Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tools for Transformation I: Humility


We want to focus our conversations on spiritual formation, and try to get down to some practicals and some specifics. To start, then, let's ask, What is humility--what does it actually look like, how does it "work" for you in practice? And as we "practice" humility, how does God's Spirit work to make us more like Jesus? Let's keep it as real as we can, even if that means discussing more of our failures than successes!



(IMAGE: Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

52 comments:

steve H said...

Can one be humble and proud of it?

Brian Emmet said...

Well, no... but that doesn't mean we can't share some things we've learned, and how we learned 'em.

Brian Emmet said...

Things may quiet down here over the weekend, as a number of us will be at ACM/Columbus... but that might give some of us less assertive types a first shot at getting this ball rolling.

John M. said...

I heard about the guy who was so humble that was so humble that his friends got him a pin to recognize his humilty... he was so proud of the pin that he wore it and lost his humility!

I know a guy whose name is "Humble". Does that give him a bye in this thread? I figure he can just sit this one out and come in on the next one.

smokin joe said...

Regarding humility: It is the kind of thing that if you think you have it, you probably don’t.

For most of the first half of my life, I struggled mightily with insecurity and a personal sense of inadequacy, roughly until my middle thirties. I gradually developed a greater sense of confidence as I got involved in ministry and public speaking. Sadly, insecurity was not humility, it was like ‘insecure pride’. It tended to make me rather narcissistic in a way that imitated humility but in reality I was highly concerned with myself, and with how other people viewed me. It was unfortunate because it influenced everything I did in ministry and my motivations for ministry. Although there were genuine things that God called us to do that have stood the test of time, many things that where generated out of my own initiative and my own need for attention and affirmation … those things have not lasted. If I could go back and do one thing differently, I would have worked with more intentionality on my interior life – the kingdom of God is within you – and I would have sought the ‘salvation’ that includes inner wholeness, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

However, it is possible that only through active ministry would I have been able to come to my current awareness of my inner twistedness and gratitude for God’s saving grace. My own personal failures along the way in ministry and in my family life have humbled me and have pointed out my own weakness and failure, and motivated me in this sozo journey to wholeness.

This is vitally important for every follower of Christ and especially every spiritual leader; those who accept the call to teach incur a greater level of responsibility. There is a direct proportional relationship between humility and grace, pride and divine resistance. God gives grace to the humble.

Launching out to serve God will inevitably lead us to places of weakness and limitation that will humble us. Choosing to serve others when it is not convenient for us (very hard for me) will humble us. Choosing silence when we think we have something important to say will humble us. Choosing to let others lead, to let others have the spotlight when we think we could do it better will humble us. Acknowledging that our opinions are not all that important or significant, even when we know we are right will humble us. Learning to wait on God when we are strong initiators will humble us. The only way to find true exaltation and affirmation from God is to humble ourselves under his mighty hand and wait on his ‘proper time.’

Ultimately sickness and death humbles us. When we realize the fleeting nature of life … that we are like a breath or grass that withers and dies and that our life is over in a flash and only has significance in eternity humbles us.

steve H said...

I believe humility is quite well pictured in Jesus' words "Blessed are the poor in spirit....

Dallas Willard pointed out (in "The Divine Conspiracy") that the crowds of demonized, sick, and needy people who had come for healing were those "poor in spirit"; it was to such as these that Jesus opened His kingdom where they could find healing, healing of areas even deeper than these evident issues.

In 1977 I was hired to be a servant of an elder in a large Christian community to which God had joined me (That's a whole God-story in itself.) One morning "out of the clear blue sky" God gave me a great sermon -- a pure gift, no study involved, just unexpected fresh insight. I assumed the Lord had given it to me so that I could preach it at a large gathering to be held that night, a gathering for which I knew there was not yet a scheduled speaker. I was excited by the word God gave me, but also at the prospect of preaching since I had not preached for quite a long time and never within that Christian community.

To my shock Hal decided to preach "my" sermon -- the word the Lord had given to me. I kept a straight (stiff) face and clamped my mouth shut, but it was like getting a belly punch when Hal said, "This is really good; I'm going to preach it tonight." It was even worse to sit there listening to him preach "my sermon" that evening. And worse yet both then and throughout the a sleepless night to experience the ugly cauldron of jealousy and anger and frustration that boiled in me because Hal had preached "my sermon.

