This post first appeared in Grit and Virtue.
Humility is rare. Much of the reason humility is quite so sparse is because it has never really been a value that has been popularized – ever. Today’s society values individualism, materialism, wealth, celebrity, and competition, just to name a few. The idea of being humble flies in the face of most of what our culture tells us to pursue. But God instructs us over and over to be humble.
Interestingly enough, meshing humbleness and leadership together can get pretty tricky. We often look to those in prominent leadership positions to use as guides by which to model ourselves. This is natural because these are the people easiest to see. Take for instance, pacers. In half and full marathons, pacers are the runners carrying long, pencil-thin sticks with a sign attached at the top which reads a particular time, such as 2:30 or 1:45. If you stay with the pacer of the time indicated on his/her sign, you too will arrive at the finish line in that amount of time. Similarly, in life, we expect the same result. This is why choosing our role models is so very important.
The Bible lays out some pretty specific guidelines for leaders, and these guidelines, in turn, provide a clear picture of the person we should choose as our real-life role models. In 1 Peter chapter 5, verse 2, Peter says to “watch over [your flock] not because you have to but because you want to. For this is how God would want it not because you’re being compensated somehow but because you are eager to watch over them.” Peter likely knew that compensation is often fuel for pride, humility’s foil. Compensation can take many forms. Payment may come in the form of money, but it may also come in the form of praise. This is where we must be careful in choosing who we look to as a leader. Is this person seeking praise and adoration? Or is this person leading because their heart is in the right place?
Sometimes the people we can learn from best are not those that are in the most obvious of leadership positions. If you look hard enough, you can find people who lead in silence. You have to intentionally keep an eye out for these folks because they don’t demand attention. These people are quiet, but they are doing a knockout job. Most of the time, these silent leaders go unnoticed, but they should be the ones that we pay most attention to. They’re often just doing their own thing, minding their own business, and focusing on their job. These silent leaders are not interested in compensation, praise, or adoration. Their intentions are true and virtuous.
Remember our pacer? Pacers are marked because of the sticks/signs they carry, but the runner next to them might maintain the pace the entire race just as well. This runner is not as easy to pick out because he/she has no pacing sign, but he/she is just as talented – if not more so – than the pacer.
Often, silent leaders are humble but have great talent. This humility is a value that God calls us to pursue. These silent leaders have embraced a very difficult command, one that goes very much against how our culture tells us to act. Paul tells the Philippians that if they have any tenderness and compassion (or as the Message translation says, “if you have a heart, if you care”), give him joy by having the same love and being of one mind. Then he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Not only are we to not be selfish or vain, we are also called to value others about ourselves. It’s easier to strive to humble if you choose a role model that is also.
We must intentionally choose humility to be one of our core values, and we should choose models that practice this value so that we too might do so. The Bible tells us in multiple places that “God opposes the proud but offers grace to the humble.” (See 1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6, or Proverbs 3:34.) Jesus – our most important role model – came as a carpenter, not as a king on a throne. