Cultivating Pastoral Humility and Brokenness

Pride, self-promotion, self-admiration, and narcissism. These are traits that we enter into rather swimmingly. While it would be nice to say that these characteristics do not find expression in my own ministerial ranks, such is not the case. And while I’d love to say I don’t see them in my own heart and life, only pride would keep me from being honest.

Pride is endemic to the human race. I don’t need to belabor that point. We know it is within all of us. But social media has brought it out even more. Just yesterday Pastor J. R. Vassar tweeted out, “If not for social media, more pastors would be content with their small but significant influence over a local congregation & community.” Again, we probably know this intuitively. Nevertheless I felt compelled to write this blog because I keep wondering: As pastors, does our social media presence foster humility, brokenness, and vulnerability? Or does it serve to boost our egos, platform (I hate that word), or sense of competence?

I’m suggesting, then, that we pastors seek to cultivate the virtues of humility and brokenness.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, humility is not a pretty girl trying to convince everyone she’s ugly, and it’s not an intelligent man trying to convince everyone he’s stupid. Instead, as Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) wrote, “Humility consists in a realistic opinion of yourself, namely, that you are an unworthy person.”

How can we foster humility? In his essay, Taylor gives nineteen (that’s right, nineteen) suggestions. His fourth is to seek to do good things in secret: “Nurture a love to do good things in secret, concealed from the eyes of others, and therefore not highly esteemed because of them. Be content to go without praise, never being slighted when someone has slighted or undervalued you.”

What about brokenness? I think Nancy Leigh DeMoss is on to something when she defines brokenness as “the shattering of my self-will—the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying ‘Yes, Lord!’—no resistance, no chafing, no stubbornness—simply submitting myself to His direction in my life.” How does this relate to ministry? In this way: Remember that Satan said to God, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9). In other words, Satan intimated that the only reason Job served God was because he was getting something out of it. As pastors, we ought to ask ourselves: Am I serving to get something out of this—some applause from people? Am I using my people, the church, in order to justify my existence? Do I need this in order to feel like I matter? Would I still study and prepare as hard on my sermons if only ten people showed up?

We need to offer our lives wholly and completely to the Lord.

If we’re to foster this kind of humility and brokenness I’m calling for, it will require reflection. We’ll need to take some time and consider what’s going on in our hearts. There’s no way around this. Keith Anderson and Randy Reese write, “Spiritual formation requires an intention to live the examined life, the reflective life, a life that alertly seeks the presence of God in everything.”

The foregoing may seem like a rant. I don’t write it with that intention. Our forefathers in the faith referred to the pastoral vocation as “the sacred office,” and the pulpit as “the sacred desk.” My desire is for pastors to recover that kind of understanding.

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