Cost of humility
"The greatest among you shall be your servant." - Matthew 23:12
"For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, ..." Romans 12:3
We are called to be a humble people, a movement spirited by humility. For this reason Jesus directly teaches his disciples in Matthew 23:12 that leading is by serving. Similarly, Paul urges the church in Romans 12:3 to not think too highly of itself, a call I understand to be a call to a spirit of humility to how we deal with one another in the church and how we deal with the people outside of the church. A call to keep our religiosity in check. In both cases we have consistent principles that lead us to place others first, to decenter from self, and to move towards servant leadership.
What is humility? Dictionary.com defines it in this way, "the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc." From a practical perspective I would therefore characterize it as consciously leveling the playing field.
What do I mean? Intrinsically we all rely on some form of social status to posture ourselves in our interactions with others. Its a way of establishing turf or controlling the environment of the exchange. We do this subconsciously even when we say we don't. It's often what makes us feel confident or insecure.
We often depend on our education, experience, profession or socio-economic standings to give us definition within a social structure. In a move to be humble let's strive towards nullifying the posturing and level the playing field for both parties.
Now here is the key to this. The person who can make this most effective is the person with the "greater" social standing. In many cases, most I would contend, we know implicitly who is the person with "greater" standing or at least, we may think we know who has the greater standing. The secret to the success of this approach doesn't lie in accurately measuring your counterpart's social standing but in the act of everyone equally nullifying their status so we are all equal in approach.
This is where Jesus and Paul have it right. Not that Jesus had anything wrong. Its not about being right, being powerful or being influential but its about willing to be caring and considerate in a healthy way by starting the conversation from the same start line. Now this doesn't imply that we always place ourselves in a diminutive position but we seek to start on equal footing.
If we did this consistently with one another imagine the kind of dynamics we would have. Imagine if the church did this?! It supports that old adage "its amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares about getting the credit." The focus of effort would lie in mutual edification and understanding.
However, there is a cost to humility. In a society consumed with itself in this age of selfies, "how does it impact me" and "what am I getting out of it?" It becomes extremely dangerous to be humble and meek. Too often humility is interpreted for weakness or inability. The selfish will always be opportunistic and carve out more for themselves than for others.
A humble professional can be the best in his or her field but if they dedicate to a humble demeanor and attempt to compete with others who are not only always promoting their credentials but also embellishing them, it is a recipe for failure. Yet we are called to be humble.
This is reality not only in the world but also in the church. Humble people dont brag of their expertise, their education or their networks. Humble people who are considerate and don't want to overshadow others soon discover that very often people with less qualifications, less concern for others, and less experience - oh and less humility - end up placing themselves in places of influence and leadership. Sociologically it makes a lot sense that people with less humility and preparation seek positions of control and power within the structure of the church because they lack it elsewhere.
It is very tempting to mobilize the Elders to serve as a form of character police and pick only the well qualified. While tempting its not recommended because we are not seeking to rely on the most qualified. We want the humble who are willing to serve. It is true that we do have to take proactive actions to ensure that justice is not sacrificed in our institutions, especially the church, but it still has to be done within the same realm of love and compassion whereby humility resides.
Now before we set out to make the world right, lets focus on us first. Spiritual reflection leads us back to the basics of allowing God to truly reign in our hearts and in turn our pride, character and behavior. Yes, there is a cost to humility when interacting with a broken world but the last part of Matthew 23 answers the question of what do we do against those opportunists who dont play by the same rules ..."The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
So the next time you prepare to engage someone, dont size them up to see how you can posture yourself over them instead remember how Jesus sees them from the cross and minimize yourself so Christ can use you on a leveled playing field.