The next morning as I drove to work, I cried out loud, "God, what do you want from me."

To my surprise he answered (as clearly as if it had been spoken aloud), "I want you to take everything I have given you -- your gifts, your training, your knowledge of Scripture... everything!)and use them to help Hal be the best man of God he can be."

This lesson in humility came as I saw my own wretched selfishness and pride more clearly than I had ever seen it before. And with it came the grace to learn to so love serving Hal. Serving Hal became the greatest work I could imagine over the next months, to the point that, when I was released from being his servant so that I could be trained for eldership, becoming an elder seemed for all the world like a demotion.

John M. said...

I can identify with almost everything Joseph said. Pretty much ditto that.

Pride and insecurity are two sides of the same coin. When I find my total identity, security and confidence in Jesus and not in myself, then I can truly be others-centered and not so self-focused.

Bob Mumford used to say that you can "become a Pharisee overnight". I didn't really understand what he meant, until it happened in me... then I knew exactly what he meant.

Humility is a choice... David said, "I humble my soul [through fasting]". Peter says to "humble yourselves, therefore under God's mighty hand..."

I think humility is a daily choice. Jesus said, "take up your cross daily". Humility is a quality that we can choose, and learn... and it's a quality that we can lose in an instant. Pride is lurking in the wings of our heart, and we must choose to draw out of Jesus' nature in us; to choose have his attitude of humility instead of our attitude of pride and arrogance.

During the last 15 years in the junior high classroom, I have learned to be secure enough to be vulnerable, authentic and much of the time humble with my students.

A class of 25, seventh graders can be very intimidating believe it or not! A need to establish authority by "lording it over" the students, is a sign of insecurity. It is very difficult to care more about the squirmy, noisy, kids in front of you than it is about your own dignity and image.

I'm sure that the same lesson is learned in each of our work-places, ministry opportunities, and families.

Brian Emmet said...

Just checking 9in after getting back from ACM--great to see those of you who were also there, and missed those who weren't able to make it. More on humility later... I know I left my humility around here somewhere...

William said...

Alright...I'm going to take a stab at this...

The past few months in particular, the Lord has been teaching me to depend more and more on Him. He is putting me in situations where I dont really have a choice. One such situation is that He told me to unplug my alarm clock because He is going to wake me up...and He has been faithful. Out of that, He is dealing with me and teaching me about myself, which is always humbling. Just when I think I am becoming a good person, He brings me more into Light and...I have more weaknesses to boast in...to say it St. Paulesque.

Humility is our ability to depend upon God, his grace and strength, throughout the day. In John, Jesus says, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." Finding out how true that is in our lives as we continue to walk with Him will cause us either to humble ourselves or be humbled...and that helps us walk in humility.

We are children. Whether we realize it or not. In our relationship with the Father, the more we know him, the more we will realize our helplessness without Him. Our maturity in that relationship is not greater independence from Him, as it is with our earthly parents, rather it is an ever increasing dependence on Him.

Bruce said...

Moses wrote that "Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth."

I used to think that I had a clue about humility, but right now I'm pretty sure that I don't know that I do. If it's there, I'm unaware of it. It's nice to be around humble people, and a lot of the saints are pretty humble. Maybe it's from hanging out in the rock tumbler of Holy Spirit Sanctification.

I did a little thought experiment and imagined moving to practically anyplace. There, in that new place, would be a bunch of Christians who have a humble spirit, and lots of love. And then, looking at the people in my own church, lo and behold, they are like that too.

smokin joe said...

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616):
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility.

Bama Stephen said...
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Bama Stephen said...

I appreciate Joseph's reminding me about the ongoing discussions here, and this is a very good one. Thanks for all each of you have shared...I'm still digesting the comments.

Too many people equate confidence with pride. This is an accusation that the enemy makes often against leaders. I have often struggled with that boundary between being decisive, clear, and firm versus "being humble." Part of this is because I have worried about whether or not people will think I am humble enough if I am assertive. The irony there is that it is not the decisive leadership that reflects pride, but the worrying about image or what others think that reflects pride.

I can be confident, not in myself, but "in Whom I have believed." Another one: "We rejoice in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." And, "My soul shall make its boast in the Lord." Hebrews 10 tells us not to cast away our confidence. Our confidence, therefore, is not rooted in pride, but in the Lord who has called us and will strengthen us ... even when we stumble.

