The only antidote to unconscious pride is conscious humility.
Unconscious pride is my heart’s belief that it doesn’t really have need; that it has the resources, wisdom, and authority to move forward without further reference. Of course, unconscious pride is just as much a sin and a danger as the conscious, overt variety. It’s the opposite of being “poor in spirit.”
Unconscious pride surfaces when we fail to pray.
It’s there when we really think our church is the best/only/greatest.
It’s there when we refuse to change our style.
It’s there when we make fun of other beliefs.
It’s there when we never make time to hear from those who disagree with us.
It’s there when we assume we need to reinvent the wheel, because we think ours will be better.
It’s there when we start responding with an answer before the question is finished.
How can I stay consciously humble?
1. Introspection. Our souls need to be searched from time to time. Life Action has a range of downloadable tools to help in this process, including one of my favorites: “Proud People / Broken People.”
2. Ask God how you can grow. Based on Philippians 2, we know that humility is a choice, a cultivated attitude, a direction we must intentionally walk as we follow Jesus. Ask God for help in recognizing aspects of your attitude, your daily habits, or your conversations that aren’t appropriately humble (Psalm 139:23-24).
3. Solicit your own criticism. I counseled a musician years ago who felt offended week after week as people would give him “negative” feedback on his band. After he related to me what people were saying, I asked him why he didn’t welcome such advice. “That actually sounds like great, constructive feedback. From now on, why don’t you preempt being offended by soliciting your own criticism? You could say: ‘I’m really trying to improve my ministry effectiveness. Do you have any ideas for me?’” He loved it, and told me later that it really helped his attitude change for the better.
How can a church leadership team stay consciously humble?
1. Expect change to be part of your church’s story, every single year.
Many people speak of change as if it is something they can bring to a conclusion; that they can move the chess pieces around in such a way as to someday relax into changeless tradition. But that will never happen (unless you give up on the Great Commission). Change and ministry effectiveness go hand in hand. We have to stay humble enough to be flexible.
2. Be willing to let go of yesterday’s successes in order to accomplish today’s mission.
In my role at Life Action, I have the honor of jumping across geographic and denominational lines frequently, serving in a variety of church environments. One thing I can tell you: There are many ways to accomplish the core functions of New Testament Christianity. Your church hasn’t stumbled onto the only way of doing things that works. In fact, I could almost guarantee you that someone, somewhere has a system or style superior to yours! If we can humbly accept that, we can open our hearts to more effective approaches, even if we didn’t originate them.
Sometimes I see this playing out in churches that maintain antiquated programs that, while still serving a purpose, aren’t accomplishing as much as other options might. A humble church looks at the results and is willing to change for the sake of the mission, but unconscious pride might tempt them to hold onto “the way we’ve always done it” for a bit longer, perhaps as a way of saving face, or simply because they haven’t taken the time to learn something new.
3. Learn from people who aren’t exactly like you.
I remember meeting a group of church elders in Virginia who really impressed me, much more so than average. The reason? At their own initiative, they had been taking turns reading books on church health and strategy, reviewing them for ideas that might apply to their church! To me, that teachable spirit is a great indicator of humility, and for that church, a great indicator of their potential. I told the pastor as much, that he had much to celebrate because the elders of his church were really taking their oversight and shepherding responsibility seriously. May their tribe multiply!
Conscious humility is the sort of attitude Jesus calls us to maintain—always willing to learn, listen, adapt, admit, change. And it’s not just about being willing to do those things, but intentionally moving toward them.
Prayerfully, we can lead our churches into that attitude as well.