Pastor Pride

by Jeff Weddle

I'll be honest with you--I am the man. I'm serious, I am. There are other people out there who think they're the man, but they wouldn't know a man if he hit them in the head. They're all just little boys. Tiny, itty-bitty boys. There's only one man and that's me.
Does that bother you? Should it? Should a good Christian make statements like that? How about pastors? I'll be honest with you. There are some Sundays when I get done with my sermon, and I think in my little head, "Oh yeah, I am the man." All my illustrations seemed to be understood, the flow of the sermon was right on, and all the nice people told me how great it was. Oh yeah, that's the stuff.
There are other Sundays too. Sundays where I contemplate giving up and living in a hole in Alaska until a Kodiak bear eats me.
The issue that has always troubled me when it comes to preaching and carrying on pastoral duties is how much of this is me? How much do I prepare, or how much preparation is too much? How much credit should I take for a good sermon. I mean, I was the one who preached it, don't I get some? Or does it all go to God, and I'm just an instrument in a big orchestration that's no different from anyone else?
The real problem is that (1) I am the man but (2) I'm not always. Who among us has ever thought we ruled the world for a time? We all have; pride is an all-pervasive illness in the human race. If you're human, you will battle pride. One of my favorite verses of the Bible to laugh about is Numbers 12:3: "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth." You don't think that's funny? Who wrote the book of Numbers? MOSES! Moses adds this little parenthesis that he is the most humble person in the world. How can he do that and still be the most humble person in the world?
Here's the thing, humility doesn't always look like humility. For most, humility means letting people walk all over you, not defending yourself, cowering and fearing before all enemies. Are we called to anything like that in Christ? At times, but there is also the confidence and boldness we are to have when it comes to shamelessly sharing the Gospel--the power of God.
G. K. Chesterton said the following: "What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed." I could have said it better myself, but decided not to.
How does this notion of humility apply to preaching?
1. How much preparation is enough?
The reason preparation is necessary is because we don't know everything. Also, if you don't prepare you'll ramble. The Bible covers all aspects of life, so if you don't pick a direction and a narrow focus you'll wander. But too much preparation removes the insights of the Spirit which may come while preaching. For example, if your sermons are memorized and it becomes a routine where you can speak and not have to think about what you are saying, you may miss out on further insights your congregation needs.
Preparation is there so we can identify the truth we need to address. We are to have confidence in the truth. If you know your stuff--have identified the truth and found ways to present it--you are prepared. If your preparation has not led to finding the truth, you need more!
Depending on the subject and Bible passages, this preparation may vary drastically. Don't let someone else's approach influence yours. I have heard that you need one hour of preparation for every five minutes of speaking time--45 minute sermon would require nine hours of preparation. Well, not necessarily! Take as long as you need to identify the truth, and find ways to present it, meeting your audience's needs.
2. How much of my pastoral duties are me?
The hardest thing in the world is taking a compliment, especially when you're a loser by nature like me. The reason I can jokingly call myself "the man" is because I know just how ridiculous it is of me to claim that. I'm a Cub fan for crying out loud. So when I go visiting or preach, how much of me is supposed to be there? How much of the credit goes to God?
Here's the deal--I get all the responsibility, and God gets all the credit! Here's how that works. Because I have placed myself in this position to do pastoral duties, I am accountable for what I do (Hebrews 13:17). Since I am accountable, it is absolutely required of me to do my best (Colossians 3:23,24). Doing my best means I will approach my duties with prayer, devotion, love and care, seeking the Lord's will every step of the way. It also implies that I use all the gifts, talents, abilities, resources, and people the Lord has supplied me with. Once the pastoral duty is done (if pastoral duties are ever "done") and I receive a compliment, my response should be "Thank you." And then I should thank the Lord immediately for making it possible. After all, it's His Spirit that enabled me to do it and His Spirit who worked in the heart of the other person. I just did my part; He took care of the results.
The absolute worst thing to do with a compliment is deny it. This is commonly seen when it comes to cooking. "Oh that's some good lasagna you made." To which you reply, "Oh no, I didn't use the right cheese and it's too dry." Even though that sounds like humility, it's really fishing for more compliments! You want them to deny your denial and continue complimenting!
One popular Christian response when receiving a compliment is "Praise God" or "All the glory goes to God." That's fine, I guess. But there's something about that which seems to grate on the young believer or the non-churchy element out there. It actually makes you seem even more arrogant to be assuming you did God's job. The bottom line is that compliments need to be taken graciously. Say "Thank you" and acknowledge in our hearts that it came from God.
The real test of our humility is how down we get when we really mess up. I've preached many sermons where I've got done and thought, "Huh?" I know I just blew the whole thing. Those are long Sundays for my wife, dear, dear woman. If I'm disappointed with my "performance" I think it's good to learn from it. Check your preparation. Is this a sincere regret that maybe you could have done better? Or is this a selfish pity party because no one gave me any compliments? I'm not going to say we should never be disappointed with how we did our job--many times we should be, perhaps more than we know. But it's also not the end of the world. Don't let it consume you and ruin more things. Learn from it, pray for confidence in the Lord, and keep pressing toward the mark.
Humility is a tough subject and even tougher to live. Yet God gives grace to the humble. You cannot experience God's grace if you are arrogant and always reminding everyone "it's my world and the rest of ya are just paying rent." It takes grace to pull off humility; grace wouldn't be grace without humility.
In the pastoral ministry there are many opportunities to change people's lives and boy does it feel good to be able to have part in that. But if you think it was you and not God, then you've got troubles. Be ever vigilant to fight off the enemy of pride. Be careful about getting discouraged. Watch for your need for compliments and soothing words. We are working with truth; have every confidence in it. But make sure the confidence is in the truth and not in you!
Feel free to email me telling me how good my article was. But, you know, none of it will surprise me, because I'm like butter, I'm always on a roll.
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