“Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Pride, that sneakiest of sins that slowly shades a man’s heart like the forming clouds of a midwest thunderstorm, forming so slightly it goes unnoticed by the pastor or his staff, until one day they look up to see they’re in a storm of their own making.
Proud waters are dangerous waters to swim in; it’s the type of slow boil that cooks the proverbial frog, and commands our fullest attention to fight. As pastors and ministry leaders we must watch ourselves and one another closely, lest Proverbs 16:18 be about us. I can think of five—though I’m certain there’s more—thoughts pastors and ministry leaders need to take captive to obey Christ.
I Don’t Need Fellowship
Down the path of pride, one sure destination is isolation. With a siren call and promises of strength and self-assuredness, our enemy woos us away from the safety of the group into the tall uncertain grass of isolation where he waits to pounce. This pride reveals itself in heart that doesn’t receive from mere Christians and has set itself up at the top of its own religious caste system.
God would exhort you, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).
My Calling Is Different, thus Superior
I once had a pastor who when confronted with sin refused to hear counsel from his elders and insisted he needed counsel from someone on another level—his level. Pride makes you think you’re superior—though we would say “different” because that’s a cleaner, sin-sanitized word. As you struggle with pride, Jesus would tell you, “whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4).
There Are Opinions, and Then There’s My Opinion
I’ve found that there’s a lot of talk about “greatest among equals” but not a lot of practice in it. Meaning, we’ll agree with it with a wink and a nod, “Yes, our callings are the same. But my vote as Pastor of Vision and Preaching trumps yours as Men’s Ministry Overseer,” though we wouldn’t say it so bluntly. Instead, it comes in the deceptive form of having your mind already made up as you pose the question to your team—just to see if they agree or not.
Be watchful, and guard against putting upon your shoulders the attribute that belongs only to Christ: omniscience. Remember the wisdom of Solomon, “Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance” (Prov. 11:14) and the condescension of Christ himself, in which Paul would exhort us, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.… [as Christ], who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:3,6-7).
Growth Is Due to My Preaching
It is true that some are better speakers than others; God gives differing gifts in differing amounts and differing outpouring of the Spirit in due season. But it is a lie that your church is growing due to your preaching prowess. It is an utterly earthbound way to look at ministry to miss the sovereign hand of God and yet see your frail hands as creating realities.
Instead, we need to apply directly to our foreheads the teaching of Paul, “I planted. Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Look in the mirror Sunday morning and say, “There are 200 or 2,000 souls here today because God gave the growth.” Paul continues, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7). If the man who wrote half of the New Testament can say, ‘I am nothing,’ so can you.
We’re Better than the Church Down the Street
I know of no infection that leads to amputation more than sinful comparison. We are little bodies making up and reflecting the person of Christ, and as local bodies we have differing flavors and flare. Some are slender, with piston turning metabolisms that are quick with high energy, some are squatty, with short legs and thick backs designed to carry burdens up and down hills, some tend more with prosaic Paul: parsing Greek and systematizing theology, while others wash the feet of the homeless and daily care for the widows. But, one thing we are not is better than the other.
If you feel even the slightest tinge of comparison or superiority in your heart towards the family of Christ down the street, stop and pray for them, and remember the prayer that Jesus prayed for you, “protect them by Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one.” (John 17:11). And take serious the charge of Christ, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).