This article is addressed to pastors, discussing the pastoral danger of pride and overconfidence. The author talks about what it means to be a humble servant of your flock.

2011. 6 pages. Transcribed by Ineke van der Linden.

Christian Leadership Part 4: The Humble Servant, Part 2

The Personal Cure of Pride🔗

Fourthly, the personal cure of pride. I want to give you four phrases that I want you to make the heartbeat of your ministries.

I Am a Sinner🔗

One: I am a sinner. 1 Timothy 1:15: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” says Paul, “–of whom I am chief.” And to keep that in front of you to remember what you were. I often think back to that myself—what I was. Think on the sins that God has delivered you from. Remember what I could be now, if God had not stopped me in my tracks. I often think of who I could have been married to. How many marriages I may have had. Remember what I still am! Look into my own heart and see, despite regeneration and much sanctification, how much sin remains. Remember what I could yet be, if God removes his restraining grace. So remember what you were, what you could be now, what you still are, and what you could yet be.

Follow the example of godly men from the past, who took the devil’s deadly weapon of pride and turned that weapon back upon the devil, because they used their pride to keep themselves humble. Let me try and explain that. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said; “Oh for true, unfeigned humility! I know not how to be truly humble. I know I have cause to be humble; and yet I do not know one half of that cause. I know I am proud; and yet I do not know the half of my pride.” He takes his pride and he uses it to humble himself. Jonathan Edwards, twenty years after he was converted, said, “I abhor the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness and pride left in my own heart.” So he looks in, he sees that pride and he says, “I abhor myself!” He uses it to bring himself down. Richard Baxter: “Pride not only goes with me into the study, but often chooses my very subject and sometimes my very words. Pride writes my sermon. Pride goes with me to the pulpit. It forms my tone and animates my delivery. It takes me off of that which maybe displeasing to people and sets me in pursuit of vain applause from my hearers. And when I have preached, pride goes home with me and causes me to eagerly seek for signs that I am applauded rather than signs that my message was useful in the saving of souls.”

So here these godly men look at this awful, horrific, abhorrent pride and they use it, as it were, to point back at the devil and do the opposite of what the devil was wanting to do with that pride. Instead of it being then a danger to them, it becomes a blessing to them. Can you say that—pride becomes a blessing? If you use it rightly. If you respond to it rightly, as these men did. So I am a sinner.

I Am Saved🔗

Secondly: I am saved. A Christian leader must not only have a sense of his sinfulness, but assurance of his salvation. And it is out of that identity that he serves Christ. I really would like you to look up Effective Pastoring pages 7-20. Bill Lawrence has an excellent section there where he differentiates between “deficit thinkers” and “abundance thinkers.” The difference between a deficit thinker and an abundance thinker. Let me give you the summary of that in just a few lines. Lawrence says: “A deficit thinker is someone who thinks he is a nobody who must make himself into a somebody by what he does.” Deficit thinkers are “marked by emptiness where there should be identity” and vainly try to fill the gap with achievements. So you have this person who has really no sense of who they are, certainly no sense of who they are in Christ, and they try to become this somebody—they try to get out of this deficit—by what they do. They try to fill this gap with achievements. The difference between deficit thinkers and abundance thinkers is not in what they do, but in how they think. The abundance thinker has a secure identity as a child of God, as a saved son of God. And out of that identity, because of that identity, they serve God and his people. “All their actions grow from the security of their identity. They are no longer trying to buy an identity through what they do.”

Do examine yourselves a bit there. There are many men in the ministry who fit this description of a deficit thinker—who have gone into the ministry because they feel their inadequacy and they feel that they’re nothing, and they want to make something of themselves. And they are motivated—sometimes powerfully motivated—to do much, but it’s to try and make themselves into a somebody. There’s a huge difference—maybe not in the actions, but in the pattern of thinking—between that and, as Lawrence says, an abundance thinker, who is so full of what God has done for him and in him that a sense of motivation just overflows from that and pushes him on, so he is not working out of an emptiness, but out of a fullness. I am saved!

