Humility

The Biggest Threat To Ministry

What would you say is the biggest danger keeping you from being effective for God’s Kingdom? Is it the moral confusion of our society, distracting the people you hope to help? What about “big” sins like sexual immorality or alcohol misuse? Maybe the biggest threat is your own busy schedule?

As Christians have watched leader after leader become discredited, I have been asking myself that question. As serious as those issues are, they are not what I’m most worried about. In my opinion, the biggest threat to effective ministry is pride. This pride doesn’t just affect “famous” Christians or full-time missionaries. You, college student, can be prevented from ministering to your peers by pride.

Youthful Arrogance

A google search for a dictionary definition returns three options, so let’s go with this
one: “a feeling that you are more important, or better than other people”. Now, I don’t meet many people who would say those exact words. Many of us, especially Christians, know that it is not socially acceptable to be obvious about our pride. But it still finds ways to assert itself. Here is what it might look in your life:

After pondering a theological question for only a few days, a student decides they have a better answer than the one provided by thousands of years of church history, and the intelligent individuals who have pondered the question already.

A Bible study leader insists on writing their own content rather than using a study put together by people with seminary degrees and decades of campus ministry experience.

When asked if she’s found a church yet, a woman says can’t commit to a local church
because she can’t find one good enough. This despite several wonderful, solid churches in her area.

After being passed over for a leadership position, a man gets angry, feeling like he was entitled to the job.

Are you recognizing yourself yet? I have done all these things, so I don’t bring this up to shame you. Pride can affect anyone, but there is something intoxicating about being eighteen and out of the house for the first time. Or being twenty-one and realizing that you are “older and wiser” than most of the people you know (other college students).

Part of entering adulthood is realizing that you can be responsible; that you have ideas and skills to contribute! Unfortunately, it is incredibly easy to take that step from, “wow, I can contribute!” to, “my ideas are better than anyone else’s”.

This is exacerbated by a culture that tells us we “deserve” to be given authority. All
while our social media grants young people influence disproportionate to their expertise. Even in ministry, we often equate skill with spiritual maturity, and give young leaders too much too quickly. All of these are traps laid for you, young Christian, tempting you to think of yourself more highly than you ought.

Your insight is valuable for the building up of God’s church. Your skills are necessary for the advance of the Kingdom. But arrogance would have you believe that no one else has insight to share. That you, and you alone, know all the pertinent information. That you are the only one who has figured out a solution.

Are you angry about a deficiency at your church? Are you frustrated about something in your campus ministry? Be careful. Your frustration may be valid, but that does not make you an expert, and it does not make the leaders of those institutions’ incompetent. There may be good reasons for the way things are. Whatever situation you are facing is likely more complicated than it first appears.

We are having an important cultural moment in the church, where leaders are being
held accountable for grievous sins. Leaders should be held accountable, and sins should be called out. But even when we are morally correct we have a choice: will we approach our Christian siblings with the arrogance of being momentarily superior, or will we approach them with the humility of one who is also saved by grace through faith?

Pride in Scripture

You may still be wondering why I say pride, and not other moral failings, is the most dangerous sin. Let’s consider scripture. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells the story of two people praying. One is a religious man, a Pharisee. If you’ve spent time in church, you probably know that the Pharisees get harsh treatment from Jesus. But in their day, they were respected religious leaders. Think of this first guy as someone who reads their Bible daily, goes to church every week, volunteers with youth ministry, and generally is a Godly man you admire.

The other is a tax collector. This job title was shorthand for someone who worked for the pagan Roman empire and against God’s people. They were usually cheating people out of money as well. It’s hard to have a modern-day equivalent, but just think of someone whose character you don’t admire at all.

Both men pray to God. The Pharisee, aware of his squeaky-clean religious image, prays confidently to God. He talks about his spiritual resume, and thanks God that he is not a sinner, like the tax collector. Contrastingly, the tax collector is self-deprecating and lowly. He pounds on his chest and begs God to have mercy on him.

Jesus ends with this statement in verse 14 : “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

It is very clear that, although the tax collector has many sins in his life, it is the pride of the Pharisee that is the point of concern. This is in concert with a litany of other scripture that condemns pride (James 4:6, Psalm 75:4, Jeremiah 9:23-24 just for starters).

I say pride is the most dangerous, because by its very nature pride cuts us off from the correction of God. If we believe that we are better than other people, then it is almost certain that on some level, we believe we are better than God. If we are prideful, we do not see our need to be saved. When we are arrogant, we are not responsive to calls to repent of sin. Pride prevents us from relying on God to change others’ hearts, which is the core of ministering to another person. It is the sin that, left unchecked, will feed all other sins in our lives.

Steps Towards Humility

I have good news and bad news. Lets start with the bad news. It is rare that I meet a college age person who doesn’t struggle significantly with pride in some area of their life. I don’t know if it is something about developmental brain stages or what, but being prideful is a hallmark young adulthood. 

The other piece of bad news is that God often teaches humility through suffering. In my early twenties I saw my inappropriately high view of myself and I asked God to teach me humility. He did this by allowing me to go through the hardest period of my life to date, and he permitted that period to stretch on for multiple years. It was awful. 

This is your heads up. The path to humility likely leads straight through a valley of suffering. Yet the gold of our character is rarely purified in any other way. Any small bit of humility I have gained has come at a great price, and this makes it more valuable to me. I know I still have a long way to go!

The good news is that you can fight pride and pursue humility whether you are currently suffering or not. A few quick tips are below:

  • If you think you aren’t prideful, then it is probably a bigger problem in your life than you realize. Everyone struggles with pride, it is arrogant to think you are immune to it.
  • Find a Christian who is older than you and ask them to meet with you regularly. This can be formal or informal. Tell them you want to fight pride. Then simply be honest with your thoughts and feelings about situations. They can point out where arrogance is creeping in and speak wisdom to you. 
  • Pray for humility. Ultimately it is Christ who overcomes our sinful hearts. Ask His Spirit to make this change in you.
  • Discipline yourself to behave humbly, even if you don’t feel humble. Can you listen more and defer to others’ ideas above your own? Can you serve those around you by doing “lowly” things like cleaning toilets or washing dishes? As we discipline our bodies to behave in humility, our minds and emotions will follow.

Christ and Humility

The one Being in the universe who has every right to think highly of Himself is the one with the most humility. If there is anyone who can rightly demand that all people at all times defer to Him, it is God. Yet when God became a man and walked among us, that is not how He behaved:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

Christ deserved every top position and every accolade. Yet He humbled Himself, and lived a life of relative obscurity and service to others. Then He was wrongfully accused and criminally executed in the most humiliating way possible. 

Did you notice the “Therefore” halfway through? It is because of His self-forgetful love that we worship Him.  He is worthy of worship all on His own, but His demonstration of humility paradoxically exalts Him as the supreme servant and King. The more we realize just how humble Jesus is, the more we exalt and worship Him. It is part of what makes Him great.

Are you more important than God? Are your plans superior to the Creator and Sustainer of Life? Of course not. And if God lowered Himself to serve, we should not aim to behave differently. Christian, your only way forward is to run from pride and pursue humility. Your life and ministry depend on it.

Jane Story is a campus staff with Cru at JMU.