Leadership writing #3 Humility
In this 3rd writing I want to take on a topic of personal importance to me, and a potentially huge landmine in Godly leadership: humility. Humility is one of those things we give much lip service to and pretend that is important and highly valued, but struggle to truly live out. Let’s face it, we can be pretty selfish and self-absorbed most of the time! Greek mythology gives us a term for it, “narcissistic,” derived from the story of a homosexual teenager who spurned all his male suitors’ advances and fell in love with his own reflection until he eventually committed suicide. Hmmm, self-absorbed pride comes with some issues…. Our problems come when we have an inflated view of ourselves, what we deserve or are owed, and the types of work or service we should be engaged in. Pride is at the root of much our own personal sin and the reason for Satan’s expulsion from heaven as he sought to supplant God. Beyond blatant pride issues is the issue of false humility. In our minds we know we should be humble, but our hearts don’t always follow suit. We act humble, because we know we’re supposed to, but inside the pride is there and affecting our thinking and interactions with others.
Humility in the leader can be difficult. There is no doubt about that. In a place of leadership you have people looking to you for direction, guidance and inspiration. While these are noble pursuits and rightly sought by those that you may be leading, if improperly pursued or sought by the leader, pride begins to raise its head in our lives. As a leader you are naturally out front, our pride likes to be out front! It can be a dangerous slope if we do not keep our focus on Jesus and His incredible example of humility. At the same time, a fear of pride taking root in our lives should not grow inside of us and keep us from moving into the places of leadership God may be calling us into. Below I’ve listed 5 thoughts on humility, I hope they’ll guide you into a place of true humility as a servant-leader.
You know yourself better than anyone. Even those that are bound tightly by pride and arrogance know the truth of where they are inside. Examine your life. Do you seek an inappropriate amount of attention from others? Do you need everyone to know what you have done, are doing or will be doing (have you ever been prideful of something you haven’t even done yet?! No comment from the author on that one!). Do you push back when asked to do something that you feel is “beneath you?” Do you look at yourself in every mirror or reflective window you pass by? That last one was kind of a joke, but not really….
What’s the verdict when you self-evaluate? Are there areas in your life where pride is taking hold? Here’s the next part, and this one’s tough: if you know God is calling you to a place of leadership, in a big-way or in a small-way, prepare to be broken. God wants to clean the pride out of your life. He will accomplish His plans one way or the other, as good as you may think you are, He’s better and can accomplish His plans without you. That’s humbling in itself. As He prepares you for the next step in life, He cares much more about you than the task ahead. He desires to see the pride cleaned out of you, and for most of us that is a painful extraction, because God is not a big fan of anesthesia (Gen. 3:16, although I think epidurals are part of the redemption, but that’s for another time)! Moses, a prince of Egypt, was broken. Jonah, a man of God was broken. David, a man after God’s own heart, was broken. Peter, the foundation of the Church, was broken. Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament, was broken. We’re in good company. After leaving Southern California to come to Charlotte to start Ephesus, I was broken. I’ve struggled with pride my whole life and brought that arrogance with me. God didn’t need me to take Charlotte by storm in the Fall of 2005, He much more preferred to begin a season of humility and brokenness in my life. It was painful, at times frustrating, but absolutely necessary. I’ve not fully arrived, and still struggle sometimes, but God is working in me as I pursue Him and honestly evaluate my own life and heart.
2. Humility requires regular repentance
I can sometimes be accused of talking about sin too much. I do bring it up often, but it’s a constant reminder that we’re not all we think we’re cracked up to be. We’re sinners. We’re prideful folks. This can be especially true as we pursue leadership, as I mentioned above. Being reminded of my sin is not a downer for me, it’s a reminder to me to be humble. Without Jesus, I’m truly going nowhere. Now, this is not a reason to wallow in self-pity and emotional tear-jerking, it should be a catalyst to repent, live humbly and pursue Jesus. Looking at the perfect life of Jesus should be a constant reminder of our station in the grand scheme of eternity and keep us pretty humble.
3. “No excuse sir!”
