PRIDE IN THE PULPIT
by Mike Minter
Reston Bible Church, Dulles VA
Pride has a corner on the market of sin. It sets up shop in every neighborhood of the soul. It deceives us into thinking we are humble. It whispers to us that God is privileged to have us on his team. It flatters our ego and allows our minds to wander into large auditoriums where thousands have come to hear us preach. At this very moment I am imagining this book will outsell The Da Vinci Code. This is proof that pride gives birth to hallucinations. Pride encourages us to compete for our market share of souls and out do all the other churches. This wicked liar escorts us into the pulpit with the inner smugness that those who have ears to hear will listen to our anointed message. She lures us into board meetings with the inner resolve to have things go our way. She reminds us of our great biblical knowledge and how deftly we can slay any who dare question our doctrine. Pride hangs like a heavy fog over those who are taken captive by its quest for power. Pride says that being right is more important than looking bad. Swallowing our pride only allows its noxious fumes to escape in moments of weakness and scorch another congregation. Pride wallows in self-pity and shifts the blame of church problems to all but the pulpit. She can smell every opportunity to fish for a compliment.
“I didn’t preach well today.” “Oh no, you were great.” “Really, what makes you say that?”
Pride manipulates its audience with guilt and heroic stories of our successful use of apologetics in winning people to Christ. Pride is always the hero of every “me-centered” pulpit. It weaves its ugly thread into our messages to garner praise. Christ is left in the shadows of such manipulation, as pride takes center stage waiting to be congratulated on its superior wisdom and skillful communication techniques. Pride dreams of our people telling us how good we are – maybe even the best preacher in the area. Pride compares its skill set and giftedness with the big boys and complains secretly that God plays favorites. At the end of the service, we are more interested in how we came across than Christ being exalted. Somehow he got lost in the shuffle while the message was praised. Pride leaves the pulpit critiquing the message in hopes of more “atta boys” in the future. She has no interest in God’s glory or the soul being convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Pride tickles the ear of its listeners because it fears man and not God. Pride looks down on its congregation and relishes the thought that we are better than they are which is why we are on the stage and they aren’t. (The pulpit is seductive and pride is its mistress.) Pride says that other pulpits slay their thousands but mine its tens of thousands. Pride worms its way into message preparation and says, “so and so is going to be in church this weekend and they are rich, so make sure you work the subject of giving into your message on marriage.” Pride would rather be funny than tell the truth. She would rather be clever than honest. Pride uses more logic than scripture because it thinks it is wiser than God. Pride pouts when it is criticized and refuses to look for any truth in the critique. She says, “How dare anyone question what I have said.” Pride says our seminary education makes us the final authority and the congregation soon morphs into students in a classroom. Pride says credentials trump credibility, tenure trumps tenderness, exegesis trumps experience, and the pulpit trumps the pew. Pride’s first pulpit proclaimed these words to an audience of one, “Yea, hath God said?” They still echo down the corridor of human history. Pride feeds upon itself with a never-ending self-intoxicating praise. A sure indication of this is when no one comments on our message after what we thought was a great delivery. Light chatter fills the sanctuary about how little rain we have had lately or predictions of this year’s football season. You thought you hit a home run, but your listeners think you grounded out to first. We say our pride was wounded which only tells us that it is still very much alive and it tells us how much we value being exalted. When our pride has been wounded, it means it will get well soon and be back leading the parade and calling the shots. Pride will mount the pulpit again and take her place of authority demanding that all within range of her pulpit-pounding voice stay in step with her relentless cadence of guilt trips and false humility. Pride should not be wounded. It must be slain. Pride creates fear that another pulpit in town may be more anointed than ours. Pride says, “And what can he have more but the kingdom?” (I Samuel 18:8). I’m not sure whether pride engenders fear or fear engenders pride, but I know they often hold hands which is a double portion of strength. I have seen this lethal combination in the pulpit and suspect have been guilty myself of such assault. Pride is very creative and finds clever ways to get the upper hand. She spreads her wings over the pulpit and with well-rehearsed body language coupled with facial expressions, the audience has been taken captive. They are no longer listeners but victims of a clever ruse. Pride with its winsome ways has won again and shuffles off the stage with another victory. By now you have heard enough about pride and its destruction. Is it always wrong to be winsome, or rehearse a message, or be humorous? Hasn’t God given us a personality that can be used for his glory? It is not that these things are in and of themselves wrong. It is the motive behind their use. The other day I was reading an email that was sent out to many people crediting someone with starting a ministry which in fact I had started. There was a sudden twinge in my heart that said, “Hey, I should be given credit for that.” Who really cares as long as souls come to Christ and God is glorified? The truth is, I did care and probably always will, living in a