This is part one of a series of five on the characteristics of Godly leaders.
I wasn’t sure what the drawing was supposed to be. It could be a picture of our family, but it could just as easily have been a picture of trees, or aliens, or flowers…I’m going to be honest– it wasn’t the artist’s best work. It was covered in an unnecessary amount of glitter and glue and the colors clashed. And yet, they demanded that it be displayed on the “fwidge” and declared it the best work they’d ever created. They bragged about how pretty they’d made it and how beautiful it was. They were boastful and arrogant. And, looking into the eyes of my child, I, too, exclaimed it to be the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and hung the dripping, glittering masterpiece on my refrigerator. The artist was only three years old, after all. They didn’t know how to be humble.
The thing is, none of us are born with the character trait of humility. Most children are naturally boastful and prideful, convinced that they are right and that the world should bend to them. We are born into sin, and that sin carries itself as pride in our lives. We are not, in our human nature, inclined toward the self-awareness humility requires. Unfortunately, some of us never mature past that and become boastful and arrogant adults who are convinced that we are right and the world should bend to us.
When we are born again and Christ changes us from the inside out, we have a new nature. Paul instructs us to “put on” this new self, with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col. 3:12-14) Self-control, a key component of humility, is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5. The Lord changes us to be more humble as we grow closer to Him.
This is even more important for pastors, especially those in a replant. As a replanter, you may have success that leads to growth and recognition among your peers. In these times, humility will not come easily if you aren’t already practiced in it. It will be tempting to look at your achievements as just that– yours, and not God’s through you. Alternatively, you will certainly face times of discouragement and uncertainty in your leadership. There may be times that people are unhappy with you or frustrated with your decisions… and you will need to rely on the godly characteristic of humility in those moments.
You might be thinking, “Believe me, Erin, in those moments I have plenty of people that are keeping me humble.” But I am not referring to the low self-esteem that comes from being beaten down by discouragement or other people’s opinion of you. I am talking about the character trait of biblical humility: a trait marked by self-awareness of who you are in Christ and what you can do in Him.
We often confuse being humble with being weak– which is not a great leadership quality. C.S. Lewis is often misquoted for saying, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” In actuality, Lewis wrote, “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” (Mere Christianity, page 128)
Many who read this blog post will read it thinking of someone else– “Man, I wish so and so could read this! They could use a dose of humility!” Friends, this response may very well mean that you, yourself, lack humility. Lewis reminds us, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
Humility is not weakness- it is self–awareness. When we realize who we are in Christ, we are better able to bear with each other and forgive each other, as Paul instructed us. This self-awareness comes through knowing that we are sinners saved by grace. We were not saved because we were so good that God deemed us worthy, we were saved by God because we could not save ourselves. Only when we look at our sin as God does do we realize that we have no right to stand above anyone else. We go from boasting in our own power and what we can accomplish to recognizing God’s grace in using us, despite our sin and our weakness.
If God is using us and we can’t boast in our own power, then we have another blessing in humility: God-grounded confidence. Humility is resting in the knowledge that God’s will is going to be done, regardless of our own machinations and manipulations.
Have you ever gone into a meeting that was so tense and so nerve-wracking that you didn’t sleep the night before? Well, chances are that anxiety you felt was because you weren’t secure in God’s sovereignty. You felt the pressure to make it happen, to work it out, to fix the problem. But God doesn’t need that from you. He isn’t interested in what you can do. Humility recognizes that we are only able to accomplish God’s will. There is rest in knowing that God’s will doesn’t depend on our strength.
Again, I am not referring to low self-esteem. I am referring to the humility that comes from knowing God is in control and I am not.
One of the character traits most needed in a Godly leader is that of humble learning. In our arrogance, sometimes we think we are the smartest person in the room. But the problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know.
Some years ago, I discovered I had inadvertently hurt someone close to me. I had made an off-hand comment that resulted in many laughs but had deeply wounded my friend. In my pride in needing to be the funniest person in the room, I was ignorant of something they had experienced that was very painful for them. It was mortifying to realize in that moment, I had caused them to re-live that pain and feel it again. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Humble leaders are better learners– they recognize and value the input they get from others. They realize that their opinion isn’t always the right one, or that they may need more information from others in order to make a more informed decision. They are better listeners, because they have learned to give others room to share. And they are better encouragers, because they celebrate the “wins” of others instead of boasting about their own.
God loves humility. The Bible says God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6). God honors and blesses humility.
Pastor, may I exhort you to take some time this week and reflect on your humility? Perhaps dive deep into Proverbs and allow some of Solomon’s wisdom on humility to grant you a new perspective. Some of the questions to ask yourself might be:
Some other resources on Humility in Pastoral Leadership are this book, this book, and this podcast episode.