Avoiding the Ditches of Pride and Inferiority

Avoiding the Ditches of Pride and Inferiority
Tony Cooke

Ministry is people-business, and our effectiveness is largely dependent on how well we interact with and relate to people. The number one person we must deal with is our own self.

Dwight L. Moody was simply being honest when he said, “I have more trouble with D.L. Moody than with any other man I know.” In every issue in life, there are two extremes we must avoid—a ditch on either side of the road. When it comes to our ego—our sense of self—there is a ditch of pride on one side of the road and a ditch of inferiority on the other side. Our goal is to stay in the middle of the road! God’s plan is that we live in and operate in godly boldness and humility. Pride is a perversion of boldness, and inferiority is a perversion of humility.

One survey indicated that 70% of pastors report having a lower self-esteem now than when they started out in the ministry. That’s not good news for the person who goes into the ministry with an underlying agenda of “becoming” someone important. Criticisms, apathetic and uncooperative people, and less-than-desired results can all accentuate and heighten a pastor’s sense of inferiority. Our ministries need to be an expression of the love of God, not an extension of our own unmet ego needs.

The good news, though, is that we can truly base our identity on who we are in Christ, not based on our performance or the opinions of others. It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It is vital to keep in mind that when other people don’t act right—when they are ugly or indifferent—it is typically a reflection of who they are, not a reflection of who you are.

On the other end of the spectrum from inferiority is pride. What is interesting about pride is that it often has its roots in insecurity. People who are insecure will often take on a very prideful air in an attempt to overcompensate for their internal feeling of inferiority.

Regardless of its source, those who present themselves arrogantly—with an attitude of haughtiness and superiority—usually end up repelling the very people God has called them to reach. Benjamin Franklin observed, “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” Someone else said, “Conceit is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.” Moody also said, “God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.”

Noah Webster, in his 1828 Dictionary of the English language, defined egotism as: “The practice of too frequently using the word ‘I.’ Hence, a speaking or writing much of one’s self; self-praise; self-commendation; the act or practice of magnifying one’s self; or making one’s self of importance.” He further added that an egotist is one who “makes himself the hero of every tale.”

It’s been said that there are two types of people in life. One type walks into the room and says, “Here I am!” The other type of person walks into the room and says, “There you are!” The individual who is growing in personal wholeness knows who he is in Christ. He is not basing his sense of self-esteem on his performance or on the opinions of others, but upon God’s acceptance and unconditional love. Thus, he can love and focus on others based on the love of God that’s been shed abroad in his heart; he has an abundance and an overflow.

Cornel West said, “Humility means two things. One, a capacity for self-criticism… The second feature is allowing others to shine, affirming others, empowering and enabling others. Those who lack humility are dogmatic and egotistical. That masks a deep sense of insecurity. They feel the success of others is at the expense of their own fame and glory.”

As pastors, there are three dimensions of our leadership. First, there is a sense in which we are over the people. Second, there is a sense in which we are equal to the people. Third, there is a sense in which we are under the people. If we only have the sense in which we are over the people, we can easily become a dictator. If we only have the sense in which we are equal to the people, we may simply be just a “good ole’ boy.” If we only have the sense in which we are under the people, we will likely become a doormat that people walk on.

God’s plan is that we stand properly in our place over the people; this enables us to take our position of responsibility and authority to truly lead them. Our authority is tempered, though, by the sense in which we are equal to them. We realize that we are not superior and they are not inferior. God loves them just like He loves us, and Jesus shed His blood for them just as He did for us. Finally, our leadership and authority is further influenced by the fact that we have been sent to serve people—to elevate others.