fallen world with a sinful heart. So what do we do with this monster? I find it ironic that Christ could demand total allegiance from his followers without an ounce of pride, and yet it is said that he humbled himself and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). In his humanity he did not exalt himself but allowed God to exalt his name above every name. Is there not a message here for the pulpit ministry? Should we not go before the cross in preparation, delivery, and the praise that so often follows? I can’t tell you how many times I thought I knocked it out of the park only to find that no one seemed moved by what was said. Then there are those weeks where you crawl down from the pulpit knowing you bombed royally. You look for a place to hide. In the middle of the following week you get a note from someone saying their life was changed by the message and not only that but they brought a friend who was converted under your bumbling delivery. These are the things that should humble us for it shows that the power lies not with us but in the gospel (Romans 1:16). Without him we can do nothing. What part of NOTHING don’t we understand. It’s the “something” that we claim to have contributed that feeds the pride and gives her strength to lay claim to whatever fruit the Lord brings forth. I had a young man who started attending RBC and eventually came to Christ. I remember asking him when this happened? He said “last week.” I couldn’t wait to hear the details. I had already fast-forwarded the video and could see him at the baptism service proclaiming to family and friends how the power of my preaching brought him to the truth. But that is not what happened. He had gone to hear a health and wealth evangelist and in the midst of all the hype of God-wants-you-rich-and-healthy, the gospel somehow made itself known and he was converted. “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). There are two bookend statements regarding humility. One says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 5:6). The second says “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). It is better to obey the former than to experience the latter. Since pride blinds us to our lack of humility, we need the all seeing eye of God to reveal this denizen of the deep. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). We must take inventory and look for telltale signs. Was I hurt because no one said anything about my message? Did I enter the pulpit feeling really good about my preparation? Did I have expectations of great results? Were there intentional guilt trips subtly woven into the message? Am I even aware of the great privilege of having been called to the gospel ministry? Do you pray that God will be glorified? When things have gone well, do you feed off the praise? When people tell you that you are gifted, do you respond with, “No, I’m not really” when in fact you know that you are? Can’t you just say “thank you” and leave it at that? Do you find yourself looking for those who praise you no matter how you came across and avoid your critics? There is a unique mixture of people in every congregation. There are those who genuinely thank you every week for your message. There are those who every few months give you a polite nod of approval and there are those who never say anything. Do you find yourself waiting for their approval? Do you long for their silence to be broken by praise? All that you have been reading up to this point is what I have had to battle over the years with this enemy we call pride. I can ask all the hard questions and poke around in your soul looking for any residue of pride because I have personally experienced most of what I have written. If you’re a young pastor asking when this monster will leave the premise, you will have to ask someone much older than myself. I have learned much about the nature of pride over the years, but it occupies such vast territory of the soul that new evidences of its existence will always be surfacing. Perhaps the best advice I can give is to always check motive. The Scriptures are most clear. Is all that we do to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). Check your appetite for praise. Check your fear of no one commenting on what you said. When positive feedback comes, check your spirit and see if you are rejoicing because of your need of acceptance or that Christ was exalted. This battle will not be won overnight but can be examined in the night watches when all is quiet and you can hear its voice, “You were a real hit today, the people loved you.” There is another voice that says, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (I Corinthians 4:7). However, pride is not just found in the pulpit. The ministry has its way of exposing the worst in all of us. Competitive juices begin to flow in all departments of the church. Who has the biggest Sunday school class? Who is asked most often to sing a special? Who seems to get tapped for the lead role year after year in the Christmas pageant? We see all the nasty traits in church that we see at a corporate board meeting. I am presently helping give some advice to a young man who recently was voted to be the new teaching pastor at his church. There is another man that felt he should have gotten the job. Jealousy and pride has joined forces to create problems. Humility says God has spoken through the leadership and I will accept the outcome.
Let’s all be honest enough to admit that there are strong forces from within that demand praise and acceptance. I find it hard to believe that even the most mature of saints doesn’t feel a hint of jealousy when someone other than themselves is sought out for counsel. We all feel this pain. It is normal because as a child of Adam we demand our rights to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hopefully during our pilgrimage we see ourselves more as the children of God than the children of Adam.
Stay the course and let God be God.