Does a Pastor Struggle with Pride?
by Ken Hinkley

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with pride. As a father, husband, pastor, and one who has a creative mind, I struggle a lot to keep demon Pride under control. He appears in many forms and many places in our lives. Sometimes it is not really a sin, but at other times it can be a real tormenting demon.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being proud of the child you helped bring into the world. There is no harm in feeling good about yourself when you accomplish a major milestone in your life; graduations, weddings, promotions at work, or being recognized by your peers for good work well done are examples of times when pride is allowed as long as it is not used to lord it over others. In such cases, pride gives us the incentive to go on to bigger and better things. God wants us to keep striving to accomplish as much as we can in the time allowed on this earth. That is especially true in ministry, but there are many things that need to be done that influence our world in positive ways that are not directly related to the Lord’s work.

As a father, you know what keeps my pride in check? Seeing that child that I invested so much of myself in for eighteen years or more loving, guiding, counseling, and “training in righteousness,” only to see him/her years later not caring about the things of God and pursuing a material lifestyle. Was I not a good father? Did I not instill in them knowledge of the Lord Jesus and insist that they go to worship with our family every week? Seeing the current situation makes me feel like I have nothing to brag about in the parenting field. I hear members of the church brag about their children and telling of their accomplishments. The neighbors show us pictures of grandchildren who are meeting life goals. Other pastors brag about how their sons or daughters are serving in ministry somewhere. It seems that other parents have done quite well. Why are my children not following the Lord? I wonder if my pride would be elevated should they, as my offspring, become doctors, lawyers, or evangelists. No doubt it would be, and that would be a trap into which I would easily fall.

Seeking recognition is a strong temptation for most pastors. If every pastor is honest with himself, he would have to admit that he would love it if his parishioners sent him gifts and cards during Pastor Appreciation Month or any time throughout the year. We want more than just “That was a great sermon” on Sunday.

We would also like to think that our influence goes beyond the four walls of our worship center. We have a message of hope, redemption, and salvation that the world needs to hear, and in this age of technology, why should our messages be confined to the few who hear it at our assemblies? It would be so wonderful, we reason, if someone who has the skills would post our sermons on the internet through social media or in other ways. Some churches have their web sites on which the pastor’s sermons are uploaded for visitors to listen to or watch. We feel really good about having OUR messages available to the world around us. We have a little taste of being a celebrity. We love to be recognized by people who meet us at the store and have them tell us how much they love what we have to share. We get a lift from the notes and messages left on the web page or the social media link. Pride convinces us that it is a good thing to influence our sphere of contacts positively.

This is where we have to be very careful. The demon could convince us that we are indispensable or the best thing that ever came along, and everyone should jump on the bandwagon to give us the applause and support we seek. Serving in humility is very difficult when we listen to the voices that shout our praises. Yet humility is the hallmark of a godly servant. Pride and arrogance seem to be in evidence in far too many preaching encounters. The audience gets the impression that this guy has all the answers. In his presentation, there are hints of superiority that reveal his true motive: applause. Jesus said that if the praise of men is what we seek, it would be the extent of our reward. (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16)

On the other hand, you may encounter that persistent parishioner who challenges you on almost every point you try to make. He debates the statistics, the historical facts, or some other moot point just to ‘prove’ that you are not quite as scholarly as you seem. It is that kind of guy or gal that keeps you humble. You already know you don’t know everything. Now the evidence is out there, and you have to face it.

Pride comes so easily, so naturally. Humility is a struggle. We fight against our natural selves to remain humble before God and others. That is a fight we cannot win unless we have submitted our lives and our ministries into the care of the One whom we serve. The battle is not ours, but the Lord’s once we have surrendered everything to Him. At the same time, it is a battle that needs to be fought daily. We cannot escape the temptations that come to us to show off our intelligence or our skills. We embrace opportunities to make ourselves feel good in personal matters, both small and great. So, the fight goes on. It is hard to be humble when there is so much to be proud of. We should be glad for the ones that keep us humble.

Micah tells us that one of the basic things the Lord requires of us (especially those in pastoral or evangelistic ministry) is to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) There should be no hint of pride in what we do. If attendance increases, praise the Lord. If someone tells you that he has learned so much because of your teaching, praise the Lord. Each soul saved, each new person becoming a member, all those who have grown closer to the Lord are reasons to give God the glory. It is He working through you that makes the difference. We must learn to see ourselves as servants, not the masters of our churches or ministries. Who had more to brag about than the Apostle Paul? He was perhaps the most effective evangelist and church planter in all of history, yet he saw himself simply as a forgiven sinner (1 Tim. 1:15).

When I look in the bathroom mirror on a Sunday morning in preparation for the day’s activities, what do I see? Do I see a man who has accomplished much or an unworthy servant doing what God has asked him to do? Do I pat myself on the back for where we are now as a ministry, or do I praise God for all He has done? I would like to think that I am humble, but as someone once said,” The moment you think you are humble, you are not.”

Now we can’t avoid hearing or receiving the accolades of others. If we are meeting our responsibilities well, people are going to respond. They will want to show their appreciation. They do this in many and different ways. I have many trinkets, thank you notes, and other memorabilia that people have given me over the years. I expect you do too. I appreciate every one of them for the sentiment behind the gift. It makes me feel good to know that God has used me in some small way to bless another human in his/her walk with God. But what do we do with those tokens of appreciation?

I have seen some church or ministry offices decorated with such things to the point where it was hard to tell the paint color. Every plaque, certificate, paper, or note was hung somewhere so the officeholder could see them every hour they were in that office. Until recently, I had several such things on my walls as well. When I rearranged my office recently, I chose not to put them all back. I want the Lord to speak to me, not my accomplishments. I went from a dozen or so down to three. The rest are packed away somewhere.

When people give such gifts, the humble pastor will accept it as coming from God through the individual or group. It is one way He affirms our calling. If we received no confirmation at all, we might fall into the same kind of depression as Elijah, who thought he was alone in serving the Lord in a thankless task. It is how we handle the applause that matters. In this, as well as in all things, we should be pointing people to Christ. “It is not I, but the Lord” is a motto we must repeat over and over again until it is embedded in our habitual speech. Saying that should be as automatic as “Good morning” or “Good night.”

One final thought. Pride never dies, nor is it ever defeated. It always hangs around to watch for the smallest opportunity to raise its ugly head. Be aware. Satan wants to trip you up and make you fall. But if you and I are already on our knees before our great God asking Him to guide us as we serve, we cannot fall very far. Even then, our good God is ready to forgive and to pick us up so that we may serve Him yet another day.