My family traveled through a number of metropolitan areas on our trek to see relatives over the holidays. In several of the cities where we traveled I noticed billboards that were advertisements for churches. In most all of them the picture of the senior pastor (and sometimes his wife) was extremely prominent on the billboard. Since I have been reading a book called Humility-True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney (Multnomah, 2005, ISBN1-59052-326-1), these billboards made me wonder about what they were really communicating.
Billboards with pictures of pastors are probably trying to let commuters know that a particular church has a friendly, warm pastor who cares about people including non-members. To me though these pictures speak strongly of self-promotion on the part of the pastors. How can a pastor allow a large picture of himself to be prominently displayed on a billboard on a crowded interstate highway?
I believe that ministers (pastors, worship pastors and other ministers) must constantly be watching for evidence of pride and self-promotion. As Mahaney shares in his book, “all Christian service exists only to draw attention to this source – to our crucified and risen Lord who gave Himself as a ransom for us all.” (48) We should always be on our guard to make sure that the attention and glory of our ministries goes to the Lord. Who is receiving the glory in our churches today? Is it the pastor, worship leader or soloist or is it the Lord Almighty?
Jonathan Edwards spoke of pride as “the worst viper that is in the heart” and “the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ.” It is “the most hidden secret and deceitful of all lusts.” Mahaney states that Edwards thought spiritual pride was “the greatest cause of the premature ending of the Great Awakening.” (34) Another interesting quote talks about pride in the church: “Pride ruins pastors and churches more than any other thing. It is more insidious in the church than radon in the home.” (a quote from Mike Renihan in Mahaney’s book, 35)
The true example of humility in ministry is our Lord Jesus Christ who stated that he did not come to be served but to serve. Philippians chapter 2 reminds us that Jesus “who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Mahaney states that “in every step of Christian growth and maturity, and throughout every aspect of our Christian obedience and service, our greatest foe is pride and our greatest ally is humility.” (64) He believes that one practical way to guard against pride and self-promotion is to focus on the cross. Mahaney quotes Martin Lloyd-Jones: “There is one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner… that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…. Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.” (66) Dr. Carl Henry, well known evangelical theologian who was a brilliant but very humble man, when asked how he had remained humble for so many decades stated: “how can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” (68)
Humility for the minister is a constant struggle. Those who are in prominent places of leadership must be on guard to be servant leaders, humble and obedient to the Lord. I find it a struggle in my own life as a minister and teacher. I highly recommend this book by C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries and encourage you to pick up a copy. It is a short book that could be read in one or two reading sessions.