Pride, the great enemy of every overseer

On March 6th this year MBM (Multicultural Bible Ministry) celebrated its 25th year anniversary, which began the year after I graduated Moore College. The church plant started in a suburban home in Blacktown way back in 1991. By 1996 we grew to about 150 and amalgamated with St. Alban`s Anglican Rooty Hill. We needed real estate and they need people. It was a marriage made in heaven. I remember my first day sitting on my lounge wondering how was I going to fill my time?

So if I could time travel what would I want to say to a younger version of myself starting a new church plant with no experience? A lot of things but one of the first would be watch out for pride as it is going to be the biggest threat to both gospel ministry and church growth.

Augustine was right when he called pride the mother of all sins. But its a sin that is not so easy to detect especially if you see yourself as I do as a relational, open minded person who is able to apologize. Pride has so many faces in ministry. Its obvious symptoms include not having a broken and contrite heart and a failure to tremble at God`s word. To somehow think we are wiser than God. When we are driven to make our ministry about us and make church growth an idol with no regard to God`s glory. It obvious when we fail to celebrate other peoples victory or define ourselves by our role and not our status as children of God. Pride and envy tends to find joy in the failures of others (Schadenfreude) as well as suffering at the success of another ministry. As Gore Vidal once said, Every time a friend of mine succeeds a little part of me dies inside. We are a long way of gospel generosity which fails to rejoices with those who rejoice.

However, let me suggest the other faces of pride that I have encountered within myself and don’t appear on the surface as pride.

1. Pride fuels anger at people at church for not doing what we want them to do and when we want them to do it. Lets face I am forever fighting the urge to build my self esteem on my congregations attendance and giving.

2. Pride fuels anxiety, depression and self loathing about the lack of growth, lack of giving or lack of serving at church.

3. Pride also makes us resist facing facts by taking good statistics about our ministry. So often our commitment to protect our egos is so strong that we will not engage with depressing facts.

4. Pride explains away realities by using anecdotes or telling stories to undermine the validity of hard data. Its not that anecdotes don’t have any place or that every survey is correct but so often we listen to our intuition rather than evidence based conclusion. Part of the reason is so that we can avoid us feeling like a failure.

5. Pride means we tell ourselves that we cant learn from ‘those over there’ because their ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Americans’ and lets face it any one can grow a church in USA (even thought ave size church is similar to Australia).

6. Pride means we think our patch is so unique and only we know the Australian context that we shut down reflections, insights, and opinions from our overseas friends. While our theological community is critical to safe guard truth we can sometimes over estimate what our estimate what our tribe can offer especially in those areas of small ‘w’ wisdom.

7. Pride means we theologize our way out of feeling bad. We somehow think that we can set ‘faithfulness’ over and against ‘fruitfulness’.

8. Pride won’t access and learn from a wider body of literature. I remember first reading Gary Macintosh`s book, ‘Taking your Church to the next level’ it was like reading the history of MBM as it journeyed through the various church barriers. As I read about the strategies I remember asking myself, why did I not think it important to read about these growth barriers that I was experiencing and take on tried and tested solution seriously. I spent so much time in the first 15 years of my ministry living out Einstein`s definition of insanity, which as we all know is ‘doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.‘ I suspect that part of the issue is that we hold on to a view that if a body of work is theologically faulty in some parts then it has absolutely nothing to offer.

9. Pride means I have to come up with the idea as though originality were the highest value. We tend to think my original bible studies are God`s gift to the Christian world when sometimes using another churches material may be wiser and more loving to our congregation.

10. Pride resists feedback and refuses to ask for help. It took me 15 years before I secured a mentor? Why so long? It’ not like the book of proverbs doesn’t repeatedly warn about the failure of plans due to lack of counsel. I somehow I thought I knew best. I`ve been so blessed with the mentor relationships I have had over the years with Rod Irvin, David Kraft and consultative relationship with Gary Macintosh. I now require all staff to have a mentor or coach.


The only way to deal with this curse of pride is to make feedback our friend. However, to face facts means we must be willing to resist getting defensive. A necessary stop is being prepared to get depressed with the feedback and facts whether its about preaching, how we run meetings, or some issue that involves our effectiveness as overseas.

The one vital step so often missing in facing reality when it comes to our leadership and our ministries is being prepared to get depressed at the state of play which with a prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit inspires reading, research, consultation and taking counsel from which we embark on solutions and strategies never forgetting that its as the Lord wills. Only then will we properly function as faithful overseers.

I recently read an editorial by Don Carson[1] on Pastoral Leadership. Carson writes,

But oversight of the church is more than simply teaching and preaching… As important and central as is the ministry of the Word of God, the thoughtful pastor/elder/overseer will devote time and energy to casting a vision, figuring out the steps for getting there, building the teams and structures needed for discharging ministry and training others, building others up, …

[1] Don Carson (Themelios 40.2 (2015):195-97 Some reflections on Pastoral Leadership) p197

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