By Mark A. Taylor
I was right, and I didn’t mind saying so. The decision-maker in this program was giving flawed direction and providing inadequate resources for me and the others serving in the ministry. I saw this whether anyone else did or not.
When I complained to the person handling logistics for the ministry (he wasn’t the one making the decisions I didn’t like), he replied with a Scripture:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3, 4).
In my youthful, headstrong arrogance, those verses didn’t convince me of much. I’d like to think I’d react in a more godly fashion if presented with a similar situation today. I’d like to think that humility surfaces more than pride in my daily dealings with colleagues, bosses, fellow church members, and people on the street.
But in my heart, I know I’m still working on this. I’ve learned one thing: humility doesn’t appear by seeking it. Fretting about how I’m thinking about myself only leads to more self-absorption, which is at the very root of pride. As one unnamed philosopher put it: “When we become aware of our humility, we’ve lost it.”
No, only when I look first and most “to the interests of others” will they deem me humble. But in that case, I’ll be so concerned about them, I’ll hardly even notice.
Perhaps no situation is a bigger threat to humility than the decision to retire. Especially when a person has given his life to a cause, he has strong opinions about how it should be continued. And when he has too much of his self-identity wrapped up in his ministry role, he will have trouble tearing himself away. (This happens with women as easily as with men, despite the masculine pronouns in the sentences above.)
The key is to look outside oneself. What is best for the church or the ministry—its outreach, its mission, its staff? Who has the most energy and the freshest ideas to innovate and initiate in the coming decade? Gary Johnson says, rather bluntly, that a person’s “leadership shelf life” will always expire. He also points out that the leader’s humility is the only means by which he or she will cope with this.
Maybe the key is not to wait till retirement time to nurture a healthy humility. “Pride is the seedbed from which every other sin grows,” a minister friend once said to me. All of us have seen the dysfunction and poor decision-making spawned by leaders who think too highly of themselves.
Whether close or far from retirement, any leader does well to move his or her mental spotlight from self to mission. Cultivating humility is the best preparation for success in succession.