How Humility Can Set You Free from a Desire for Celebrity | By Andrew Hébert

Church members are people. Even in growing churches, many people focus on celebrity. As a pastor, you can practice humility as you shepherd the flock. Here’s how.

“Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Every summer, a pastoral intern serves with me to get a taste of what pastoral ministry is like. The first assignment on the first day is to clean restrooms in the basement of our main building (nearly a dozen toilets!).

It’s quite an introduction to ministry, but an accurate one. I don’t want an intern to see the large buildings, the many people, the sizable budget, and the comfortable pastor’s study and get in their minds that this is what ministry is all about. I want them to understand that ministry happens on our knees as we serve others.

A large church isn’t normative. Most churches are no more than 250 people, which means the pastor wears many hats, and few of them are glamorous.

In my first pastorates, I wore the hats of preacher, janitor, lawn mower, occasional music leader, and many other responsibilities seminary didn’t prepare me for. But that’s what ministry is about — humble service of Jesus and his people.

As pastors, we are servants, not masters. We are shepherds, not kings. We should not occupy ourselves with concerns about brand, platform, influence, or thought leadership (whatever that is). Our calling is higher and holier than that. We are pastors entrusted with the care of sheep. That’s a hard, gritty, smelly task. It’s one that requires humility.

1. Recognize Hubris.

Perhaps the virtue of humility can be most clearly understood by considering its opposite vice, hubris.

Hubris was the Greek goddess of arrogance. Hubris could attach itself to anyone at any time, causing them to act recklessly and take unnecessary risks due to their prideful self-appraisal.

Hubris was seen in the life (and death) of Icarus, the Greek god who was banished to the island of Crete with his father, Daedalus. Attempting to escape, his father constructed wings for them both out of feathers and wax. As they began to fly away from the island, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun lest his wings should melt. Icarus ignored his father’s advice, flew too close to the sun, and as his wings began to melt, he fell out of the sky and drowned in the sea. To this day, the Icarian Sea in the Mediterranean stands as a reminder to beware of hubris.

Icarus’ mistake was going a step too far, going beyond his limits, thinking he couldn’t fall no matter how close to danger he flew. As pastors, we must respect the boundaries God has for us.

What are your boundaries? How have you determined to honor boundaries related to time, family, money, and authority? What boundaries have you set in place to protect your emotional and mental health? Do you know when to say, “Yes,” and how to say, “No”?

Appropriate boundaries can help you guard against hubris as you lead your church with wisdom and grace.

2. Embrace Humility.

The apostle Paul points to Jesus’ humility as our model:

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus took the towel and the basin in John 13 and washed his disciples’ feet. Then, he urged his friends to do the same. He told the future leaders of the church not to use their position to “lord it over” those who would follow them but, rather, to become great by embracing servanthood (Mark 10:42–45).

How do you model service? How are you training your people to serve with humility and compassion? Do your people readily reach for the towel and basin as they interact with the community? Churches that seek to make Jesus famous always model service from top, down.

3. Ask yourself: “What occupies my mind?”

True greatness is not found in exploiting your position, but in emptying yourself for others. That’s the essence of humility.
C. S. Lewis once said that the truly humble man will not be obsessing about humility. Rather, “he won’t be thinking about himself at all.” Or as Eugene Peterson put it: “You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed.”

The humble pastor will prioritize Christ and Christ’s people above himself and his ego. 

What captures your attention? Your church’s success? Your reputation? Your growing sphere of influence?

Pastor, if you crave approval and attention, be careful. As the prophet Jeremiah put it:

“Do you pursue great things for yourself? Stop pursuing!” (Jeremian 45:5).

If you are infatuated with self, you are not infatuated with Christ.

Hubris sometimes masquerades as righteous pursuits. Ask yourself: Why am I gravitating to that edgy platform? Why do I want to increase my social media presence? How often do I (humble)brag about my church? Do I try to position myself as a visionary when I attend pastors’ conferences?

The danger, as Kevin Vanhoozer has put it, is “the temptation for pastors to view themselves as the heroes of their own story.”

So much energy is devoted among pastors to cultivating and sustaining our image as a “successful” pastor. The only image we need to cultivate is the image of Christ.

4. Remember that humility flows from trust.

Jesus said those who are humble are blessed (Matthew 5:5).

Humble pastors are blessed. I think if we were honest, some of us would admit that we fear the implications of humility. If I don’t promote myself, how will I get ahead? How will I be noticed? How will I get the call to lead the big church?

Jesus answers this fear in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-34: “Don’t worry about your life.”

The reason he gives for this command is liberating. He invites us to consider how God provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. “Aren’t you worth more than they?” Then, he points to the Father’s faithfulness: “Won’t he do much more for you?”

As a pastor, there’s great news: You are known. You are noticed. And the God who knows and notices will provide everything you truly need.

God knows what kind of church you are pastoring. He understands the challenges. He knows your dreams. He also knows your limitations. Do you trust him to meet your needs? Aren’t you worth more than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field?

Humble yourself in his presence. When you do, you will participate in his glory.

5. Participate in God’s glory.

What does it mean to participate in the glory of God?

C. S. Lewis explores the question in his classic essay, “The Weight of Glory.” To participate in God’s glory means to have “fame with God, approval . . . by God.” It has the sense of being “noticed by God.”

In Christ, God looks you over and approves of you. He recognizes and favors you. But beyond that, he also clothes you with radiance.
Lewis describes “the other sense of glory — glory as brightness, splendor, luminosity.” He says, “We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star.” We will see the beauty of God and “be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

As a pastor, you have responded to a glorious call to usher people into the presence of God. Rather than building an empire, you have been tasked with shepherding God’s church. Rather than chasing celebrity, you can lead through service, respect, and trust.

The article above is an adapted excerpt from his book “Shepherding Like Jesus: Returning to the Wild Idea that Character Matters in Ministry.

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