I believe a great antidote to arrogance is sonship. Learning how to submit to a father or pastor or mentor works humility into our hearts and minds. My Dad often told me, "Pride goes before a fall and a haughty spirit before destruction." Guess why he had to tell me that?

As young men, we need to listen more and talk less ... we must hear and follow our natural and spiritual fathers. As older men and fathers, we need to be humble enough to remember what it was like to be a son, and also that we still "see through a glass darkly" on more things than we'd like to admit.

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks, all, for a thoughtful conversation. In addition to the good contributions so far, here are mine:

As you know, humility comes from the Latin "humus" or soil, dirt, ground. The point is not that we are "dirty", but that the soil is the place where things can grow. So humility means allowing whatever God plants into to me to be nourished and grow in me--connections to the parable of the sower/soils is apparent.

Not original with me, but I've heard that humility means being who you really are in Christ. That's one way to avoid the trap of thiking that "being humble" never means being assertive, or leading clearly, etc.: if those are parts of who you are in Christ, than to walk in humility is to walk in the way God has made you. The part about who you are IN CHRIST saves us from the trap of "That's just the way I am." Humility actually allows me to grow and change.

For a "practice", i.e., a way to "practice humility," I've found it helpful to volunteer for the jobs nobody else wants to do. The interesting thing about that is the way it brings you into contact with "the lowly", the folks who didn't necessarily "volunteer" for those jobs, but instead "have to" do them. So a related "humility practice" is simply to associate with the "lowly."

smokin joe said...

I agree. I cannot imagine anything more important in the development of young leaders.

Henri Nouwen left his teaching position at Harvard to go to L’Arch community in Toronto where he spent time serving mentally handicapped adults.

Brother Lawrence spent his time in the kitchen of a monastic community washing dishes and learned to invite the presence of Jesus into that mundane activity.

The most frequently occurring instruction of Jesus was concerning the importance of serving one another. Jesus’ exhortation that the greatest should be the servant of all occurs eight times in the four gospels. Perhaps Jesus was concerned about the development of humility in the disciples because he knew that they would be channels of great, miraculous power.

Mark 9:35: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."

John the Musician said...

I'll have to chew over the humility subject for a while before I reply to it as, after all, I hardly know the definition. =OP

I did want to ask for some clarification on something Steve wrote earlier however. I've read some of The Divine Conspiricy by Dallas Willard, and he seemed to say that the beatitudes were not something we should try to emulate. If my memory serves me he painted each beatitude in somewhat of a negative light, for instance, "Blessed be the pure in heart for they will see God," translated to those with a pure heart are pefectionist. Seeing God is the way in which a perfectionist will finally be happy.

I would appreciate it if we could shed some light on this distinction or interpretation of the word of God.


As for the humility question, the answer is simply put: Steve. He's even got the last name to prove it =OP

John the Musician said...

Also, I checked in to Ventrilo, and it looks like you can set up a server to have up to 25 people on it for $72 dollars a year. Let me know what you guys think about that so we can set it up or not.

steve H said...

I can chip in on the server set up, John.

Willard did see the Beatitudes in the light you say. The poor in spirit according to him were the hurting outcasts who had come to Jesus for healing. Jesus was saying, according to Willard, that the kingdom was open to them.

But Willard went on to say, as you said, that "poor in spirit" and the other qualities were not so much as to be emulated as they were conditions that would not exclude people from the Kingdom -- although the scribes and Pharisees would exclude them.

I think Willard had a take worth considering -- much truth in what he said. The kingdom is open to messed up folks -- whether demonized, hopeless, or perfectionistic.

I'm not absolutely convinced yet, however, that his interpretation is best one. It's certainly outside the box in comparison to any other exegesis I've seen.

John M. said...

Could a humble political candidate bash his opponent? That's a rehtorical question. Please don't answer. We don't want to go there. If we did, we might all lose whatever humility we have!

Brian, thanks for your insightful comments. I really like the dirt/seed/sower/fruitfulnes ideas. Can you maintain your humility and still share with us some examples of lowly tasks you have volunteered for?

I left the exalted pastoral role to become a lowly Jr. Hi teacher. Does that qualify? (My tongue is in my cheek here, but I don't know what the on-line sign is for "tongue-in-cheek".)

This is a good thread. Did you all notice that it has elicited more direct scripture quotes than, I think, any other thread since we began? And Brian, my question above is serious, even though sandwiched betweeb my tongue and my cheek.

