How Pastors Should Answer the Hardest Leadership Question


It’s the most challenging leadership question to answer: Am I humble?

Humility is the most difficult leadership trait to determine about ourselves. Pride is the most dangerous leadership trait. Arrogance is the root leadership problem. Our sinful nature propels us to an excessive and unhealthy focus on ourselves.

It’s the quintessential leadership struggle. We stand on a sliding scale somewhere between healthy humility and unhealthy pride. Even at our best, determining where we are on this scale is tricky. We almost always believe we are more humble than we are. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize our pride until it’s too late.

Fortunately, there are three key questions to ask to reduce the potential for pride to puff up.

Are you capable, and are you striving to learn more? This question involves competence. Quite frankly, do you know what you’re doing? Too many leaders fake it. Too many leaders do not want to swallow pride and ask for help. Too many leaders fear looking small by admitting they do not understand something. A lack of competence causes many leaders to guide an organization or church into unnecessarily risky waters.

Are you willing to sacrifice your career to do the right thing? This question involves courage. Leaders must be ready to make the hard and right decisions no matter what the cost. Too many leaders make safe (but wrong) decisions because they fear personal repercussions. Integrity means making the tough decisions and taking the heat.

Do you care about your followers as much as yourself? This question involves compassion. Do you love the people you’re leading? If you don’t, then why lead them? And why would they trust you? Don’t leave conflict unresolved with your followers. Don’t get offended every time a direct report corrects you. Don’t be resistant to getting help from the teams you manage. Be concerned about people on your leadership periphery—those on the outskirts of your leadership oversight. Do you know their names? Even if it’s not on your job description, be a human leader. Hob knob with quarterbacks and coaches—that’s important—but never forget the name of the person carrying the water bottles.

The personal virtue of humility is a constant battle, but the most important one. Humility is a daily decision and a lifetime commitment. Leaders are doomed to short-term, arrogant decisions without competence, courage, and compassion. We can fool ourselves by losing focus on who we really are. When the aura of the position gets in the way of serving, we are no longer fit for the position. Ultimately, we are merely pots. God is the Potter. He has ultimate control. And we should lead like we believe it.

Posted on June 22, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • These are dangerous questions unless I am ready for the Spirit to require change in me.
    Change in actions.
    But it can also be a call to change my thinking.
    To reimagine how I think about prayer or evangelism or discipleship or_______.

    I confess I am better at seeing your lack of humility than my need to humbly be the one to change.

    Romans 12:2: Don’t be a conformed Pharisee ~ Be transformed by a Spirit-led, Scripture-fed renewing (changing) of your mind (the way you think about what you do; not merely sins but systems-structures-styles as well).

  • Morris Baker says on

    Good article. Pastors and leaders in general should learn not to take themselves to seriously. Recognize the Lord has chosen to use you and you and evaporate real quick. Competence and courage are crucial. Learning that you are just a part of can be encompassed in courage. We can go away and things will keep moving forward. Thanks for good article.

  • This post hits home on so many levels. I’ve been a pastor for almost 40 years. I assisted in training new clergy and have seen the truth of what you post in so many of those I trained. I can see these traits in so many of them, not forgetting those who have been pastoring for a good number of years as well. For me, the saddest truth is their unwillingness to learn, coupled with their attitude that they are the gift to God’s church. Once ordained, they stop learning (one of them told me bluntly he has nothing to learn!). They lack both courage and compassion. It’s a job, nothing more. One told me he’d look for a secular job because he wasn’t in a financial position to give his wife what he felt she deserved. They are blind to their arrogance and blind to the path they are both leading and taking their people, for they are fellow sojourners on that painful road to decline (and it’s everyone’s fault, never theirs). It’s never about service, but about being served. It’s not about the people, but about themselves, their ego’s. And God forbid that you should even raise such a possibility. I tried once to raise it, and was on the receiving end of a blistering attack, questioning what right I had to tell them anything. I am from the old church, but things are different now, and I don’t belong anymore. All I can do is pray for them and especially for the people they are supposedly called to serve.

    And yet, I have also experienced young clergy who are open to being taught and shaped, and you know their call is sincere. They are open to nurturing, and even voluntarily ask for advice. They value the wisdom of experience and how it can help shape their ministry. And they lift your heart for you know the church is in capable, loving and compassionate hands.

  • John Nixdorf says on

    Like Weird Al said in his song “Amish Paradise:”

    Think you’re really righteous?
    Think you’re pure at heart?
    Well I’ll bet you I’m a million times,
    More humble than thou art