I recently had the opportunity to interview a pastor in New York. People stand in line for hours to attend one of this church’s seven services. He had just been interviewed by Katie Couric and the Huffington Post.
Yet our conversation wasn’t about famous people or church growth strategies. It was about serving people and Jesus. I walked away from the interview really impressed by the humility of this pastor.
I understand being impressed with humility it’s something of a paradox, but it was that refreshing.
You might not think pastors and church leaders would not be prone to pride, but it’s a sickness that’s sweeping our congregations.
- The worshipping church raises their hands to Jesus then mildly looks down on everyone not doing the same.
- The bivocational pastor feels more honorable and oddly proud his congregation is smaller than others.
- The church in the city, armed with stats and data, thinks they have a greater influence on culture.
- The young, trendy church thinks they have discovered the holy grail in reaching young families.
- The Reformed Calvinists think others have missed the theological boat to the intellectual promised land.
And the list goes on and on.
Of course, we don’t say these things out loud. We think them in the corners of our mind, far away from our accountability groups or elder’s meetings.
My church is better than your church. Our way is better than your way. We’ve figured out something you need to know.
But pride is a deadly force. It will lift you up on platforms and pedestals, setting you up for shame and mockery when you fall.
I’m not writing this as an interested reporter, but as one with experience in these things. As a successful church planter in a relatively small town, I was lured by the dark side of success. Publicly, it was all about the gospel and the mission, but privately, pride was growing like a tumor. I failed to hear these words of wisdom:
“Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall. It is better to be humble and stay poor than to be one of the arrogant and get a share of their loot.” – Proverbs 16:18-19
My “share of the loot” was recognition and attention. And that led to destruction. So in the spirit of helpfulness, here are some ideas on how pastors can beat down pride.
1. Learn, really learn, about what God is doing in other parts of the world.
You live in a bubble. We all do.
But your church, your tradition and your circle is just a tiny part of what God is doing and how God is working. Your bubble is just one of many. One of zillions, actually.
If your reformed church can’t celebrate what God is doing through a Charismatic church, you’re doing it wrong. If your mission philosophy only allows you to serve in one zip code, you’re missing the point. If you don’t think pastors in robes and collars can preach the gospel, your view is too narrow.
I have a friend starting an Anglican church. I don’t know much about the Anglican tradition, but as I heard him explain a little bit about it, I was reminded about how much I don’t know. It’s foreign to me, but not to God. These different expressions of church can not only expand the Kingdom, they can expand my view of the Kingdom.
Don’t just agree with this intellectually. Actually do something about it.
Make it a point to visit another church, attend a different conference, or connect with a new group of people. Not to teach them how to be better or critique their effectiveness, but to learn and observe.
2. Get real with someone.
Praise is like a drug. And if you’re not careful, even criticism can lead you to feeling superior.
I hear what you’re saying, but you just don’t understand what we are trying to do. It’s much bigger than you realize, and when it dawns on you one day, you’ll look back and see that I was right.
That’s why it’s important to have at least one person who really knows you. I’m talking about the dark side of you. Because everyone has one.
You need to find a group of people that don’t care you’re a pastor, or at least one person you can talk to who can’t get you fired. I’m talking about a person you can’t impress and a person who will tell you the truth. This isn’t an accountability partner or an accountability group – it’s an authentic friend.
When you have a real relationship like this, you will likely realize you’re not as good as you think you are and you’re not as bad as you think you are.
3. Stop comparing your church to other churches.
When I was pastoring a church, I created an excel spreadsheet to track month over month attendance growth side-by-side with a mega-church I respected. I wanted to see if we were growing as fast, and when we weren’t, I wanted to find someone to blame. It was an exercise born of hubris.
Comparing your church to other churches isn’t helpful. And comparing yourself to another leader isn’t helpful, either.
You and your church are unique. You are in a different place with different people and different circumstances. You have unique strengths and weaknesses. What God is doing there is a great thing, but it’s not necessarily a pattern for you to copy.
Learn how to celebrate others, not just learn from what they are doing. Take a page out of my friend Chris’s playbook, and celebrate other churches on Twitter, not just your own .
So when you start comparing yourself to others, just stop it. When you start to write the Tweet or Facebook update that hints of comparison, just stop it. When you start to talk about how someone has it easier just stop it.
Catch yourself playing the comparison game and preach the truth to yourself.
If we can practice these three things, maybe we can keep pride from taking hold in our hearts, destroying our peace and contentment and setting us up for failure.