The Difference between Confidence and Arrogance

May 6, 2020
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By Sam Rainer 

We ask leaders to be confident, but we bristle when they become arrogant. What is the difference? The dictionary reveals arrogance is pride, egotism, and inflated self-importance, while confidence is the state of being certain. When an arrogant person grates you, however, you’re not thinking about the technical nuances between confidence and arrogance. You simply feel it.

Pastors should preach boldly and lead confidently. The foundation of Scripture gives this assurance. But when church leaders begin to rely on their own abilities, arrogance builds, especially when the church grows. Arrogance is the catalyst for building your own kingdom instead of God’s kingdom. How can you tell when confidence is slipping into arrogance?

Constant defensiveness. Every leader has moments of defensiveness. After all, leaders receive more attention—and thus more blame—for the decisions they make. Rightly so. But when the default reaction to criticism becomes defensiveness, there is reason for concern. Constant defensiveness is a sign the church leader is relying on himself or herself too much. And self-reliance is one of the pillars of arrogance.

Protectionism. When ministries become “my turf,” arrogant decisions become normative. Church leaders should do everything they can to prop up their ministries. However, when church leaders advance their ministries at the expense of others, it’s a sign confidence has become arrogance. Church ministry is not a zero sum game, in which a gain in one area comes at the expense of another area. Good ministry, and confident leaders, are collaborative and cooperative.

Imitation. Imitating other mature leaders is biblical, if the goal of this imitation is to be like Christ. Imitating others to mirror their success is arrogance. Frequently comparing yourself to other successful church leaders is a form of ministry envy.

Using intellect as a weapon. One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from a quiet—but godly—personnel committee member: “Sam, it’s good you like to learn, but don’t ever use your intellect as a weapon.” Those words have stuck with me. Just because you might know a few more facts than the next person does not give you the right to use them to demean others. Only arrogant leaders use their intellect to climb over followers. Intellectual elitism has no place in the church.

Self-promotion. This one is obvious. If all your sermon examples are about you, then you’ve got a problem with arrogance. If all your tweets are about you, then you’ve got a problem with arrogance. The problem with arrogant self-promoters is they don’t recognize their problem. Thus the cycle of arrogance and self-promotion.

Boldness and confidence are biblical. Arrogance is destructive. Discerning the difference between confidence and arrogance can be difficult. Defensiveness, protectionism, imitation, intellectual elitism, and self-promotion are all major warning signs of arrogance.

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11 Comments

  • Jonathan Hanna says on

    //Intellectual elitism has no place in the church.//

    I agree

    But, when those who resist movements in the church that downplay the intellectual side of the faith are identified as “intellectual elitist” because they offer arguments against fideism and/or anti-intellectualism, that needs to be clarified that is not intellectual elitism. That is getting back to what the church has historically done throughout it’s history.

  • Mark, in Nigeria where you have some of the biggest churches on the planet.

    Problem is, you see alot of arrogancy amongst pastors.

    It hurts to see pastors lead with arrogancy instead of confidence.

    They even speak to their members disrespectfully.

  • James H Diehl says on

    This article on the difference between confidence & arrogance was tremendous! It ought to be printed in other magazines such as “Preaching”, “Charisma”, “Christianity Today”. “Ministry”, “Charisma Leader” and others. As we pastors would say, “That will preach!”

  • I think I need to print this article and post it in my church office so that I can read it every day.

  • “Intellectual elitism has no place in the church.”

    I cannot say “AMEN!!!” loudly enough or often enough to that comment. I’m pastor of a rural church outside of a college town, and it has reinforced my long-held belief that there is a huge difference between education and wisdom. Some of the wisest people I’ve ever known never even finished high school. I’ve also known people with PhDs who, if common sense was gunpowder, would not have enough to make a decent firecracker.

  • This sounds exactly like the pastor of a church I attended for a few years until I just couldn’t take it any longer.

    His two favorite expressions were “I’m the pastor and I can do anything I want to do”, and “if you don’t like how I do things go find you a storefront and start your own church”.

    He also like to remind people of his master’s degree. To top it off,he is far and away the most defensive person I’ve ever met.

    • The seminary I attended had an Associate of Divinity program for students who had not finished college. I was studying for my Master of Divinity, and I remember what one of my professors said to me one day. He said, “I’d rather teach ADiv. students than MDiv. students any day. All you MDiv. students care about is getting a degree, but ADiv. students actually want to learn.” Needless to say, that clipped my wings a little!

  • John W Carlton says on

    I have a friend that is a good preacher, but his arrogance and ego turn many people off–including me.

    • Hi John. Assuming the “arrogance and ego” are genuine (as they can be easily misinterpreted by those who see any expression boldness or confidence as such) is to actually approach said leader in a spirit of love per Matthew 5, Matthew 18, and 1 Timothy 5:19-20 (if necessary). If arrogance is real, they will likely not accept the rebuke. However, accurately labeling arrogance and ego can often be subjective. A good conversation over some coffee may reveal that what is being interpreted as arrogance isn’t really arrogance at all. Knowing one another intimately is usually the key to getting these things right and provides a good foundation for accountability down the road and as a friend, you probably know the difference. Thanks for loving your pastor friend regardless!

      • Arrogance is also something that is perceived as there is almost never a friendship or even a conversation over coffee between two people of unequal status. Often, someone who is an equal to the supposed arrogant person does not see arrogance, but perhaps sees a lot of confidence while a person of lesser status might see pure power and arrogance.

  • Chaplain Wesley Byers D.D. says on

    Another sign of an arrogant person, is the constant use of “I”.