John the M., I can chip in on Ventrilo costs.

Brian Emmet said...

Maybe our focus gets distorted because we think of humility primarily in terms of what we do instead of in terms of who God is. Humility is the ways I respond to who God is. I cannot be or act in a proud way if I am tooted and grounded in him. If the Lord has to "stoop down to behold the heavens and the earth", why should I avoid whatever "stooping down" he may ask of me? And it's not so much that he asks specific "stoopings down" from time to time, it's more that by "stooping down" I find myself where he is (he has already
stooped down" in Christ)--I plunk myself down, or find myself plunked down, into the midst of his presence and work.

You may be familiar with the Shaker hymn, "'Tis a gift to be simple/'Tis a gift to be free/'Tis a gift to come down to where you ought to be." Humility is based in a vision/understanding of who God is, as revealed in Scripture, and who God is as incarnated in Christ. So the "practices of humility" are the things I can do that reground me in God's revelation of himself to us, both the content of that revelation as well as the ways in which that revelation is made available to us.

smokin joe said...

I find it amazing that the creator of the universe describes himself a "gentle and humble of heart" ... if we take his yoke upon us, we will find rest for our souls.

Many consider humility to be a pre-condition for all the other virtues. I found these quotes:

Thomas Moore:
"Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot."

Saint Augustine:
"Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance."

Brian Emmet said...

Churchill, describing a political opponent: "He is a humble man, with a lot to be humble about."

smokin joe said...

what is much worse, is when someone is proud with very little to be proud about ... I have run into a few of those ... in face, I have been one of those at some point in my life.

John the Musician said...

Steve H, I know what you mean, although I see some validity in Willard's argument, I still find myself automatically going with the traditional interpretation. I'm not sure whether that's indoctrination or my actual belief.

I've always held the oppinion that Humility means to be no more and no less than what or who you are. For instance, Jesus came to earth and said, "Hey guys, I'm the son of God." That's not exactly the most "humble" thing a man has ever said, but with my definition him admitting to his true identity is really showing humility in having an integrous character and simply being honest about who He is.


Also, Brian suggested I take a poll to see who really wants to do the vent thing, if you guys could email me with a "Yes" or "No" that'd be great.

johnthemusician@hotmail.com

Patrick said...

I don't have much to offer on this subject. I just finished reading all the posts and they're very rich with encouragement and practical soul food.

I have found that life is more chipper when I think less of myself. My favorite Scripture on humility is Philippians 2:1-11. What an example!

John the Musician said...

By the way Patrick and others who might be reading along Ventrilo is a program that allows up to about 25 people to simultaneously chat vocally with minimal feedback and/or delay. It's quite functional and we talked about potentially using it to have occasional thinklings get-togethers where we can actually talk and immediately respond to others vocally rather than going through the proccess of posting on the blog. Hopefully it would be a sort of both-and arrangement. Anywho, if any of you are interested it's a free program to download and all you need to use it is a headset with a microphone, or even just a set of speakers if you'd rather just listen in.

david said...
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david said...

there is also paltalk.com

you just download their program and users can set up a room and everyone can join. you can type text as well as talk on mic. it works great and it's free.

Brian Emmet said...

David, thanks for the suggestion!John, could you check out David's idea and then just make the call for the rest of us? I'm in for the trial run of whatever you decide.

Patrick, I agree that Php 2 is close to the mother lode of Scriptural teaching on humility. Jesus did not hold onto position, power, privilege, but emptied himself, and took on the very nature of a servant. A connection we might want to explore is the one between humility and servanthood. For me it functions as a kind of indicator light for humility: if I'm serving, freely, joyfully, and lovingly, then I'm probably doing OK on the humility front... ya think?

Patrick said...

Brian I think you're right. Humility is one of those backwards Kingdom things. You can't get it by chasing it. In submitting to God, humility is a catalyst and an outcome, but through God's grace alone. My prayer is that He continues to humble me, and grant me humility.

John, I'm in for the Verilo-phone thingy. hollla

steve H said...

A comment on Jesus humility in Philippians 2: his humbling himself to be a server = him humbling himself to be a man. Man is created a servant; it is our nature. Hence, Dylan's "You're gonna have to serve somebody...." I agree, John the musician: humility is an accurate assessment of who we are.