I Am a Servant🔗

Thirdly: I am a servant. Servant leadership is bottom-up leadership. It’s the opposite of all top-down models we are so familiar with. You think of the king, the tyrant, the guru, the academic, the bureaucratic tsar, the CEO—all of these are top-down models of leadership. Someone described top-down leadership like this: “The boss barks orders to the employee, the employee goes home and barks orders at his spouse, the spouse barks orders at the children, the children kick the dog, the dog chases the neighborhood cat.” The top-down model is not only the most common model of leadership around; it is also the one that comes most naturally to us, because it reflects the devil’s nature. It is much easier to order people around than to engage, motivate, enthuse, inspire. It is also far more predictable and far less risky. The top-down model has less risk. And that’s why a lot of pastors decide to follow that model. “You don’t want to trust the people, do you? Give them power, give them authority, give them influence?” So you get pastors who decide things on their own rather than consulting or putting something to a vote, because, “Well, I can control the outcome that way.”

Where Are Our Models?🔗

So where are our models of servant leadership? Well, Old and New Testament saints saw themselves as servants. Just go through the concordance and look it up—Genesis 18:3; Genesis 19:19; Exodus 4:10; Romans 1:1. Many, many, many of God’s people in the Old and New Testaments describe themselves as servants. As, of course, Christ himself did—Mark 10:42-45; John 13; Philippians 2:8. Christ gave up his rights, his reputation, his recognition, and his royalty to become a servant. So, these are our models—Old and New Testament believers, and Christ himself.

Who Do We Serve?🔗

But who do we serve as servants? Well, we’re first of all servants of God. That must be put up front. Some pastors go to the opposite extreme of the top-down and they just become a man-pleaser kind of servant, but we’re first of all servants of God. We’re not independent, but dependent on God for our commission, for our authority and for his blessing. Then we are a servant of God’s people. We are not their sovereign; we are not their lord. Then we are a servant of sinners. We don’t look down on the unsaved, but rather get down on our knees for them. A servant of God, a servant of God’s people, a servant of sinners. But also a servant of servants. Of other pastors. We don’t want to be competitors. We should be looking for ways to serve the servants rather than compete with them. And of course, we are servants of the Servant, who said, “I am among you as one who serves,” and “The servant is not greater than his master.” So try and think of that as a sort of grid of service.

How Do We Serve?🔗

But how do we serve? Someone once asked, “How do I know if I’m functioning as a servant?” The answer: by the way you react when people treat you like one. Well I’d like to suggest we go back to the characteristics of pride that we previously outlined [in The Humble Servant (1)] and reverse them to produce the characteristics of servants. In other words:

