Inspecting the face of each pastor in the room, I waited for their answers. Our speaker, Tim, presented a question to our group of preachers. “What is the most valuable trait you look for in a pastor or staff?” A few chimed out the predictable text-book answers. You know, qualities such as honesty, integrity, a good work ethic. But we all knew that those answers were fundamental to the ministry.
Many pastors often add to personal virtues qualities such as good communication skills, personal charisma, or college education. However, those same pastors often recall stories of a gifted minister or employee who proved to be a personal disappointment. Tales of disappointment are often retold as legendary folklore among preachers. The disillusioning reality of swindlers in the ministry is a plague that has crippled the church for centuries. As a result, pastors are always looking for a litmus test to prevent the hiring of a future disaster. This litmus test game, however, isn’t exclusively administered by pastors. Whether consciously or not, we do the same thing when evaluating ministers in our lives who want access to our hearts and lives.
In our years of college ministry, Jen and I adopted Chi Alpha’s vetting slogan of “F.A.T.- faithful, available, and teachable.” We found these qualities to be necessary for cultivating small group leaders. The acronym is silly, but there is a wealth of wisdom behind this truth. However, sitting in this conference room of preachers, I felt that my witty F.A.T. acronym would not be accepted as a serious response. Finally, one pastor offered his thoughts, saying, “Loyalty, that’s the most important thing to me.”
I could understand his perspective. Loyalty is a needed quality, but loyalty void of various other attributes could pose a severe problem. A loyal church leader who has other character blind spots could prove to be a long-term, loyal problem. Though loyalty is vital, I continued my quest long after our meeting. What is it that makes someone a great minister of the gospel and others merely employees of a church with a dynamic speaking ability?
A few weeks later, the answer hit me. Like the surprise of finding a priceless antique, images from a book entitled The Final Quest came to my mind. In the book, Rick Joyner tells of an allegorical vision he had of an end-time spiritual war. At the foot of a mountain, righteous warriors work to ascend to strategic positions from which they can shoot down arrows of truth to liberate those held captive by demonic oppression. As the armies of Hell set the scene by grouping to attack, Rick, in his full battle gear, feels confident in the progress he is making. Then wisdom, a personification of Jesus, comes to him. Rick writes,
“I looked out over the carnage below and the slowly retreating demonic army. Behind me, more of the glorious warriors were constantly taking their places on the mountain. I knew that we were now strong enough to attack and destroy what was left of this enemy horde. “Not yet,” said wisdom. “Look over there.” I looked in the direction he was pointing but had to shield my eyes from the glory emanating from my own armor to see anything. Then I caught a glimpse of some movement in a small valley. I could not make out what I was seeing because the glory shining from my armor made it difficult to see into the darkness. I asked wisdom if there was something that I could cover my armor with so I could see. He then gave me a very plain mantle to put on. “What is this?” I inquired, a little insulted by its drabness. “Humility,” said wisdom. “You will not be able to see very well without it.” Reluctantly I put it on, and immediately I saw many things that I could not see before. I looked toward the valley and the movement I had seen. To my astonishment, there was an entire division of the enemy horde that was waiting to ambush anyone who ventured from the mountain. “What army is that?” I asked, “and how did they escape the battle intact?” “That is Pride,” explained wisdom. “It is the hardest enemy to see after you have been in the glory.”
As a young youth pastor, fueled with zeal and deficient in wisdom, I realized an ageless truth in reading this. It is only the humble who can be entrusted with the power to sustain in the last days. As I closed that book, I adopted a regular prayer of asking, “Lord, clothe me in humility.” The pitfall of pride is a trench into which many mighty ministers have fallen. This imagery of being cloaked in humility serves as a well-needed warning for our day. With the rise of celebrity status preachers in the Western church, this single quality, I feel, often distinguishes between authentic ministers of the gospel and those who are guided by other motives. Humility is a quality that one cannot fake. It serves to keep one’s heart in the authentic place of undeniable dependence on Jesus.
How do you put on the cloak of humility?
First, realize you need humility and ask the Father to clothe you in it. What does humility look like? It looks like the combined attitude of being faithful, available and teachable.
Second, make every effort not to place yourself in the limelight of public applause. As many consume the false comforts of social platform affirmations, take the humble road of not boasting about your successes. As Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”
Finally, pursue humility as a lifestyle of serving others. You can do this by giving your time, energy, and finances. As you sacrifice yourself and help others, humility is the cloak you will find draped upon your shoulders.
When does the serving of others end? Never. I love the image we see of Jesus in eternity from the disciple John’s writings. He says, “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.” Even in eternity, we find Jesus taking on the lowly identity of a shepherd who leads the ones He loves to living waters. John reveals to us how God’s humility is an eternal attribute and not merely a stepping stone to prideful power.