Ventrilo or PalTalk, if you guys think it will enhance our ability to build relationship, then I'm up for it.

John M. said...

Patrick,
I'm glad you mentioned Philippians 2:1-11. Someone mentioned earlier about God "stooping". The Incarnation is the ultimate "stooping".

Recently I've been thinking on how the Incarnation affected the Trinity.

The Father and the Spirit could not have been uninvolved and unaffected by Jesus' humbling himself the way he did. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in perfect harmony, unity and oneness, therefore the whole trinity must have participated somehow in an unexplainable, mysterious humbling as a result of Jesus' Incarnation.

I know this is a bit abstract and may seem like meaningless speculation to some, but for me, at least, it is deepening, instructive and motivational.

smokin joe said...

this is a good discussion, I am getting convicted and encouraged.

"Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility."
Saint Augustine

John the Musician said...

Great comments, I'll check out the paltalk thing, as of right now I'm in favor of vent simply because I know how it works and appreciate it's simplicity and audio clarity, but I'll check out any option available.

John the Musician said...

Just checked out Paltalk and it looks like the major difference is that it is free, you can have only 10 people at a time which might or might not be fine, and you have the capability to use video as well. Personally I'm leaning more towards ventrilo simply because I'm familiar with it but let me know what you guys think.

John the Musician said...

Honestly speaking of Triunity Dow had a word about that at ACM. I would love to delve into some conversation about the Trinity and also specifically the Holy Spirit and who he is =OP

John M. said...

John the M, I'm up for either "talk" option, although we have nothing to loose on the free one! We could try it, and you could compare and then we could proceed to the other if the free one doesn't work as well. I'm in either way.

Regarding Trinity. I would really enjoy having that conversation on the blog, but it probably should be another thread, as we don't want to get too far afield on this one. That's why I tried to limit my thoughts to the present topic.

"The Shack" will "help". I use "help" avisedly. It might help you frame your questions clearly. It might create more questions. And it just might deepen your understanding. No mortal will ever unravel the whole mystery (that would take the fun out of it anyway), but "The Shack" definitely addresses the issue.

Check it out.

Brian Emmet said...

John, if you're going to be the administrator/trainer/helpdesk for us Luddites, you make the call: vent at $72/yr vs. pal for free isn't that huge a cost difference.

A Trinity conversation will be worth having: we certainly see the Son submitting tot the Father, the Spirit submitting to Father and Son... the idea of "the divine dance" also requires humility from the Persons--each is in humility submitted to the other. So submissiveness and humility are related--there's my tie-in from Trinity back into this current discussion!

david said...

you can have many more folks that 10 in a paltalk room.

i've hosted many rooms there, so i'm sure it's the case.

i've never however locked a room, so with a locked room, that might be the case. i'll look into it.

either option, however, would be fine.

John Norton said...

Hey Gentlemen! I am a bit late in jumping in here this week. Looks like you are off to a great start.

I am glad to read some of your great comments on humility.

Joseph- great clip from Shakespeare!

I can relate with Joseph's comment about imitation humility: "It tended to make me rather narcissistic in a way that imitated humility but in reality I was highly concerned with myself, and with how other people viewed me."

Humility starts with self- knowledge, in my view. John Calvin says it beautifully:

"For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone."

Once I stop and think about my true state of affairs, the screen begins to clear.

John the Musician said...

Hey John!

Also, David, I'm not positive I looked into it a little bit and it seemed to hint at a 10 person limit, but I'll have to check it again, thanks for the tip!

smokin joe said...

hi all: I've been busy catching up on school work and sleep since returning from Ohio. Good discussion... although I have not said much, I have been giving a lot of thought to humility. Many blessings!

More and more I am realizing that unless the Spirit is at work, not much of any lasting value can be accomplished. And in order to learn to wait on the initiative of the Spirit, God is gracious to allow our own initiatives to fall flat.

I am asking God to show me where the Spirit is active ... there does not seem to be very much Spirit-activity in my life right now ... but I know He (the Spirit) must be doing something somewhere around me ... it is very humbling to realize how little 'good' we can accomplish without the power of the Spirit.

Jeremiah said...

Hi guys! It is SOOOOO good to find you all here carrying on.

I've deeply missed you all and am sorry I've been away. I have a long list of excuses, but no one would care and it wouldn't be humble to list things. LOL

I haven't seen anybody say anything that I disagreed with on this, which is good (though rare LOL).

