(originally published 3-13-14 at worshipleader.com)
Q. How many guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One to screw in the light bulb, and four to watch him and say, “I could do that better.”
As this old joke goes, comparing ourselves to others is often a part of being a musician – but if we’re not careful, we can tread into dangerous ground of unseemly pride.
When I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be able to do everything my guitar hero at the time was doing. I couldn’t afford the same gear, but I bought gear that would let me approximate his sound and style as closely as possible. Later, as I found my own feet and matured as a guitarist (don’t laugh at the use of ‘mature’ and ‘guitarist’ in the same sentence!), I became less concerned about mimicking others or comparing myself to others, and more concerned about being able to do what I needed to do in the context of my own band, my own writing, my own church.
And yet, today we see and hear all around us the comparison game going on. We hear folks putting others down because of style, perception of poorly executed musicianship, or simply because their delivery of a song was different than the original recording or performance. That’s definitely off base from where we ought to be. There’s plenty of room for appropriate musical and technical critique – in fact, it’s necessary, in order to hone our craft as musicians – but there’s a line that gets crossed when we start to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. This puts us in direct violation of God’s command to us in Romans 12:3, and it can lead nowhere good.
The temptation is to try to make our church be that other church, to make our band be that other band, and that may be fighting the wrong fight. There’s nothing wrong with insisting on excellence in musicianship, or establishing a particular style of music that fits the corporate expression of our body. Where we get off kilter is when we try to make our church body fit the mold of a unique work that God has done elsewhere, without seeking first what His unique vision for our particular church body is. It may sound simplistic, but we need to recognize that God will be uniquely working in our local church, and that it will look different from that church down the street or across the country.
When we make that other church the measuring stick, we often are using an inappropriate benchmark. That can fall on either side of the pride equation: “our church is better than that church,” or “our church is not as good as that other church.” Both are different expressions of inappropriate levels of pride.
Let our church be our church, and let God be as uniquely creative with our church as He is with others.
Even within our church, there can still be some comparison stuff going on that can be detrimental, and it all falls soundly around that poor exercise of inappropriate pride. It can manifest itself in an individual saying something along the lines of, “I don’t get why so-and-so gets to play so much, when I’m a much better musician.”
Ring-ring! Cluephone. It’s for you. And the answer probably has to do with a swollen ego making you a poor choice to serve. We're told not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, and to let others bring us forward to the place of honor - not to insist upon it ourselves. When we do either of those things, we appear foolish to others and it never works out well.
If you are at a church with multiple worship teams and you ever find yourself saying to others, “our worship team is the best one at the church” or “when we led worship, it was the best our church has had in years,” then can be certain you are 100% in prideful sin for having that attitude. It may be factually true, but you have absolutely no business expressing that thought. It does not serve to build up or encourage others, and only makes you look bad, tarnishing your reputation in the eyes of others, which will make you less effective as a leader in whatever area you serve.
If you find yourself wanting to form a worship band around yourself for the purpose of ‘showing up’ the other bands, you are definitely in sin. The Lord will never bless that effort.
If you find yourself wanting to lead because in the back of your head has crept the thought, "anything you can do, I can do better," then congratulations: you've succumbed to the exact same sin that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven. Worse, if you find yourself acting on that thought in such a manner that you'd intentionally tear down someone else who is serving the Body of Christ so that you'd have a shot at their position.
Warning: The Lord hates the one who causes division or dissension in His church (Proverbs 6:19). Pay close attention here: He doesn’t just hate the sin, He hates the one who stirs dissension. He makes it personal, because you’re making it personal in causing problems in His Bride. He defends His Bride and treats her with honor, and being part of the Bride yourself, you need to be aware of that and be especially careful about your heart’s motives.
Don’t cause division. Don’t compare yourself with others, or others to you. You are never the benchmark. Period.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Ever notice God repeats in His Word the things that are important for us to learn about him and how He works? This warning is in Scripture three times. Pay heed. You have the ability to choose the path of humility, or another road that leads to destruction. Choose wisely.
Comparison that falls into healthy territory has a heart response that goes something like this: I see that other person using their gift to glorify the Lord and to bless, edify and build up the Church, and that inspires me to want to grow in my gifts or use them more effectively for the same purposes, getting in behind the leading of what God is obviously doing and following wholeheartedly.
Let us all strive for a heart attitude that embraces the varied gifts of excellence in others and seeks to beautify the Church by adding our unique complementary flavor to the mix without seeking to remove the flavor that is already stirred in.