How to Avoid Pastoral Arrogance

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

In this video, Tim Keller gives advice on how to ensure that seminary doesn’t inflate your ego.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

A person right out of seminary very often has just received lots and lots of new knowledge and pretty quickly finds themselves talking to people in their church or people around them who have much more naive and simplistic views of things. So you may begin to get somewhat arrogant even if you don’t express it on the outside; it’s pretty easy. Even if you’re smart enough not to look arrogant, it can be that inside your eyes are rolling when you hear people talk.
I think there are two things that knock that smirk off your ego’s face. One is lots of pastoral experience. That is, really getting involved with people who’ve got problems and seeing how hard it is for them to get better. Seeing not so much the limits of your knowledge but that though you know it well enough to get an A or B in a course you really do not quite know how to communicate and apply it. So in some ways you realize, “I know all this stuff but in a lot of ways I don’t know how to use it and how to apply it.” And so lots of pastoral experience will humble you.
I think the second thing is you need to be talking to people outside of your theological tribe. Because when you talk to other people who are smart and they don’t have your view on things and you try to interact with them, you will come to say “No, I don’t know my stuff as well as I thought.” Or “I’m a little more smug about my positions, and I realize there is another view of that.” And so talking to people outside your theological tribe and lots of pastoral experience will probably deflate the big head that we tend to have coming out of seminary.