  1. You consult before making major decisions. You consult fellow elders; you consult fellow pastors; you consult mature Christians; you consult your wife; you consult anyone maybe who would be impacted by your decision.
  2. Visit, visit, visit, visit, and so on! Pastoral visitation and involvement in the messiness of people’s lives keeps our feet (and our knees) on the ground.
  3. Socialize with people from all walks of live. Don’t be too proud to lunch with the poor or with the rich.
  4. Encourage expression of divergent views. Seek out those who you know will usually oppose your plans and decisions and ask them for their opinion and their reasons. Make sure everyone on your elders’ board or your kirk session has opportunity to express their opinions, even if you know they will disagree with you. Sometimes you’ll be sitting in that chair, if you’re the chairman of your elders, and you’ll see somebody there who you maybe know is going to oppose you or he looks unhappy with what you’re discussing, and yet is really not saying anything. Your temptation is going to be, “Go on while the going is good!” Don’t do that. Really try and draw it out of the person, so that they have an opportunity to speak and they can’t go away saying, “Nobody listens to me; nobody wants to hear me.” Even if you know it’s going to be a different view. People, even if they’re voted down eventually, will be much more forgiving if they get a chance to speak. So encourage the expression of divergent views.
  5. When something goes wrong, the first thing you ask is, “Am I responsible?” and not, “Who’s responsible?” Be ready and willing to point the finger at yourself, even if it’s not entirely your fault. I’ve never regretted saying sorry to anyone, even when I felt I was only 5% to blame.
  6. Resist the default of viewing criticism as personal dislike. And that goes however excessive, however imbalanced, however personal the criticism seems to be. Try to find the grain of truth in it. Usually there will be a grain of truth in it.
  7. The busier you become, the more time you spent in prayer and Bible reading. Cultivate and maintain a close and lively walk with Christ. Our ministries are not so much about communicating principles and precepts as they are about communicating a person, and that person described himself as meek and lowly in heart. Whatever else our ministries communicate, let them communicate that, because that is powerfully attractive and effective and safe.
  8. You welcome the insight of other Christians on texts and doctrines. You recognize that God does often reveal things to babes and hides them from wise and prudent people.
  9. You seek accountability. You seek it! Don’t just accept it; you seek it. You ask your wife, your fellow elders, or a mentor to keep you accountable to scriptural standards. And when you’re choosing that accountability partner, don’t choose the one most like yourself. Try and choose somebody who you know is going to maybe rub you up the wrong way! I think it’s good. Accountability requires honesty on the part of both parties. It requires commitment on the part of both parties. It requires clear expectations and it requires clear procedures. We really get these upfront so that misunderstandings do not develop—honesty, commitment, expectation, procedures. And I would thoroughly recommend to you John Piper’s accountability questionnaire. It is amazing. If I remember rightly, he goes through this with his elders every week. You can get it online; just Google it.
  10. You never use the threat of resignation as a lever. You persevere through difficulties and disagreements without resorting to such a worldly method of manipulation.
  11. You continue to evangelize. You recognize that however well respected you are in church circles, you are still fundamentally a disciple and a witness to the resurrected Christ.
  12. You take on dirty jobs from time to time. Without abandoning the ministry of the word and prayer, from time to time you show you’re not above these menial jobs in the congregation.
  13. You keep learning. You make a point of listening to others’ sermons, reading others’ books, going to conferences, and all because you know and recognize your own limitations and your own needs.
  14. You put the growth and development of others ahead of your own. Robert Greenleaf was one of the first to advocate servant leadership in business. His website ( offers the following suggestion: “The best test, and difficult to administer is: do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
  15. Cross, cross, cross. I heard Don Carson deliver an exegetical lecture at a seminary about twenty years ago. He said one thing I’ve never forgotten. It was on 1 Corinthians 1—3. “No man can think himself big or make himself big in the shadow of the cross.” That’s where we need to stay!

So we’re looking then at that third statement. I am a sinner; I am saved; I am a servant. We’ve looked at: Where are our models; who do we serve; how do we serve?

How Do We Lead?🔗

Let me just give you this other question: How do we lead? We’ve been talking a lot about service, but it’s important to remember that the servant leader still leads. They do things that leaders do. They direct, they organize, they delegate, but they do so as servants. Bill Lawrence says that servant qualifies leader. He says, “Servant leaders exercise authority, but they do so with motives, focus, values and methods that differ from those of other leaders. The servant leader exercises authority motivated by a love for Christ, a focus on his interests, the values of the Cross, and the courage to wash the feet of those who follow Christ with him” (p. 100 of Effective Pastoring). So they serve, but they still lead. Bill Lawrence goes on: “Servant leaders serve, or they don’t lead at all,” and, “Servant leaders lead, or they don’t serve at all.” I think there’s a tremendous amount of truth in that sentence. A good motto for ministry: servant leaders serve, or they don’t lead; servant leaders lead, or they don’t serve. Put in another way: servant leaders lead by serving and serve by leading. Greenleaf puts it like this: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then the conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person” (who begins with service) “is sharply different from one who is leader first… The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.” So I’m a sinner; I am saved; I am a servant.

I Am Small🔗

Fourthly, I am small. Ephesians 3:8: “I am the least of all saints.” Remember Collins said self-confidence was vital for business success, but his basic message is: “Too much confidence is a toxic cocktail that can lead to a very long hangover.” And that’s really where pastoral ministry differs, because self-confidence in a pastor—even to a small degree—can be disastrous. It is vital for the Christian leader to remember how small and limited he is. Limited gifts, limited effectiveness, limited knowledge, and limited time. I am small.

Try and keep these four things in front of you. I am a sinner. I am saved. I am a servant. I am small.

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