Published November 2013
I recently had the opportunity to help direct one of my youth in conversation with a ministry professional, as my youth has expressed interest in becoming a church worker some day.
It prompted me to ask what sort of legacy I want to encourage my youth to have in their lives. I’ve been pondering what the most important bit of wisdom I could possibly impart on them could be, in view of this long-term goal.
After a lot of careful thought, I think it comes down to this single shred of wisdom:
It seems so simple. Yet, I think that the sins of pride and arrogance are the ones that often cripple church workers more than almost any other sins.
The very nature of a pride issue cuts one off from being teachable or moldable. From ever admitting wrongness or failure. From sharing the credit with others. From truly connecting with other people. From ever apologizing. From rolling up the shirtsleeves and doing the gritty, hard work that’s required–because, after all, it’s beneath you or it’s not your thing.
Pride makes it impossible to try someone else’s idea. It isolates from being open to God’s promptings. It can catapult you into thinking you’re smarter than any pastor, teacher or even the Bible–and therefore throw you into a dangerous position of not holding fast to God’s Truth. It makes it difficult to work with others. It prevents others from coming to you–because who wants to confide in or seek counsel from someone who sneers down their nose at you?
Most shamefully, arrogance can lead us off of the real path of God’s work and instead focus our eyes inward, on our own kingdoms, accomplishments and successes–whether actual or merely perceived.
1 Samuel 2:3 tells us, “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” Likewise, Proverbs 16:18 reminds us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
By the very nature of the problem, it’s nearly impossible to try to convince someone that they do have a pride issue. Anyone who offers an honest opinion, a helpful remark or even a harsh criticism is brushed off by those who think they know better than anyone else.
Pride says that people are just bodies to control. Pride whispers falsity. Pride dominates and boasts and refuses to actually care about anyone but itself.
I definitely know that there are incredible, humble, servant-hearted people out there. I thank God for those people–they are the salt of the earth. I have encountered many of them in my years in church work, and I absolutely couldn’t function without their constant encouragement, love and care for others.
But lately, I’ve realized more and more that pride is a stronghold for many in the ministry. Pastors, youth workers, students across the board seem to struggle with being possessed with an arrogance problem.
In fact, in my opinion, pride is the number one sin that has a grip on those in the ministry.
Is it possible to start out with the purest of intentions, and become something that does a disservice to our loving Savior?
Which is why we must constantly be on guard with our actions, and aware of what we’re allowing into our hearts. We must regularly and honestly evaluate ourselves, and ask those we trust to evaluate us. We must cling to Scripture and live by what it tells us. Sin can–and does–swallow us whole, without us being aware that it’s happening. And only our ever-patient, ever-loving, ever-forgiving Savior can help us guard our hearts and minds from this deceit–and forgive us when we do give in to the temptation of pride.
Jesus had the harshest criticisms for the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that. Now that I’ve worked in a church, I completely understand. As people charged with the task of sharing Christ with others–with leading and teaching and exhorting–we should be the biggest proponents of humility.
Instead, it’s the trap that Satan has carefully laid for those in the ministry–and he has snared many in its deadly clutches.
When I was in college, I was a resident assistant for two years. During our month-long training in the summer before school started, we were asked to help prepare the school for the arrival of students by cleaning the dorms. On a skin-searingly hot summer day, we spent ten hours scrubbing mold from refrigerators, plunging toilets, mopping floors, painting hot metal railings, moving back-breaking piles of mulch and repainting parking lines in the student lot.
As I stood with a gallon of bleach in one hand and a brush in the other, panting in the heat, I kept looking over at our directors. Although they were the loudest cheerleaders for doing this service project, they had been sitting all day in the shade, sipping their ice waters. They didn’t do a thing the entire day–in other words, their talk didn’t even come close to matching their walk.
And when we had finished up, they were the ones to receive the accolades from the university for working so hard.
Their arrogant pride ultimately turned an entire staff of student leaders against them, in pure disgust. And no amount of team building or pep talks could ever restore the respect that was lost in one day.
If that can happen, I shudder to think how many people we’re turning off from Christianity because of our pride issues.
People’s eternal lives are being impacted.
Pride is a dangerous pitfall–and that’s why I tell my students and leaders over and over and over again that they must remain humble.
I recently saw a quote online that said, “We’re called to be fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.” I’ve found myself repeating that constantly.
God didn’t call us to lord over a church.
God didn’t call us to put ourselves up on a platform.
God didn’t call us to consider ourselves better than the rest of our synod, other churches, our staff or the students and families we work with.
Instead, we must be reminded of what Isaiah 2:11 tells us, “The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.”
What’s truly incredible about our Savior is that He forgives us, even despite our arrogant attitudes and hardened hearts. Scripture has the ability to cut through our sinful thoughts and our mistakes and reach our hearts with the Truth that Christ died for these very sins.
As Ephesians 1:7-10 so beautifully tells us, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things to him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
And that’s why it’s so important for us to remember at all times that it’s all about the Lord. And as Isaiah 2:11 so poignantly reminds us, it’s about the Lord alone.