Recently, someone I greatly respect challenged me on my hubris. To be honest with you, at first I balked. “I’m not prideful,” I thought. But then the Lord used that challenge to reveal what was in my heart. I tend to think I’m right. I tend to think that I have something important to say. If you doubt me, notice how many times I’ve already used the pronoun “I.”
Being a leader who communicates and gives direction regularly can buoy one’s ego. But it is important to realize that God is not interested in my ego. Isaiah 66:1-2 reads,
Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.’
God favors the humble.
Interestingly, even those outside the church realize the value of humility. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins reflects on Level 5 leaders. Collins reviews executives of startlingly successful companies. His research group discovered a correlation between Level 5 leadership and the success of their organization. Level 4 leaders effectively catalyze people around a compelling vision. Level 5 leaders distinguish themselves by building enduring greatness and leaving the organization to even greater success when they step away. Collins observes that Level 5 leaders are a unique blend of personal humility and professional resolve. These leaders are relentless in their pursuit of organizational success. But they are self-effacing and humble with regard to personal ambition. They own responsibility and share credit. In other words, they are Level 5 leaders because organizational success trumps personal ambition. Bottom line—Level 5 leaders are humble.
While not the point of this article, we should not be surprised when God’s Word is confirmed even in business and leadership sectors of life. This is God’s world. Principles discovered in other sectors of life that affirm biblical truth function as an apologetic for the Christian worldview.
The point of this article is to remind us that leaving a lasting legacy of spiritual influence requires humility. As pastors and spiritual leaders, our organization is the church. Our mission is to make disciples. Our goal is the glory of Christ. There is no organizational success more important than the promotion of God’s glory and mission through his church to the world. We who are pastors must not let our personal ambitions get in the way of the purposes of God for our churches. As you read the following recommendations, don’t think of them as expertise on humility. I’m more of an expert on pride. Read them as recommendations from a fellow traveler on the journey toward humility.
1. Don’t believe your press.
Some church members will criticize you. Some will tell you they don’t like you. Others will make your head swell with pride as they compliment your preaching or your ministry. Refrain from believing the best things that people say about you. Give God and others credit for the good things that happen through you.
2. Seek to see God as he is, not as you want him to be.
As pastors, sometimes our pursuit of God is limited to preaching and teaching preparation. This is dangerous because it can lead to us using God rather than worshiping God. Isaiah 66:1-2 reminds us that the humility begins by recognizing God for who he really is—Holy, Glorious, Self-Sufficient Creator and Lord of all.
3. Make sure you are accountable to people who know your flaws.
Have regular conversations with people who will keep you humble. Several people in my life serve this function. Listening to people who love you, but are not awed by you, is spiritually healthy and humbling.
4. It is really hard to be prideful if we pray.
Especially when you consider how Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray to God for who he really is, it humbles us. Not surprisingly, the times I struggle to pray consistently are the times I tend to exhibit characteristics of pride.
These recommendations are not exhaustive. As a fellow pastor and traveler on this journey of faith, I would appreciate any suggestions you may have for addressing pride and staying humble.