WARNING! Pride Ahead





Take it from me, the road to ungodly pride is a bad one. If you see any of these FIVE SIGNPOSTS outlined here, turn around ... before it's too late.
First Peter 5:5 instructs us to be "clothed with humility." The same verse goes on to say, "for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble'" (NKJV). The last thing any Christian leader would want is for God to resist or stand against us. Therefore, we must, at all costs, avoid pride.

The road to ungodly pride is a bad road. If you find yourself following any of the five signposts outlined below, please turn around. Renew your mind before it is too late. God is characterized by tolerance and patience--to a point. But if you pass that point, He may well decide to step in and humble you. If He ever does, it promises to be a very sad day!

The best way to avoid this is to recognize the symptoms of pride as soon as they begin to appear. That is why it is essential to become familiar with these signposts of approaching pride.

YEARNING FOR PRAISE AND HUMAN ACCOLADES. Being the object of praise does not necessarily cause pride. But yearning for praise can very rapidly lead to pride. One way to avoid this is to acknowledge praise but not to enjoy it too much. It helps if we can develop a mind-set that will, at least initially, attribute most praise to either a formality of protocol or to a good-hearted effort on the part of someone to make you like them or to set you up for a favor. Pastors who believe everything that parishioners tell them as they shake hands at the church door after a Sunday sermon are living with something other than a realistic mind-set.

A potential magnet of pride is what some people have called "ego walls." It begins when a person has his first picture taken with a Christian celebrity. He frames the picture and hangs it on the wall. Then he begins to yearn for other celebrity photographs to hang there with it--before long his ego wall is born.

These pictures, understandably, have a sentimental value. It is fun for him to remember those high points of life. But in my opinion these photographs would do better in an album tucked into some shelf, not displayed on a wall.

I frequently get requests for letters of praise or videotapes congratulating leaders who are celebrating anniversaries of ordination, pastoring a certain church or founding a ministry. This is a game that I personally do not like to play because I see a big difference between solicited praise and unsolicited praise.

The lust for titles can be a symptom of pride. Some people hold titles as a prized possession, and they are a bit offended when the desired term--"doctor," "bishop," "pastor" or "apostle"--is not used. This is often the case among individuals who are insecure and who attempt, through insisting on titles, to build a self-assuring case of superiority.

Keeping score. I am sorry to admit that this is a signpost to pride that has popped up in my own life many times. It appeared when a book by David and Heather Kopp called Praying for the World's 365 Most Influential People was released in 1999.

My pride did not lie in appearing in the book--I wondered how I even got in there. But then I started making mental lists of Christian leaders who were not in the book. I found myself especially enjoying the fact that my most outspoken critics were not listed! Pride and superiority were making me feel good!

Now I do not even have a copy of that book in my library. For me to have that book would be like a person with a sexual addiction having a copy of Playboy. I do not want anything to do with it!

Keeping score does not apply to a healthy process of measuring progress toward a goal. If you have determined to reduce your golf score by four strokes or if you need to lose 35 pounds, naturally you count. I do not think monitoring this kind of progress is pride, but the minute we begin comparing what we've accomplished with others, that would be keeping score.

CULTIVATING A CREATOR COMPLEX. We know we have a creator complex when we begin to evaluate the lives and ministries of other people and compare them to who we are and what we do. To the degree that they do things differently, we tend to regard them as inferior. Then we try to change them and to make them over in our own image.

Just as I am susceptible to keeping score, I have learned through the years that I am also very susceptible to the creator complex. One friend, for example, seemed to me to be taking too much time writing a book and not paying enough attention to an important assignment that I had contracted with him to do. I was irritated, and I made the mistake of informing him that it did not take me nearly as long to write a book.

He looked back at me and replied, "How can you expect me to write books like you?" Fortunately, I immediately recognized the creator-complex signpost and I apologized on the spot. But I know I continue to be vulnerable in this area.

I have found there is a very fine line between fulfilling my responsibility as a leader, a teacher, a mentor and a role model on the one hand and succumbing to a creator complex on the other. Part of me wants to be like the apostle Paul and authentically say "imitate me" (1 Cor. 4:16) to those under my spiritual leadership.

A role model is just that--a personal example for others to follow if they choose to do so. That is what "imitate me" means. But the creator complex kicks in when we go on from there and begin to evaluate the worth and dignity of an individual by how closely they match our own examples. This turns a suggestion or an admonition into coercion and manipulation, and the line has been crossed to the creator complex.

REJOICING IN OTHERS' FAILURES AND RESENTING OTHERS' SUCCESSES. Who hasn't experienced the temptation of rejoicing in others' failures and resenting others' successes?

The soil that nourishes this root of pride is carnal competition. Having noted this, let's admit that there are certainly many areas of normal life where competition is healthy, meaning that competition in and of itself is not necessarily bad.

