Is the Church having a Love Affair with Arrogant Pastors?

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            The role of a pastor or Christian leader is a heady calling. We are privileged to serve the people of God and be His representative. It is a humbling experience to see lives transformed. We are honored to witness the hand of God moving in people’s lives, as we speak words of life and encouragement to them. There is a very real temptation to take on more credit than we deserve. A pastor may be a charismatic speaker and see incredible growth in a congregation but we need to remember it is God who brings the increase, not us.

Most recently I was listening to a podcast called, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” If you are not familiar with this story, Pastor Mark Driscoll pastored a mega church in Spokane WA, called Mars Hill. He was a powerfully gifted orator and drew a crowd anywhere he went. His church grew by leaps and bounds, and it seems most pastors wanted to be just like Mark Driscoll. He was a pioneer in one of the fastest growing church planting ministries in American history. Unfortunately, there were some internal conflicts and reports of bullying and accusations of hurtful arrogance on the part of Driscoll. The accusations eventually bubbled to the surfrace and came out publicly. When Driscoll unexpectedly stepped down as senior pastor, his church imploded. This is a powerful example of how power can go to the head of a pastor, and pride can lead to their downfall

(Rise and Fall of Mars Hill – link below)


            Spiritual formation may help inhibit the arrogance and egotism often prevalent in pastoral ministry, and help to integrate resiliency in ministry leadership. Richard Foster wrote a book back in 2011 called, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. In this book, he quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning who famously wrote:

            Earth’s crammed with Heaven

            And every common bush afire with God;

            But only he who sees, takes off his shoes. (74)

It is so important for us to remember where our strength and help comes from. We are only successful because God gives us strength, talent, and even the very breath we breathe.

There are many things that can lead a ministry leader into pride and arrogance in the pulpit. High on that list is assumptions that the ministry would fail without them. They may work 7 days a week because they are afraid if they step away something may fail. Alan Fadling reminds us that when a person doesn’t stop working until everything gets done, they will never stop working. There is always more that needs to be accomplished. If there were more hours in the day, or more days in the week, the extra time would quickly be filled with more busy work. Some will say the work is too important to wait. Fadling says, “Sabbath can be a weekly reminder that our work is not sovereign, but God is” (122). Then he says, “Today is the day to enter into a weekly rhythm of ceasing my work one day in seven. Here I more deeply remember that God’s work always precedes mine” (122).

Pastors are extremely busy. There is a constant demand for our time and resources. Unfortunately the first thing to go is often taking a sabbath day off. There is so much to do, and all of it seems good and worthwhile. After all the Bible tells us to give our all in ministry, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16 KJV) It can be so tempting to think “God can’t do this work without me.” The truth Is God is wiser than we are. When we take a regular day for sabbath we step out on faith that God will continue working even when we are not.  We acknowledge that God is in control. We are telling God that we are wiser than He is when we get into a mindset that we are indispensable. Isaiah 5:21 reminds us, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

            Pride was the sin that caused Satan to think he could put his throne above God’s and that got him thrown out of Heaven. He tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the idea that they could become “like God” by simply eating the forbidden fruit. We are taught as young children to take pride in our work, and pride in ourselves. Pride and arrogance may seem annoying to those who witness it, but harmless. But pride and arrogance can be devastating for a minister.

Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18:9-14. It says, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” We may think this parable is just for the legalistic pastors who think they are wiser than anyone else. But if you read the gospels, even the disciples were caught on at least one occasion having an argument over who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus told them the one who is humble as a little child is the greatest. If even the Apostles had to wrestle with pride and arrogance, who are we to think we are exempt from this temptation?

            There is another example of the consequences of relying on one’s own ability instead of on God in the Old Testament. King David was a mighty warrior, and was blessed by the Lord. He had a loyal army who could fight incredibly well. However, King David decided to number his people to determine how much power he actually had. Perhaps he was considering a draft and wanted to see how many he could call up to serve in his army. This displeased the Lord. 1 Chronicles 21:1 records this saying, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” We don’t know the circumstances of this numbering, but it is easy to speculate that David wanted a head count of how many people were at his disposal to force into military service. The point is, David had no reason to know these numbers if he trusted the Lord. God said He would fight for Israel, and by numbering the people, David was showing his own doubt and distrust of the Lord.

            Pride can be summarized as an arrogant attitude of self-sufficiency. We can demonstrate this in not taking a sabbath, and practicing other spiritual disciplines. We may think we are too busy to pray, or to spend time in the Word. We are promoting our own self-importance in neglecting these things. Spending time in prayer allows us to petition the Lord, and to listen to his direction. Studying God’s Word brings it into our spirit, and often God speaks to us directly through His Word. Taking a sabbath puts our trust back on God in that He will help us accomplish what we need to do in six days instead of seven. It takes away our self-exaltation and the philosophy that God needs “us” to accomplish his purposes and that He can’t use anyone else.

Christian leaders are expected to love God and love others. Someone once said, “The opposite of servant leadership is arrogance. Arrogant leadership is not spiritual leadership. And arrogant pastors are not spiritual pastors.” There are too many arrogant pastors in the United States (perhaps the world). Pastors who do not keep spiritual disciplines and especially regular sabbath are in danger of falling into pride and arrogancy. John Ortberg has famously said, “Better to be a loving person without knowing how you got there, than an expert no one can stand to be around.”

            People in our society are hurting. A pastor who has an intimate relationship with God having spent time in spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines will be better equipped to touch and minister to others with the kind of love that can reach the hurting people in our society. Spiritual formation leads us to become the kind of Christian leaders who will be able to break through the barriers that people put up and see them come to Christ where they will find a gentle savior who will give them rest for their souls.

            Have you been guilty of arrogance in the pulpit? Do you need to repent for your own pride? My encouragement to you is to keep a short account of sin. Go to God and quickly seek forgiveness when you recognize pride, and repent. To repent means to turn around and go the other way. Don’t continue in that sin. The best cure I have found for pride is spending time in the presence of God. That may mean getting quiet and still before the Lord. Ask the Lord what He would have you know, then shut down your mind and listen. Practice the spiritual discipline of lectio divina where you meditate on a passage from God’s Word. Take time for a regular sabbath. Many, if not all of the spiritual disciplines can accompany a sabbath. In modern society, you may have your sabbath on a Monday, or a Friday instead of the traditional Sunday. Take the sabbath and enjoy rest with the Lord, and recreation with family (more on that in a future blog). God bless you as you seek His face and seek to be transformed by His Holy Spirit.

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