I read an interesting article on Facts & Trends that discussed a problem that many in the ministry are facing today. With the COVID crisis, churches are needing to find innovative ways to minister to their congregations including broadcasting services online.
Of course, this is happening with varying degrees of success. But in their article, Kent Annan and Jamie Aten state that church leaders have fallen into the trap of comparing themselves to other ministries.
As people dedicated to serving others, church leaders naturally want to identify and use the most effective streaming technology, employ the most innovative strategies for offering pastoral care, and find new ways to continue to serve those in need.
But when their Facebook feed shows a neighboring church leading worship from the roof of their building, transmitting the gospel drive-in movie style to the FM dials of cars lined up in the parking lot, it can be hard to celebrate the fresh, creative solution.
More often, it simply feels like someone has raised the bar we all now have to struggle to clear. And then someone in your church, when you’ve already done your best, may send a not-so-subtle email that says something like, “Look at what so-and-so church just did!”
This is one of the big traps that Christians face. We should never compare ourselves with others, but instead compare ourselves with ourselves. Ask yourself am I improving? Am I growing? Are things better than they were five years ago?
We see this problem demonstrated in the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. When Babylon attack Jerusalem in 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar not only destroyed the original temple, but hauled off many of the Jews into captivity.
Around 538 BC, the King of Persia, having defeated Babylon, allowed the Jews to return to the Promised land and rebuild the city and the temple.
The second temple was built under extreme duress, because not everyone returned to Jerusalem at the same time. At this point, most of the Jews were still in Babylon, so Ezra who led the temple’s construction had limited people and resources.
When they were building the walls of Jerusalem, they were under constant threat of attack and Nehemiah ordered the people to have a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other as they were building (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
So when Ezra started constructing the second temple, it ended up being smaller than the original.
As they laid the temple’s foundation, a strange thing happened. There were two groups of people, some were crying and some were shouting for joy.
12 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. (Ezra 3:12 NIV)
The first group were crying because they looked upon themselves as failures (Haggai 2:3). They were comparing their efforts to what the Jews had accomplished during the reigns of arguably Israel’s greatest Kings, David and his son Solomon. It was a tag team effort. Though, Solomon ultimately built the temple, King David had gathered all the materials needed for its construction (1 Chronicles 22:14) during the country’s most prosperous era.
The second group rejoiced because they had not seen the first temple. They were looking at what they had accomplished under very adverse circumstances. They were looking at how far they had come and it was a major accomplishment.
Same Temple but two different perspectives and two different reactions.
As they were laying the foundation for the smaller second temple, this is what the God had to say through the prophet Zechariah:
10 “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” (Zechariah 4:10 NIV)
It’s about how far you have come, not how much you have failed.