Even writing a blog post on this almost guarantees comments about pots and kettles. And I get that. I’m as human as you are. And if we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit that it is a struggle for each of us in some way.
However, sometimes to personally admit to our own arrogance, we need prodding. Why? Because we often become blind to our own faults.
The reason it is so dangerous, especially for those of us in ministry positions, is that it can become a cancer to our ministry. I could, and I guess you could as well, name dozens of pastors whose arrogance and pride led them to a very public, very shameful fall.
Arrogance stifles mission. It redirects the focus of our ministry to us instead of to a kingdom focus. And if left unchecked, our ministry will begin to exist for its purpose, not God’s purposes.
So what should we look for in our ministry as a sign that we could be headed down a very long, hard road? Here are five warning signs Jonathan Howe and I listed. You might have more, and I invite you to share them in the comments below.
1. Elitist Mentality: Your church is the only one you know doing things the right way.
This pastor has seen some growth in the church because of a program or a new method. So the pastor tells everyone that the only way for their church to grow is to copy what they have done. And when they choose not to because it might not be what their church needs, they are written off as an ineffective church. Just because something works at one church doesn’t mean it automatically will at another.
Or…another pastor refuses to use anything the “big church” down the road is using. Even when members are leaving, the pastor refuses to change methods or adapt to the changing culture around the church.
There is nothing wrong with trying new things in your church. Especially if you are plateaued or declining. But doing what everyone else is doing is not always the answer either. Find what works for your people. Serve them well. And if you see success, don’t think you have cornered the market on what works in every other church.
2. Theologically Superior: You won’t read authors from outside of your own theological stream.
This pastor only reads recent heroes of the faith. The ones who think the same way, dress the same way, write the same way, talk the same way, and blog the same way. The result is that the pastor becomes a theological clone; donning theological blinders and refusing to even consider or examine other perspectives on theology.
Fight this by reading a lot and reading people with whom you don’t always agree. And read authors who are dead. Contemporary authors are very helpful and have written some great works in recent years, but read the classics too. Read Lewis and Calvin and Wesley and Edwards and Augustine. Your theology might not change, but you will become much more informed about it as a result. Be a lifelong learner.
3. Exclusionary Attitude: You refuse to partner with other local churches on community initiatives.
The town square is being revitalized. Several churches in town are working together for the betterment of the community…except one. Because the pastor at First Church doesn’t want to be seen as being soft on beliefs by working alongside a pastor who thinks differently, baptizes in another way, or believes something different about a non-gospel issue.
As I’ve written, there are certain instances when partnering across denominational lines would be ill-advised. Community initiatives with fellow Christians are not those times. One of the most telling things about your church and you as a pastor is your reputation in the community. That leads us to…
4. Narcissistic: You are more worried about what people think of your church than what they think of your family.
When this pastor attends school functions for the kids, they are more known as the pastor of First Church than as “Ella’s parent” or “Jamie’s spouse.” Why is this? Because they introduce themselves as “Pastor of First Church” instead of just by their name.
Be known as a good parent first. If you are known as a good parent to your kids and as someone who loves their spouse, the pastor thing will take care of itself.
5. Overly Competitive: You consider the church down the street your competition.
A new family moves into the neighborhood, and as a good neighbor would, this pastor invites them to church. They try it out but end up joining the one down the street. So the pastor writes off the neighbors and holds a grudge against the other church for stealing prospects.
Not every church is a good fit for every person. If the church down the street is reaching people and yours is not, it’s likely not the other church’s fault. I realize some will claim this is a result of watered-down theology at time, and that does happen. But more often than not, the reason other churches are reaching people in your community and your church is not is because you are not engaging your context– while others are.
Those are my five signs of an arrogant pastor. I know there are probably more, but we (including me) can work to avoid all of these.