Even you Joseph! In fact your opening salvo was excellent. I deeply appreciate the stories you guys have about how you screwed things up and then came into deep knowledge of Jesus out of that.

Steve, your story likewise was deep water that I'll drink from for awhile.

Thank you both.

The only thing I would add is not a new one, just maybe a distillation of what you all have been saying.

Humility is being more conscious of someone else than of yourself.

This describes perfectly the dance of the Trinity as laid out in John 14-17. i.e the H.S. will bring glory to me.... anyone who sees me sees the Father.... The Father glorifies the Son. etc. etc.

The whole point is that each member of the Trinity is more interested in glorifying, blessing, revealing the other two members than in doing that for Himself.

Well I've written a lot. I doubt I'll be able to keep with you much in the upcoming weeks, but we'll see.

Blessings in Jesus

John M. said...

Greetings John Norton and Jeremiah!

I just posted a good piece on "The Trinitarian Life of God" on the Google Documents site that Joseph recently created. It was oringinally a chapel address by a prof. at a Chrisitian College. Although theologically and biblically based, it's actually very practical. I was convited about some of my "non-trinitarian" tendencies.
Here's the link:
http://docs.google.com/#all

smokin joe said...

hi Jeremiah, welcome back.

John, I went to the link but did not find anything about the Trinity - what did you name the document?

John M. said...

Joseph, the Documents are titled "The Trinitarian Life of God", parts 1 and 2. I just tested the link and it works. They are at the top of the page that contains your anotated bibliography.

I could use a primer on how to use the site. It identifies the person who posted them as "me". I'm not sure how to indentify who "me" is. I tried to send an email link like you sent re the bibliolgraphy, but was unsuccesful, so decided to put it up here. Probably the best learning tool is just to use it and figure it out.

Brian Emmet said...

I can't find John's pieces on our googledocs site either...

steve H said...

Yo! Jeremiah. Been missing you. It's been awhile since we've even talked. Should see your dad some this week in Seattle. Guys, I won't be back on until the weekend at best. Don't miss me too much.

smokin joe said...

John: I think you need to go to the doc and either make it "public" 'read only' or to set it up to 'collaborate' and enter the emails of the people who can have access to it.

Since we are only going to read it, I think the first option is the best one.

John M. said...

OK, I think you all have access now to the Google docs I posted. Sorry for the distraction. I'm on a learning curve. Thanks for the help Joseph.

Brian Emmet said...

New post up!

smokin joe said...

Ok … I have a question for discussion that comes at this issue of humility from a slightly different angle. Someone mentioned in a previous discussion Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message.”

Here is my thought/question. Does our 20th century meeting structure contribute to the development of humility in leaders or does it hinder the cultivation of humility?

I am referring to the custom we have of having one man (or woman) – the pastor – stand up in a pulpit on a platform for 25 to 45 minutes (in some cases up to 75 minutes) to ‘teach’ the whole congregation. I once heard Dow Robinson describe this custom as having its roots in Greek theater.

If you think about the typical American church at the end of the twentieth century, almost every leadership position functioned this way: the youth pastor stands in front of the youth group and performed; the Sunday School teacher stands in front of the Sunday School class to teach; the small group leaders prepares a lesson or a discussion to facilitate for the small group. And all of these leadership position require some specialized training and supervision. So if a young leader went from small group leader, to SS teacher to youth pastor to pastor, he or she would primarily experience a development in her/his ability to do public speaking and perform in front of an audience.

This has even been taken to the extreme of mega-church pastors speaking to thousands, and electronic church preachers speaking to millions. And please don’t tell me that they are not ‘performing’ – I did it myself for far too many years to buy that. I’m not saying they don’t have genuine and sincere hearts – I’m saying that the system is not geared to the development of humility, but something else, call it a ‘public presence’ at best, or showmanship and narcissism at worst.

The scripture says ‘let not many of you become teachers.’ And if we follow Jesus’ model of teaching, he often taught by asking questions and sitting down interacting in a conversation.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26 we find a very different model of meeting structure that does not seem to cast the spotlight on one person:

26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

I find that humility is an extremely rare commodity in today’s church especially among leadership, and narcissism is rampant. We are not producing humble leaders but self-absorbed performers with a few notable and worthy exceptions (especially present company!).

So… what is the problem? is the system broke? Or has it always been this way? How do we go about developing servant leaders?