However, among Christian leaders, personal competition is wrong. This is where competition can become carnal. The biblical teaching that the eye cannot say to the hand " 'I have no need of you'" (1 Cor. 12:21) is a blanket prohibition of competition.

Are there any pastors who feel good when another church in town undergoes a disagreeable split? Are there ministry leaders who secretly enjoy the news that a similar ministry is having financial problems and cannot meet payroll? Unfortunately, you and I both know it is not unusual for pastors and ministry leaders to harbor such feelings.

Do you find yourself getting irritated when someone else receives a tremendous blessing? If you do, take it as someone waving signpost No. 4 in front of you, and turn around.

Here is how Andrew Murray put it in his book Humility: "The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God's presence he has learned to say with Paul, 'I am nothing'" (2 Cor. 12:11, NKJV).

COMPULSIVELY DEFENDING YOURSELF AGAINST CRITICISM. One obvious signpost along the road to pride has to do with the way we react to criticism. By definition, criticism is emotionally distressing. The natural response to criticism is to fight back. When critics say that we are wrong, we then feel obligated to prove that we are right.

When we do this, we attempt to make ourselves look good by proving that our accusers are wrong. When we take that approach, even if we succeed, there are no winners. We both lose.

It is much better to let the critics have their say. For starters, we should leave an opening in our minds for the possibility that they may be right. This may take time. When we first hear the criticism, we may be too upset to absorb it. But we should always process it over time before deciding whether the criticism is justified or not. If it is, we should not hesitate to admit it and thank our critics for helping us think better. If the criticism is unjustified, why not just move on with life and pray that God will bless the critic?

I like Murray's advice on this matter. He writes: "Let us look on every brother or sister who tries or vexes us as God's means of grace. Let us look on him or her as God's instrument for our purification."

I sum up my thoughts with this loving, if firm, warning: Whenever you see one of the above signposts marking the road to pride, turn around and go the other way. You will be better off for it. Please do not wait until it is too late!


Hallmarks of Humility

Following these 10 signposts will keep you away from the destructive road of pride and lead you toward the type of humility God can bless.

1. Adhering to the biblical rules for submission. It is a sad fact that in today's society, submission has almost become a countercultural notion. The Bible teaches that every one of us has a duty to be submissive. Humble people willingly submit to those whom God has put in authority over them.

2. Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit in your daily life. Being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a continuous condition, not an occasional experience. When your life is characterized by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, meekness (humility), self-control or the like, God gets the credit, not you.

3. Discovering your spiritual gifts. In Romans 12:3, the Bible instructs us to think soberly of ourselves, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. We are all members of the body of Christ and that we all have our own God-given spiritual gifts. Other saints might not be as good at something as you are, but they might evangelize better, be more hospitable or preach more.

4. Knowing your place in the body. It is just as important to know what spiritual gifts you don't have as it is to know what spiritual gifts you do have. You must be humble enough to admit that you cannot do it all and that you are incomplete without others.

5. Knowing your weaknesses. If you are humble, you will readily admit there are many things you do not know. You must be very free to admit your weaknesses, lack of knowledge, inexperience and shortcomings. Always make others feel that they are teaching you new things, and get excited about it.

6. Daring to be realistic about your successes and failures. Some Christians imagine that if they claim

resounding success at any task, it would be seen as pride. On the other hand, they fear that if they admit they truly bombed on some other task, it would be questioning the power of God. Both of these extremes should be avoided. Bottom line: You win some, and you lose some.

7. Taking risks. Deep within the nature of a risk is the possibility of failure. Humble people are willing to take risks because they are willing to lose. They know there is a crucial difference between losing and being a loser.

8. Accepting praise but rejecting flattery. If you truly accomplish something significant in life and are praised for it, you should receive the praise with dignity. Refusing to accept legitimate praise is not a sign of humility; it is a sign of insecurity. But be aware of self-serving, insincere flattery. It is deceptive. Humble people will politely reject such flattery.

9. Avoiding living in the achievements of the past. Learn a lesson from the 1930s radio show character, the Lone Ranger. He illustrated that it is not too important who knows your name or who associates it with accomplishments of the past, no matter how heroic. After the successful event, the most important thing was to focus on helping the next person in trouble.

10. Having the ability to pass on your glory to others. Esteeming others better than yourself is not easy, even if you decide that you want to do it. It is an essential step, however, if you are on the road to humility and if you want to arrive. You must give credit when credit is due. If you err, it is better to err on the side of giving too much credit to others, as long as it is not phony. Never resent others getting public acclaim for something in which you might have had a part in making happen. If you feel you have been slighted, keep your feelings to yourself.


C. Peter Wagner is chancellor of the Wagner Leadership Institute and president of Global Harvest Ministries. He is a renowned author of books on a variety of subjects, including missions, church growth, prayer and apostolic ministries.

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