Humility in Leadership

The ManSeveral years ago I remember hearing someone describe scripture as being like a polished diamond: you can gaze upon a diamond and see the light do amazing things and then with a slight turn, you see something completely new through another facet.

As I continue to dive into the Old Testament for my summer semester class, I continue to be amazed by how a fresh reading of familiar scripture reveals things that I had never realized before. In my most recent class period, there seemed to be a theme to what caught my eye: pride.

Doing it My Way

As we walked through Genesis 12, the story of Abram’s calling and the events immediately following seemed to click in a new way for me, let’s start with his calling:

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

This is a pretty significant moment in Abram’s life… God has promised to do great things for him.

And then, immediately following this experience, he begins to take his future back into his own hands:

 10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

What surprises me about this interaction is not that Abram took matters into his own hands, he has a history of doing such things (just ask Hagar or Abimelek, or see how he passed the habit along to his son). The surprise for me is how quickly he forgets that the Lord just promised him great things, before he came to the realization that his plan is better than whatever God might be planning.

 It is incredibly easy for me to cast judgement here, condemning Abram’s arrogance and forgetfulness… except that I know I am guilty too.

Making a Name for Ourselves

Later in our discussion we came to the Tower of Babel:

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

As our discussion unfolded, I found myself returning to verse four: so that we may make a name for ourselves.

The tower was not about benefitting others, it was not about worshipping our creator, it was about self-promotion… and that’s where the trouble began.

It is incredibly easy for me to cast judgement here, condemning the arrogance and vainglory of the builders… except that I know I am guilty too.

Humility in Leadership

A while back Aaron Armstrong shared a conversation he had about a quickly growing church in the area:

I was speaking with one of our pastors Sunday morning and a church in the Toronto area came up in our discussion. The first question my pastor asked hit me like a ton of bricks:

“Is the senior pastor humble?”

Not “is he a good preacher,” or “how many people attend the church,” or any other metric oriented question you could imagine.

Just, “Is he humble?”

Aaron’s point is spot on.

Over the last several years I have had the incredible opportunity to coach, work with, and observe some phenomenal church leaders, doing amazing things. What I have come to notice is that the most humble leaders are the strongest leaders.

Why? Because they are not building their own kingdom in their own way… they are allowing God to build His Kingdom through them.

These are by no means perfect people, but they fully engaged in their own discipleship journey, desiring to become more like their Saviour on a daily basis.

How do YOU stay humble?

For more thoughts on humility, check out John Dickson’s book Humilitas, Bob Logan’s thoughts on pride and listeningTJ Addington on organizational pride, and Ken and Scott Blanchard on keeping our egos in check.

Also, check out my friend Jessica’s thoughts as she blogs through our classroom experience as well.



About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through MinistryBriefing.com and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.