I still remember the experience as if it were yesterday. I was invited to preach to the seminary students at the George W. Truett Seminary in the first years of the seminary’s history. The seminary still met in their temporary location at the First Baptist Church at Waco. I preached a sermon on a verse in Proverbs and I thought it was a well developed sermon with lots of excellent illustrations and several flourishes of words that I thought might catch the attention of the young Truett students. During the sermon I mentioned that I grew up in Rogers, Texas and used some personal story from my growing up years. As soon as the sermon was over, a female student seemed to seek me out immediately. As she approached, I thought maybe she would complement me on the sermon or make some comment about one of the important points I had made during the sermon. Instead, she asked, “Did you say you grew up in Rogers, Texas?” I responded that I did. She paused for a moment and replied, “I’ve never heard of Rogers, Texas. I know about Rogers, Arkansas, but I never heard of Rogers, Texas.” And with that, she turned around and left. That was it. My best effort and the only response was a comment about the location of the town I grew up in! So I had to eat that day a big piece of “humble pie.”
Preachers need experiences like these ever once in a while, because we live in an environment in which we can easily succumb to pride. When we first announce that God has called us into the ministry as a young person, everyone in the church wants to support us. Whenever we preach, they proudly proclaim that we are the next Billy Graham. After we are gone, whenever we come back home to preach at our home church, the congregation lavishes praise on their native son. Then, when we are called to a church as pastor, the pastor search committee courts us heavily and then we enjoy the limitless praise of a honey moon period at the church. And, after all, we are speaking for God! In that kind of environment, it is easy to succumb to the lure of pride. Even when we recognize our need for humility, pride has a way of sneaking in the back door. Like the pastor who told his wife he had a great sermon on humility, but he was waiting for a big enough crowd to preach it to. Or like the pastor to whom the congregation gave a medal for his humility, and then he wore the medal every Sunday when he preached.
So why should we be humble when we seem to be doing so well? Because the Bible reminds us that our adequacy does not come from us but from God. Paul put it like this in his Corinthian letter: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Co 4:7). If we are doing well, it is not because we are so great but because God is so great!
And why should we be humble when our people like us so well? Because much of the praise that comes from the congregation is directed toward the position we hold and not necessarily the person we are. President Truman always had enough sense to distinguish between the position of the presidency and the person of the presidency when exuberant praise came his way. We should have as much sense as preachers.
When the disciples began to think too highly of themselves, Jesus called them together and said: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:42-45). Those would be good verses for us to memorize this week.