Every author knows the joy of holding that first copy of their new book. It’s not quite the same as holding your first baby at birth, but it’s thrilling. In 2011, I had just received my first copy of Gospel-Powered Humility. It had been a lot of work. I was excited, so I called my editor, expressed my joy, and ended the conversation saying I hoped it would sell.
“Bill, I don’t want you to get too excited. This book will probably sell very slowly.”
“How come?” I asked.
“People buy books based on felt need,” he said. “You have written a good book, and we published it because we believe in it, but nobody has a felt need for humility. Everyone already thinks they are humble.”
He was right. Pride is a set of spiritual blindfolds we’re born with. They blind us to the spiritual world and our real relationship to it. Pride keeps us from seeing our own sin—especially pride. That’s why a proud person can genuinely think they are humble.
The first thing a person growing in humility sees and hates is their pride.
What, then, does humility do? It slowly removes the blinders. Humility is the growing ability to see God as he really is and myself as I really am—and the first thing a person growing in humility sees and hates is their pride. This is the only kind of person motivated to pursue resources on humility.
The humble Christian sees their pride and hates it, but the proud believer is convinced he or she is already humble. They have little need for books or articles on humility.
Essential Pastoral Virtue
This is why Scripture so often commends humility: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5). And this elusive virtue is especially important for pastors. Why? Because pastors pursuing humility will produce churches pursuing humility. It’s an oxymoron to think proud elders will produce a humble flock. It doesn’t work that way.
The pursuit of humility matters because it’s the seedbed for all other spiritual fruits—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” (Gal. 5:22–23). Envision the first three: love, joy, and peace. Members go out to others in love. They are joyful. You can feel it when you enter the sanctuary on Sunday morning. The congregation is at peace. The pride that sparks strife and contention is markedly absent.
Humble pastors produce humble flocks, and humble congregations bear healthy fruit. Therefore, humility is a critical pastoral virtue.
Growing in Humility
Since pride is spiritual blindness, and we are all born in this condition, how can we grow in humility—especially those of us who serve as pastors or elders?
Ultimately, humility is not a fruit we can paste onto our spiritual tree. It grows and ripens slowly, much slower than we would like. It’s a lifetime project. Real humility is a byproduct of the Spirit’s work. It is a gift. We get it by reading God’s Word, confessing our pride—even when we don’t see it—and asking God for the spiritual illumination that makes him big and us small.
We also get humility by persevering through failure. Peter wasn’t usable until he’d passed through the failure of denying Jesus three times (John 21:15ff).
Above all, we get humility by looking to Christ: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). What is Christ’s image? Humility incarnate. And Calvary was its culmination: “He humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Watch Christ. Fix your gaze on him, and you can’t help but grow in humility.
11 Diagnostic Questions
If you are a pastor or elder, here’s an additional tool that will help you advance toward humility, but it will take courage. First, read these questions to your spouse and ask for her critique. Listen carefully and don’t defend yourself. If she’s honest, it may hurt.
Then ask your fellow elders these same questions. Put them on an anonymous worksheet. Ask the brothers to score each question with a number from 0 to 10, with 10 signifying humility and 0 signifying pride. Don’t respond to their critique. Just listen and pray for God’s grace to grow in humility.
- When confronted, do I immediately suspect you are right, or do I rush to defend myself?
- Do you feel free to correct me, or because you fear my reaction, are you unwilling to be honest with me?
- When in a disagreement, am I better at listening or talking?
- During elders’ discussions, am I better at yielding or demanding?
- When I make a mistake, am I better at asking forgiveness or doubling down in self-justification?
- Do I find it easier to talk about my weaknesses or my strengths?
- During elders’ meetings, am I often unnecessarily critical of others, or do I speak graciously?
- Do I habitually consider the needs of other elders and this church as more important than my own?
- Am I contentious and argumentative about things that don’t matter?
- From watching and knowing me, do you think I find my identity in my knowledge and spiritual gifts, or my membership in God’s family?
- Do I seem to find it easy or difficult to trust others enough to delegate to them?
If you’re thinking, I wish so and so would read this, it may be a sign you have blinders on.
Again, humble pastors produce humble congregations, and humble congregations are fruitful. Humility, therefore, is a vital virtue for all called to lead the body of Christ. Let’s pursue it, together, for his glory.