The Humble Leader: Rehabilitating What You Think of Yourself


Humility does not come naturally to us. What's natural is treating ourselves in the most generous way possible. And if we can surround ourselves with an entourage of lies about how great we are, so much the better. Even Jesus' disciples argued among themselves as to which one of them was the greatest. There is refreshing honesty in their debate; these were men of little pretense. They were angry with James and John for attempting to garner special privilege from Jesus. Jesus taught them the foolishness of such debates, saying:

You know that the rulers of this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.[1]

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I can relate to the disciples' struggle with humility. Years ago I was quite flummoxed by some of my congregation's complaints that my books were on display in a showcase in the church lobby. People in the congregation were saying things like, "He is just promoting himself and it proves that he is arrogant." I was upset and hurt and frustrated because it was not my idea in the first place. Someone had suggested to me that I do this, and it seemed like a good idea as it helps sometimes for people to know that their pastor has succeeded in something. The staff discussed whether we should take the display down. But I didn't want to take it down. I was angry. What if we gave in to every pathological drama that goes on in people's wee little heads? After I calmed down, it occurred to me that I was behaving like a buffoon potentate, demanding that proper homage be paid to me.

The Christian's struggle to be humble is amplified by the fact that we do not live in a humble culture. Yes, there are pockets of humility, but humility is not the foundation of the modern culture as it once was. One of the most striking examples of how our culture has changed in this regard can be seen in our country's attitude about winning World War II. Not long ago, a PBS special aired a radio broadcast from V-J Day in 1945, when we celebrated winning the war. Many famous stars were on the program, including Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante, Dinah Shore, Bette Davis, Lionel Barrymore, Gary Grant, and others. I was struck by the tone of self-effacement and humility. The Allies had on that very day secured one of the noblest military victories in history, and yet there were no chest bumps. No one was erecting triumphal arches. Bing Crosby said, "All anybody can do is thank God it's over. Today our deep down feeling is one of humility."[2] The actor Burgess Meredith read this passage from the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle: "We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things—because of Russia, England, and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature's material. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud."[3] It is worth sharing David Brooks' insight about that day: "It's funny how the nation's mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary."[4]

Despite our aversion to humility, there is no more important a character trait for the Christian leader to develop. Jesus, our model, humbled himself, and we need to learn to do the same.


  1. Mark 10:42-45.
  2. David Brooks, "High-Five Nation," New York Times, September 15, 2009, 09/15/opinion/15brooks.html?_r=0.
  3. Brooks, "High-Five Nation."
  4. Brooks, "High-Five Nation."

Written by Bill Hull

Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan.