Altar Ego

by Jeff Faull 

Church health is a hot topic.  That’s appropriate because when a church is healthy, it should naturally grow.  So where do we concentrate our energy and attention to promote health?  We could emphasize leadership, doctrine and correct belief, involvement, worship, evangelism and outreach…  Indispensable as these are, one component permeates every other arena in The Church:  humility. 

Even secular leadership research has discovered that successful organizations deal not just with strategy, vision, or technical issues, but with emotional intelligence and relationship concerns.  They’re “uncovering” Scriptural principles that have been available to us for centuries.  The Church too often is forgetting lessons we were already taught. 

Two implications stand out.  

First, God blesses humble churches but opposes proud churches.  
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, (Proverbs 3:34, quoted in James 4:6). 

That applies equally well to individuals and congregations.  The admonitions to the Laodicean and Corinthian churches (Revelation 3:17, 1 Corinthians 5:2) both demonstrate the principle.  The word James used for “oppose” is a very strong word, including the meaning “to battle against.”  God doesn’t just ignore proud churches, He actively fights against them.  

Consider the first three major spiritual rebellions, each rooted in pride.  Satan was cast from Heaven because he wanted to “be like the Most High,” (Isaiah 14:14).  Adam and Eve were banned from Eden because they believed Satan’s lie that “you will be like God,” (Genesis 3:5).  The builders of Babel were scattered across the earth because they’d intended to “make a name for [them]selves,” (Genesis 11:4).  Pride was the downfall of the Pharisees, making the classic mistake of caring too much what people thought of them.  Human nature hasn’t changed; the same problems have been wreaking havoc in The Church ever since.  Pride is really a desire and effort to usurp God’s glory and position.  That’s why He dealt with it so severely. 

Start with humility.  Too often we ignore this vital prerequisite for church health and sweep it under the rug “in Christian love.”  That jeopardizes the entire church, even unknowingly.  We should follow John’s example (3 John verse 9) and actively address issues of pride and humility in our congregations. 

Second, a lack of humility is the underlying cause of disharmony in the church! 
Only by pride cometh contention, (Proverbs 13:10, KJV). 

Do we realize the significance of this truth?  Wherever there is dissension, unhealthy conflict, dissonance, or contention, somebody has a pride problem.  Are there unresolved conflicts, disharmony between staff and other leaders, always-disgruntled church members, trouble in the worship department, changes needing made but never seeming to happen, or changes happening that shouldn’t?  Somebody is proud.  Because only by pride comes contention.   Again it was James who wrote where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing, (chapter 3 verse 16). 

Maybe a church has an egotistical senior minister exalting himself and his influence, a strong-willed elder wielding power, a talented performer craving the spotlight, a not-so-talented church member with a selfish agenda resisting positive change, a ministry team leader protecting turf.  In any case, the root issue is pride; until it’s dealt with, the local church will never reach its “health potential.”  

In practical application, this works out in at least four ways: 

Self-examination:  Questions of pride/humility demand personal inventory first.  Ruthlessly eliminate the seeds of pride and selfish ambition.  We have to be humble [humbled] before attempting to diagnose the body or anyone in it. 

Leadership realization:  Congregations mirror their leadership.  No church will thrive without leadership valuing and exemplifying humility.  For The Church, Jesus (washing feet), John the Baptist (“He must increase; I must decrease”), and Apollos (who eagerly learned from Priscilla and Aquila) provide perfect examples. 

Individual education:  People comprising our congregations must learn the importance of humility.  We, the leaders, must talk about it.  Preach it.  Teach it. 

Specific situations:  Once we look at ourselves, leadership, and membership, we’re ready to apply these principles to specific situations in the church.  Almost without fail they come into play when facing difficulties in our congregations.  A healthy, mature church will come to the point that they can discern these underlying issues in specific situations. 

In humility, let’s offer our egos on The Altar.

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