how many of those songs we can play in our church, as soon as possible, so that we too can sound just like Hillsong or Bethel or whatever else.
We’re fixated on consuming as many sermon podcasts as we can so that we can teach and preach just like Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, Erwin McManus, or whoever else.
But these fixations are most often getting in the way. They are sending us spiraling down the path of comparison, which initially turns us into copycats and then eventually into caricatures. And caricatures, by their very nature, have no originality, no creativity, and no faithfulness to the localized culture and context, whatsoever.
I’ll readily admit that if I’m not careful, I’m quite susceptible to comparison myself. I’ve wrestled with it my entire life. It’s a constant struggle to reorient myself around my identity in Jesus Christ and not around what my life and ministry look like against the glossy backdrops of men and women who seem more successful and more effective than me. The digital age has compounded the problem. Because I have infinite access now to the best and brightest churches and their incredible leaders, I often find myself fighting the incessant temptation to see what they’re doing and compare myself and our church to them.
On top of that, I sometimes find myself afraid that the people I serve might be doing the same. They have access to the same content, the same great teaching and preaching, the same great music, and the same great initiatives and ideas from churches all over the world.
My guess is that I’m not alone. My guess is that many of us share these same struggles. But we must remember that these struggles and fears are unfounded. You are not Tim Keller. And your church is not the one you read about in that article. Neither am I, and neither is my church. You’re you and I’m me. Your church is the one you were called to serve and mine is the one I was called to serve. It’s sort of silly that I’m taking the time to write these words out because it’s so obvious, but what’s even more ridiculous is how often you and I forget these things. However, this isn’t at all surprising because the digital age is designed in some ways to make us forget.
We forget because we’re too busy to remember.
We’re too busy moving on to the next idea.
We’re too busy trying to keep up with the church and ministry Joneses.
We’re too busy seeking the next big thing. And we end up missing the next right thing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Everything we need to fully maximize and realize the potential of our churches is already right there in front us. The key is to fix our eyes away from the wrong things and onto the right things. It isn’t about bigger or brighter or louder. It’s about discovering the various lines and contours of our people and our places and unearthing the hidden things that hold unknown potential for impact. It’s about breaking away from the poisonous spell of comparison, which slowly erodes us into copycats and caricatures. It’s about healing from the digital disease which has infected so many of us. It’s about moving our gaze away from the distant digital abyss, with all of its shiny, glossy images of what other churches and leaders are doing, and instead, fixing our gaze right in front of us, on the lives of the people we’re called to serve, and curating spaces and places of worship that accentuate their unique stories and project a unique vision for who we could become, together.
Taken from Analog Church by Jay Y. Kim. Copyright (c) 2020 by Hay Y. Kim. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com