God delights to show His favor. He longs to pour out His Spirit. He is a God of lavish grace. But if you want to see God remove His favor and hold back His Spirit and shut off the spigot, just introduce pride.
I have a growing awareness of how much pride has been and is in my life. It’s been a constant companion for more than fifty years. I am well acquainted with the dark side of leadership.
Not long ago I read through Andrew Murray’s short work called Humility. In processing his writing, I was struck by two contrasting realities. First I was reminded how prevalent humility was in the life and teachings of Jesus. His very first words in the Sermon on the Mount are about those who are poor (humble) in spirit. And the Cross is the ultimate manifesto on humility.
Second, I was rebuked by how little we preach and practice humility today. When is the last time you read a blog, sat in a conference session, or did a small group study on humility?
Murray says, “If humility be the secret of His atonement, then the health and strength of our spiritual life will entirely depend on putting this grace first too.” Notice he doesn’t say anything about the size of your ministry or breadth of your influence. He does say the “health and strength” of your spiritual life is tied to a spirit of humility.
Maturing as a leader comes with some hard but rich lessons. One of those is to learn that real joy comes not in promoting self but dying to self. And, that real satisfaction comes in being nothing so that Jesus might be everything.
Those of us with leadership gifts have an advantage. We see things before other people. We can size up situation more quickly than others. We often are quickest to figure out what needs to be done. We have an advantage. But humble leaders, godly leaders, do not take advantage of their advantage. They don’t manipulate; they don’t self-promote.
We need more ministry heroes who are as Jesus described himself: “gentle and humble in heart.” There is a subtle but inherent danger for leaders that impacts our humility. We have been given a gift from God to inspire people, catalyze movement, and foster momentum. People respond, and things get done, and people follow “you.” That can mess with both your head and your heart. We can begin to think it’s because of us and about us.
We can obsess with success and forget that what draws a crowd isn’t necessarily what draws God. We forget that he cares just as much about the means as he does the ends. We don’t mean for it to happen, but we become spiritually disoriented.
The more fruitfulness and success we experience, the greater the temptation. Your success and the praise that follows it will be a test of your humility. Jim Collins’ research validates this truth. In How the Mighty Fall, he identifies the first stage of decline as “hubris born of success.”
Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.
Those words ring true for ministry leaders as much as CEOs of secular corporations.
When hubris begins to win the day in a ministry, there are some telltale signs.
- It’s more about the leader’s vision than it is about Jesus.
- Prayer is conspicuously absent.
- Achieving the cause gets more attention than abiding in Christ.
- There’s a utilitarian view of people.
- There’s a spirit of competition and comparing.
In contrast, here are some practical means by which we can embrace humility:
- Make much of Jesus. Speak of him often. As you share vision, always point people back to Jesus. As John the Baptist said,“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
- Regularly remind yourself that the church is not “your” church and that the ministry you serve is not “your” ministry. We are shepherds and stewards; Jesus is the owner.
- Work hard at praising others and not yourself. The challenge from Solomon is direct and straightforward: Don’t praise yourself; let others do it! Pay attention to those inner promptings when the Holy Spirit is spotlighting self-promotion.
- Be interested in others more and interested in yourself less. Ask people questions about their lives. Get someone to tell you their story.
- Stay in touch with grace. Never get over what it means that God loves you and saved you and adopted you into his family. Rewind. Let that soak in for a moment. The eternal God, the Creator, chose you.
- Enlist a pride patrol. Ask a couple people you trust to help you. When they see hints of posturing or self-promotion, don’t just give them permission to come to you—insist that they come to you. By helping you see blind spots they will help you be a more godly leader and potentially avert a train wreck in your life.