Pastoral Poison: Self-Glory
For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been the most competitive person I know. I hate losing — I hate it more than I love winning. Besides being born a sinner, I also was born into a family where this “competitive trait” drove us all. To this day, there’s the constant competition over which family member has the most money, who has the biggest house, or what married couple has the most sex; it can get awkward at times. In recent years, the Lord has begun to show me that entering into these conversations can be a form of self-glorification as I attempt to convince others that I’m better than I really am.
I’ve recently come to realize that this isn’t just a “Chewning Family” issue, but a massive disease that is spreading throughout pastoral ministry. Actually, many of us are trained in self-glorification from the moment of salvation.
I was raised with no spiritual upbringing at all. My mom is a non-practicing Jew; my dad, a non-practicing Catholic. They divorced when I was four years old. My only memory of church growing up was being thrown out of a church basketball game because I kept using offensive language. After high school, I was recruited to play basketball at a Christian college and decided to go even though I knew nothing about Christianity. Within two months of being at school, a friend of mine shared the gospel with me off campus, and I immediately believed in Jesus and became a Christian. On September 1, 2000, I walked back to my Christian campus as a new creation, saved by the blood of Jesus, and self-glorification training began. Almost immediately, I was told how a Christian should act and look. Christians don’t drink, curse, smoke, doubt, have sex before marriage, listen to hip-hop music, or hit the clubs. Christians are people who abide by a specific lifestyle covenant, and to disobey this lifestyle was to reveal that you must not actually be a Christian. So, here I am, a new believer without a safe environment to authentically wrestle with the broken things that still exist in my heart, and learning the expertise of self-glorification.
Today, almost 13 years after Jesus saved me, I am still in self-glorification recovery. And the more I meet pastors and church planters, the more I see how deeply rooted this sin of self-glory actually is.
As pastors, we over-exaggerate the size of our churches; we hide the dysfunction in our marriages, and disguise our depression by quoting verses on joy. And Sundays are the worst. We put on our Sunday’s best, grab our notes and Bible, put on our fake smile and preacher’s voice, and head out the door. The only thing is, deep down we feel like a fake, we have little worship, our wives dream of us selling insurance, our kids are adorable demons, we’ve considered killing our elders and framing the deacons. And add to it that we’ve been so well trained in “fake humility and pastoral culture,” that nobody knows.
Developing Professional Pastors: To make matters worse, we are leaders in the church, called to multiply ourselves, and, sadly, many of us are! We’re developing and deploying professional pastors who are incredible at hiding their sin, wearing a Christian mask, with no safe environment to wrestle with personal sin and doubt. To do so would be a form of weakness that we are not willing to expose.
So, what’s our answer? If we are called to develop and deploy passionate worshippers of Jesus who are steadfast about advancing the kingdom, how can we do this?
As a self-glory addict who is slowing walking through a season of recovery, I have found much hope in Romans 12:9 which tells us, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
If we are truly going to develop leaders, we have to lead the way in an authenticity rooted in the beauty of the gospel.
If all of us “fall short of the glory of God,” and “no one does good, not even one,” if all of us can have an “evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Romans 3; Hebrews 3), then why pretend as if we don’t struggle with things like pride, lust, hatred, or doubt? If the good news of the gospel is that we are so wicked in comparison to the incredible holiness of God, that our only hope would be that that Christ would grant us His righteousness through the cross; then why minimize our need for the gospel by pretending we are more spiritual and godly than we actually are?
The Gospel is our Answer:
The answer to this epic problem is the same answer to every epic problem: the gospel. At some point, we have to remember that Jesus is the only answer to the sin of our self-glory. Even for us pastors, church planters, and ministry leaders: Jesus is the only answer that won’t over-promise and under-deliver. In Jesus we are reminded that even we desperately need the gospel. We’re all sheep and He’s our Chief Shepherd. Other people may not know me, but the reality of my life is that I am fully known by Jesus, yet fully loved by Him as well. My sin and brokenness, which seem to weigh so heavily on me, are tiny in comparison to massiveness of His grace. The beauty and freedom of the gospel is that I see the truth that “my God died for my imperfections, therefore I have no need to pretend to be perfect.” Praise His glorious name.