The Modest Pastor

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The word “modest” may strike you as archaic, conjuring up everything from dress codes to social mores. But let’s take the simple approach here: most definitions of modest include something about being humble in your estimation of your own abilities and achievements. Believe it or not, modesty has historically been a virtue.

A modest pastor is unassuming about his or her capacities, performance, personality and ministry.  Our confidence is in God, not in ourselves.

A few weeks ago I was working through Ephesians 4, where Paul writes that we are to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling,” in view of God’s goal that we mature in Christ. He lays down some marks of what that looks like: be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bear with one another in love, and make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). These are virtues that flow from a transformed heart. They must be cultivated and practiced.  Note how harsh it would sound if Paul had written the opposite: be arrogant and rough, be impatient, bear no one’s burdens (bear your own!), and insist upon your own way even if divisive. Now tell me, which set marks the ministry you practice or observe around you, Paul’s or the opposite?

The crux is that we have to be humbled to be modest; we don’t come by it naturally. When Peter writes “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s hand, that he may lift you up in due time,” (1 Peter 5:7) he’s reminding us that again and again we need to go to the foot of the cross and remember that Jesus Christ has died our death that we might live His life. That Christ is with me, for me, in me and leads me onward. 

It’s not just our hearts and minds that have to be conformed to the pattern of Christ; it is our ministries as well. As Tim Keller writes in Galatians For You, the gospel isn’t just the ABCs of faith (or your ministry), it’s the A to Z of faith (and of your ministry). 

And that leads us to the one thing about which we pastors are to be totally immodest: our faith in Jesus Christ.  G.K. Chesterton famously wrote in Orthodoxy that “what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” We must be bold in our proclamation of the cross and resurrection, in our confidence in the new creation, and in our humble reliance upon God in any and every situation.

  • A modest pastor is gripped more by the vision of life with God than doing great things for God.
  • A modest pastor remembers that all ministry belongs to Jesus Christ and shares in Him – so where Christ is, there is your ministry. (See Andrew Purves in The Crucifixion of Ministry.
  • A modest pastor counts on Christ being at work among the people, and meets Him, sees Him, and points to Him there. 
  • A modest pastor remembers that the daily, humble, hidden, and often boring work is as critical as the biggest or most glorious Sunday.
  • A modest pastor takes Jesus far more seriously than she does her best ministry or performance or her worst sin or failure.
  • A modest pastor isn’t afraid to let ministry be mutual and communal or flow from weakness rather than strength.
  • A modest pastor doesn’t worry about cultivating a personal brand, reputation, platform or career path.
  • A modest pastor doesn’t believe the press about himself (good or bad), but again and again receives and rests in God’s Word that we share in the inheritance of Christ as sons and daughters. 
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