We do not dare to compare ourselves with those who think they are very important. They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing. (2 Corinthians 10:12 NCV)
The day known as Black Monday in the NFL bleakly dawned for several coaches who no longer have a job. Jack Del Rio of Oakland joins Joe Pagano of Indiana, along with several others, in the hunt for a new team. Even before that, Ben McAdoo, former head coach of the New York Giants, was fired when he decided to bench two-time Super Bowl winner, Eli Manning. Evidently, the brass in the Giants organization didn’t see Manning as the problem, which leads us to the real issue. Coaching in the National Football League comes with very high expectations. You are expected to win. A good coaching philosophy, good rapport with the players, or previous accomplishments don’t count for bupkis if you don’t win! As a result, many coaches move from team to team throughout their career. When they are released by one team another may pick them up, believing that their coaching style, experience, or philosophy will be a better fit in a different city.
For some teams, of course, expectations run higher than others. I already feel bad for whoever has to follow Bill Belichick, for example. Sometimes the bar has been raised so high that filling such shoes becomes a daunting notion. Interestingly, as in the case of the Giants this year, many factors contributed to a losing season. For one, the Giants were injury plagued early on, losing valuable players, such as Odell Beckham Jr. and others, upon whom the team truly depend. Even a two-time Super Bowl-winning champion can win the game alone.
Yes, I like football, but that’s not the point. Comparisons can be crippling, even deadly. I think if I were going to start coaching next year, I would want the Browns. All I have to do is win one game and I’m way ahead of the curve! But seriously, if you’re walking into that organization, the goal is not immediately to look like the Patriots or any other dominant franchise. The goal is to establish a winning culture. If a team can go from losing all seventeen games in a season to winning more than half the following year, most would agree that vast improvements have been made. Personnel choices are also different for a team coming out of a losing season. They may very well begin rebuilding, whereas a championship caliber team may only need certain special roles filled. The circumstances and where the team is at greatly determine how they evaluate themselves and determine what success means for them.
I believe in many ways the same thing is true of believers. We’re all in different places in our lives. I’m sure we’ve all had winning seasons and losing ones. There have been times when we were riding the heights and consumed with a fiery passion for God and other times when our fire was all but extinguished. When one has suffered a losing season, morale is already usually pretty low. What one doesn’t need at such a time as that is to be compared to everyone else. Such comparisons are very dangerous and lead to unrealistic expectations in regard to our own walk with God. The good news is, God isn’t making those comparisons, and He is willing to work with you, wherever you are. One verse that I find extremely encouraging is in Matthew’s gospel. He is quoting Isaiah’s prophesy about Jesus and writes:
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
In other words, even if we’ve been damaged, God knows how to restore our broken lives to fruitfulness, and He can fan even the smoking wick back into flame. He will meet us where we are and take us where we need to be if we’ll join Him on a transformative journey that will get us back into game shape. The process will not be overnight. In fact, it will never end. He will continue to perfect us until the day He comes to take us home.
When Paul wrote the verse with which we began this article, he was actually engaging in a little God-inspired sarcasm. He was defending his ministry against some who were actually billing themselves as “super-apostles.” You’ve got to admit, even the idea of a “super-apostle” is a little weird. We who are called to ministry are called to serve, not to be celebrities. However, these men were doing their best to be perceived as just that. Why? To steal the affections of believers and turn their loyalties away from legitimate ministries, such as the apostle Paul. I’m going to resist the temptation to preach here, but there is much that could be said about those promoting themselves as something they are not in the Church today.
Paul, in his tongue and cheek way, is saying that these guys aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. No, Paul didn’t have a PR team, and he may not have been as stylish as these new upstarts, but he had one thing they didn’t have. He was actually called and anointed by God. I bring this up because we are in an image making culture, where celebrity has even tainted the ministry. Somehow the ministry became about high-profile churches and personalities and television ratings rather than servanthood and true discipleship. We have pastors appearing on The View giving tactfully evasive, politically correct answers to hard cultural questions that need a plain answer. They dress in trendy ways with their hair done by stylists, but is their substance behind the image? Sometimes there is, for sure, but we need to make sure it’s about the former and not the latter.
My remarks are not meant to criticize the hearts and intentions of mega-church ministers. That’s not the point, but as one who works in media ministry, I know how affecting the right music and a few media effects can be. For your average believer or even young minster, that can be a hard image to live up to. However, we are not called to produce a product, but to live lives of sincerity and authenticity. The good news is, we can all do that if we are truly earnest about seeking God and serving His purpose. Not all of us will serve in high-profile positions or have a national platform, but we can all invest our gifts and talents into the fertile soil of God’s plan for our lives and see it bear much fruit.
Whether you’ve been walking faithfully with God for a long time or just returning off of a losing season, don’t compare yourself with others. It can only leave one with a false sense of superiority or a feeling of guilt for not measuring up. We are not the standard for one another, and progress is not always measured in the same way any more than success is. God knows that sometimes there were contributing factors to our losses, and He is ready to forgive and restore. We’ve all seen those stoic coaches who know the job before them is difficult and the road long. Usually, their message is something like this: “We can’t make it our goal to be like such-and-such a team. Our job is to be the best team we can be.” That’s not bad advice for believers either. By God’s grace, may we each be the best version of ourselves in Him.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of West Kern Christian Center, located at 1000 6th Street in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of WKCC, you can go the ministry’s website at wkcconnect.org.