Can pastors be too humble?

September 25th, 2019

Humility is touted as an expressly Christian attribute. But I wonder if excess humility, or better said, false humility, is a hidden dynamic of decline within the church.

As I have met with pastors across the country this fall, it has become clear to me that a significant segment of spiritual leaders secretly fear that they are not good enough to live out their divine calling. This fear is often hidden by deflection. Positive comments, acknowledgements and compliments ricochet off the pastor, as he or she discounts their own contributions to the life of the congregation. Instead, God gets all the “glory.”

Could this discounting of the self be dangerous? I think so. In fact, I believe this very real fear and the humility that cloaks it are getting in the way of the unfolding of the Kingdom.

As a human being, you are created with agency. Agency is the capacity to choose what you think, decide what you believe, select how you feel and chart the actions you take. Agency implies your inborn capacity to live a purposeful life. Interestingly, your agency is influenced by your belief as much as by your skill.

According to Jesus, owning your agency is critical. Your beliefs, in particular, are intimately connected to your ability to co-create miracles with God. Jesus was fond of pointing out, “Your faith has made you well,” to those who sought healing. If your well-being, or lack thereof, unfolds according to what you believe, what else does belief impact?

Back when I was single, I used to take ballroom dance lessons hoping I’d meet someone on the dance floor and be swept off my feet. Before I ventured onto the dance floor, I did not understand the mechanics and art of dance. I knew the man led, but I didn’t know how. What I discovered was that the graceful art of dance involved a great deal of partnership between the man and woman, or the “lead” and the “follow.” The man exerts very firm pressure against the woman’s hand to steer the couple. But she couldn’t be steered, or engage in the dance, if she didn’t exert equally firm pressure in return. This isn’t a case of overpowering. If her return pressure is weak, the man simply can’t lead. But if she meets his firm pressure with her own, he can steer her through intricate steps she had not even known before. While I didn’t meet the man of my dreams through ballroom dance (that came later through a country two-step class) I was able to tango, foxtrot and waltz as if I had been dancing these graceful steps all my life!

Exercising your God-given authority and agency is like ballroom dancing. As you enter into the divine dance you soon realize that it’s not just about having faith in the leading partner, you also have to exercise faith in yourself. You are a critical part of the equation. The Bible makes this clear: wherever people had great faith, Jesus performed great miracles. Where they lacked faith, not much happened. Miracle-making requires equal partnership where both parties show up, equally ready, willing and able to do their part (Matthew 13:58).

I want to let you in on a little secret: Jesus never intended to keep his wonder-working, miracle- making power to himself. Again and again, Jesus invited his disciples and apostles into this realm. Now he invites you. Jesus wants you to dream like him, to claim authority like him and exercise agency like him. Your fears are getting in the way of the divine calling.

You are invited into the unity of God and Jesus, to be one with God, and one with Jesus. You do that by matching God’s faith in you with your own faith in God, and in yourself. While you won’t have the same unwavering purity of faith or depth of belief in God or yourself that God has in you, you can rise to much greater faith.

Maybe humility, at least as we have defined it, isn’t what the church or the Kingdom needs right now.

Adapted from Dream Like Jesus: Deepen Your Faith and Bring the Impossible to Life, by Rebekah Simon-Peter, now available online. 

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