Many of you know that I spent a very short time at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Coming out of high school the only thing on my mind was flying planes for the Navy, becoming a naval aviator. It’s a grueling process to get accepted to the Naval Academy and once there you’re quickly humbled merely by the fact that everyone else in your class is probably better than you in most ways! I had grown up with a bit of a chip on my shoulder because people gave me attention. I had developed this attitude that I deserved it, and also developed a bad habit of making excuses for not doing everything perfect all the time. There was always an excuse. At the Naval Academy, as well as West Point and the Air Force Academy, you’re taught, that as a Plebe, you only have 4 responses available to you when addressed by a superior officer: “Yes sir/ma’am,” “no sir/ma’am,” “I’ll found out sir/ma’am,” and my favorite, “no excuse sir/ma’am.” That last one taught me the most. Now, while I was accepted to the Naval Academy, reported for duty and was sworn into the Navy as a Midshipman 4th Class, I only stayed there for 30 days. Very quickly after my arrival I realized this was not where God wanted me to be. I have the utmost respect for everyone who attends a service academy and for those who serve our nation, but God had other plans for my life. Not only was I only there one month, but this was 15 years ago. But in that one month, 15 years ago, I was taught an incredible lesson in humility: “no excuse sir.” As I said, I was good at making excuses. I was prideful and arrogant and could do no wrong. But in the halls of Bancroft Hall I learned to take responsibility for my screw-ups and failures. Officers and upperclassmen didn’t want to hear excuses, as great as they may have been; they wanted to hear responsibility. Taking responsibility for our actions is humbling, but crucial to the successful leader. Humility means owning up to what your responsible for. No matter what. You may have a great reason something didn’t happen the way it should, but ultimately the leader is still responsible. The humble leader takes the responsibility and makes no excuses.
Somewhere in our wiring is a penchant for position and title. For some reason we like to have titles, an impressive resume and an excuse to not do certain things that are “below us.” This is pride. Jesus, the greatest leader to ever walk on Earth exemplified servant-hood in the entirety of His life. Nothing and no one was beneath Him. In John 13 we see the example of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. This wasn’t just a nice gesture because their sandals had gotten funky, it was a service provided by only the lowest servants. This is for obvious reasons, who wants to wash feet? Feet are gross. Not only that, but everyone would have been wearing open sandals walking on dirt roads and paths covered in all manner of refuse and animal waste. Yet here is the Son of God, who very shortly will be giving His life for all mankind, washing feet. Jesus says in John 13:13-14, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Last fall, I had the tremendous opportunity to spend some time at New Hope Church in Hawaii. While I was there I learned the story of two of the pastors there. One is a former judge, the other a former convict. Interestingly, the former convict was sentenced to prison by the former judge for drug-related crimes! Upon his release from prison the ex-convict came to New Hope searching for a new direction in life. While he had been in prison, the judge had started a new relationship with Jesus through the ministry of New Hope. When the former drug dealer went into the bathroom prior to the service he saw the judge who had sentenced him cleaning the toilets. This extreme act of servant-hood prompted this former inmate to pursue Jesus. Now they serve together as pastors at New Hope, both pursuing new careers from very different backgrounds.
5. Humility leads to teachability
John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Being teachable throughout life is a mark of humility. Too often we falsely pretend to know WAY more than we actually do. In my years as a youth pastor one of the most frustrating phrases I heard teenagers utter was, “I know.” 99.9% they said this after being shown quite obviously that they didn’t know! When we are leaders we can have a tendency to think we have to put on the act that we do know everything we’re supposed to know. We have false pride in thinking “we have arrived.” There is a great book on leadership that comes from an interesting place. Ender’s Game is a very popular science fiction story about a young boy raised up and trained to lead mankind in the defense against an alien invasion. I know compelling stuff! But in truth, this is just a great book whether you’re a sci-fi fan or not. One of the aspects of this book that make it great is the look at leadership. The protagonist, Ender Wiggin, is always striving to learn from anyone he can. He’s shown to be a tremendous leader, but he is always open to learning from whomever he can no matter their station. When we stop learning, we stop growing and eventually we’ll stop leading. Acknowledge, humbly, that there is much for you to learn and never stop being teachable.
Break it down:
1. How do you react to your mistakes?
2. Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Why/why not?
3. Where do you need some humility?