Monday, October 17, 2016

Self-Righteousness vs. Humility

Many years ago I worked with a fellow pastor on a large church staff.  He was the senior pastor and I was an associate pastor, one of about four who were supposed to assist him in doing his job.  He came to this church after serving several other large church positions.  We had heard good things about him, how he prayed with people who had concerns and urged participation in spiritual endeavors.  All the staff were excited to receive him as the new senior pastor, after having served under a somewhat wimpy pastor who read his sermons weekly in a very dry, monotone manner.

The day came for the arrival of the new senior pastor and we all lined up, as if we were the Von Trapp kids waiting for our father to give us his orders for the day and, after being greeted by the new senior pastor and sent on our way, we regrouped and began to talk about our new boss.  Everyone wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt but we all had feelings about meeting him that we could not describe.  Was he genuine in his actions and attitudes toward us or was it all just a facade that covered up for something else?

Over the period of the next months and years we would discover that this man had few social skills and knew very little about how to approach the staff who worked for him or even the church members whom he served.  He had a pompous air about him that came out in the way he talked, dressed, carried himself, and directed others in what to do.  We came to hate attending staff meetings because invariably this man would direct his hidden wrath toward one or more members of the staff during this meetings which could go on for a long time.

Soon, the work environment had changed where there were small groups talking here and there and the sense of unity that we had experienced earlier had been dissolved.  One day the senior pastor asked me to come into his office to visit with him.  I dreaded this invitation because we had had two previous encounters which had not be pleasant.  On this day, though, he seemed a bit subdued.  I sat down in the chair across from him and he sat behind his desk.  He began to talk about his time there and then asked me, "How do you have such a good relationship with the staff?  I have seen you among others and you seem to relate to them well.  How can I relate to them as you do?"  I answered and, I am not making this up--he wrote down the words I told him.  I said, "Just be yourself."  He said, "Just be myself?"  I replied, "Of course, who else could you be."  He paused and wrote on the pad he had in front of him, "Be" and his name.  I was nonplussed.  I could not believe that a grown man who was the senior pastor of this large church had to write himself a reminder to be himself.

You see, who he was was not someone to emulate.  He was full of pride and self-righteousness, very confident in his history of being a good "church manager" but he was not someone who was easy to get to know. He would never let his guard down so that others could truly know the real person who was him, deep down inside.  To do so would have been a terrible threat to him.

The passage from Luke for this Sunday features a story that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector who went to the Temple to pray.  The Pharisee told God how good he was and how valuable he was to God.  The Tax Collector hung his head and begged God for forgiveness.  He could not even look up when he considered what a sinner he was.  Jesus said that the Tax Collector went away "justified" because of his humility.

Being "full of yourself" is something we encounter daily in the world in which we live.  We see politicians, city and state leaders, and even a pastor now and then who are "full of themselves."
They think that the way they are and present themselves is the same way the rest of us act.  They cannot see that their self-absorption is so far out of line with the norm that it is ridiculous.  Every once in while when we meet up with such people, we secretly wish that life would take them down a notch or two so they can see themselves a bit more like other see them.  Perhaps their ego is their guise that they use for cover from accepting the real person that they are.  Maybe they are actually very insecure and that outward covering is their protection from considering the way they really would like to be.  Maybe they are like that senior pastor who asked me how I could get along with others on the staff and when I said, "Just be yourself" he had no idea what I meant.

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