One of the most real of realities when it comes to church ministry is this: you can do everything that needs to be done in laying strategy, planning for ministry, and implementing it – but still fail. Not every ministry goes as planned. Not every person is blessed by what you do. We are all limited in our imaginations, resources, and spiritual gifts. There is no ironclad prescription for church success. But you probably already know this from your own personal experience, or just from watching others. You will never find any pastor or Christian ministry leader who controlled every variable and planned for every contingency and always pulls-off every endeavor to perfection. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that there are no guarantees.
We must, then, come back to the practice of self-control – of continually monitoring our own internal motivations and desires so that they are in constant alignment with the words and ways of Jesus. Another one of those really real realities when it comes to church ministry is that pride and hubris are far and away the most insidious problems a pastor or leader will ever face. It is gratifying to be a leader and exercise pastoral care, teach others, and mentor young people. It’s also far too easy to be seduced by your own perceived power and importance and blame any shortcomings on cranky parishioners.
Humility is the path to resolving arrogance and the only true road of Christian discipleship. Out of all the characteristics that Jesus could describe himself, the only two words he ever used were “gentle and humble” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus is our perfect and true example of the leader who always ministered with a complete sense of his divine power, human limitations, and concern for others. Christ never believed he was the reason for his own success, but always connected what he did and was doing to the will of his Father in heaven.
You can only avoid the seduction of arrogant pride when you recognize that you are not God and need the help of others. Wise church leadership knows they can’t do it alone and they act accordingly. Truly humble pastors dig a hole, throw their ego into it, and pour concrete on top of it. They do not continually chatter-on with certainties and answers but, instead, are committed to deep listening to those around them. They give generous and sincere credit to others. They think about how to build up the Body of Christ, not their own puffed up press about themselves.
It takes a lot of courage to be humble. It requires a lot of bravery to admit you are not always right; that you cannot always anticipate every congregant’s needs; that you cannot solve every problem in the church; that you cannot envision everything the church is supposed to do and to be; that you are not always congenial; that you make mistakes; that you are sometimes grumpy like everyone else; and, that you are a real live human being.
When a pastor lets his/her guard down and becomes real and vulnerable, then biblical faith can begin to take root and together clergy and laity can create something that they never could alone. We all must remain humble and unassuming. We all need to persist in being open and full of wonder to God’s world and Christ’s church. We all need to be down-to-earth and keep our feet on the ground no matter the level of success or failure. We all are dependent on God.