I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:8-9
Generally, I have never liked comparing churches…for lots of reasons. It is a thing wrought with pitfalls and other dangers. I think comparing churches just fosters the already-prevalent attitude that churches are somehow in competition with each other for all the best people. We all know better intellectually, but our actions and attitudes say otherwise. I also do not like comparing churches because each local body of believers is dealing with its own special calling to a community or a certain people group or some other such “calling”, and the processes and programs should be specific to that calling, which makes comparing your church’s programs to my church’s programs an apples and oranges kind of thing.
But as with almost any other rule, there are exceptions to my rule against comparing churches. I mean, seriously, if a particular comparison was OK with Paul, then who am I to question it? Paul did not seem to hesitate in his second letter to the Corinthian church, comparing the generosity (in giving) of that church to that of the poorer Macedonian churches.
You see, there is something about “living generously” that transcends cultural differences or even differences of church size or Christian “flavor”. It is the very heart of a church, and it has a way of leveling the playing field in any comparison. The church who focuses on pouring itself into the lives of others, who focuses on being generous in giving and in meeting the physical needs around it, stands out…in any culture and in any demographic. When Paul says he wants to “compare your sincerity with the earnestness of others”, he recognizes that this comparison has little to do with church size or with the particular needs of this community versus that community, or with language or with church government or structure. No, Paul is putting his finger right on the very pulse of the church when he speaks of generosity in giving and ministering to others. He is assessing a vital sign of that church, determining how “alive” it really is. In a very strong sense, measuring a church’s “heart” for generosity (irrespective of the size of its membership or the size of its bank accounts) is a very real measure of life for that church…a very real measure of the Spirit of Christ in that church.
Shouldn’t we have clued into this reality from our reading of Paul himself? Notice he spends precious little time in his letters to the churches talking about the things with which we in the church are obsessed. There is simply not much there on facilities and grounds, nor on budget, nor on worship styles, nor on personnel costs versus program costs, nor on denominational politics and affiliations. But without hesitation, Paul wades right out into comparing the apples of this church’s generosity with the apples of that church’s.
So, I believe it is a mistake to look at how another church handles its corporate worship and decide to do it the same way in your own church. It is a mistake to ask why your church cannot do its children’s programming as well as that other church, or why your church’s buildings don’t rival that church’s. It is a mistake to listen to another church’s pastor and wish your pastor would preach more like him. But when you see another church living generously and giving sacrificially to its community, it is perfectly acceptable, even good, to ask, “why isn’t my church living that generously?” It is the common calling to every church…it is a fair comparison…apples to apples. Look around. Ask the hard questions. Make the comparisons. It is OK to insist that your own church live as generously as the church across the street or across the world.
So, how about it? How are your church’s apples?