Overcoming Pride and Self-Reliance in Ministry
I first read The Heart of a Servant Leader in the last days of 2007. I’ve read many books since then, but I keep coming back to this one. I’ve also been posting excerpts from the book on Sundays.
The book is really a set of letters from Jack Miller with introductions to each section by his daughter. Jack Miller was a church planter, having planted New Life Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He was also a seminary professor and founder of World Harvest Mission.
There is lot to learn from Miller. He’s gospel-centered and exudes joy and humility. But one of the things I most appreciate about him is how we met, and overcame, discouragement as he faced his own inadequacy. Sooner or later all of us encounter our inadequacy, but I’m not sure we have that many models for how to do this as a pastor. This is especially important in an age of celebrity pastors who seem to be able to do it all.
In 1970, Miller resigned from his church and seminary. Neither the church members nor the seminary students were changing in the ways that he had hoped. He didn’t know how to help them, so he quit and spent weeks too depressed to do anything but cry.
He came to realize a few things:
- that he was motivated by personal glory and the approval of people, rather than being motivated only by God’s glory;
- that he had been trusting in his own abilities, rather than in the promises God had made and the power of the Holy Spirit.
A turning point came when he realized his motivation for ministry had been all wrong, and that he had been relying on the wrong person to do ministry – himself. He came to understand that the work of ministry was far too big for him to accomplish on his own strength.
He came to understand that it was his pride and self-reliance that was keeping him from having a significant part in this great work of Christ…He saw that doing Christ’s work in Christ’s way meant giving up all dependence on himself, acknowledging how poor in spirit he was, and then relying exclusively on Jesus and His gift of His Spirit.
I need to read Miller as an antidote to my tendency to focus on self-reliance. Miller helps me flesh out what Tim Keller said about the type of pastor we need:
My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus’ costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don’t need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn’t based on their performance.
I think many of us are scared of coming to this point, because we really believe that it’s up to us. It’s amazing how hard it is to remember that resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Something happens as we discover, in practice, what this looks like in our lives and ministries. We’re freed from having to get our identity from ministry and from having to pretend that we have it all together.
We need living examples of this so we don’t think the key to ministry is extraordinary competence. The Heart of a Servant Leader helps me see this, and I think it’s what I appreciate most about this book.