He must increase, but I must decrease. –John the Baptist. (John 3:30)
The speaker said, “As you know, I urge people to walk by the Spirit, to obey Him. But I need you to know I am not anti-intellectual, not against education. In fact, I am so much pro-education that I have my bachelor’s degree from a college, I have my master’s, and I also own a doctorate. In fact, when I was working on my doctorate, the dean said to me that my dissertation was so profound that I should turn it into a book. That book, you’ll want to know, is on the market right now and you can purchase it in the foyer at the end of this meeting.”
Another time, the visiting preacher, an older fellow, wanted our church to know that he was somebody, I suppose. Early in the service he told how he had started a church many years ago and stayed with it through the years until his retirement, that during this time he had baptized so many, and had enjoyed seeing the membership climb to (whatever). He showed a photo of the huge plant on the screen. He must have talked about his former church for five minutes. We never did know why. We did not need to know of his successes to hear him. In fact, his scars probably made him a better preacher than his awards.
One that I heard about, but did not witness personally, was a preacher friend on a mission trip in remote Africa. At one point as he addressed a group of pastors in a hut, he passed around photos of his house back at home, complete with the two-car garage, and the large church building where he served. I’m not sure how he justified doing this, but you will not be surprised to know the missionary was horrified when he heard of it.
Pastors of all people should exemplify selflessness and Christlikeness. But I fear we do a poor job as a class. Listen to pastors and you will hear terms like: My staff. My team. My assistant. (To those wondering “What should we say?” the answer is: “Our staff. Our team. Our assistant.”
“When I got my doctorate.”
“When I was working on my dissertation….”
“When I was writing my third book–the one that won the award from the Religion Writers of Podunk…”
“The last marathon I ran in…Not the one where I won second place, but the last one….”
“The other day at the health club where I work out….”
“I was so tired after my daily five-mile jog….”
“I urge local businesses to join the Chamber. I say that, not just because they gave me the award for the Outstanding Citizen of the Year….”
It’s not hard to brag before your audience if you put your mind to it. You just turn it around and make it seem like you’re being humble.
We preachers can be so full of ourselves it ain’t funny.
His disciples said to John the Baptist, “Sir, the One you baptized in Jordan is out there preaching and baptizing and people are being drawn to Him. Does that concern you? He’s taking the spotlight from you.”
John said, “You people heard me say over and over that I was not the Christ, that I was just His advance man. I’m like the best man at the wedding, relieved when the Bridegroom arrives to take his place. I will be fading into the woodwork while He continues to shine.” That’s my free paraphrase of the John 3:27ff passage.
John added, “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:27ff.)
We pastors are messengers. Voices. Witnesses.
The ministry is not about me. I must preach Jesus.
Humility, they say, is not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less.
So, let’s not be telling stories or using illustrations that sound like we are bragging. The pulpit is no place to brag on my accomplishments, to read my resume, to herald my awards, to boast about my “hot” wife or my brilliant over-achieving children.
I once preached behind a pulpit where a previous pastor had attached a small plaque with two messages. The first said, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). And the second was that pastor’s name, in larger letters than anything else. It’s so easy to give a contradictory message about these things.
Insecurity plus ego can be a dangerous combination. In the most overlooked parable in Scripture, our Lord said we should say to ourselves and of ourselves each day, “I am an unworthy servant. I’m only doing my duty.” (Luke 17:7-10)
So, what should we say, if anything we say can be interpreted as bragging?
I was young and the new pastor of a church. One day I overheard a minister of music say, “We don’t like it when a pastor refers to us as ‘my’ minister of music or ‘my’ staff member.” Later, in private, I asked a colleague, “What should we say?” He said, “Say ‘our’ minister of music.” I said, “Oh! Good idea.” Oddly, that thought had never occurred to me. I’ve done it ever since.
–You want to tell a story of something that happened when you were in seminary working on an advanced degree? Just say, “When I was in school….”
–You want to emphasize that you are pro-education? Try doing it without mentioning the years you spent in school and the degrees you earned. (Btw, take down those framed degrees from your wall. They belong in the garage.)
–You want to brag on your wife or children? Be very careful here. Best to let others do this, and limit your remarks to them for the privacy of your home. I can guarantee your family would prefer that to the public embarrassment you will cause them.
–If your church has been honored in some way, before you acknowledge it in public and respond, think the matter through. Ask if individuals/groups in your congregation aren’t to credit for this success, and find ways to appreciate them. If you fear leaving someone out, enlist the assistance of a colleague to help you find a way to do this right.
Advance thinking on these matters will head off many a problem.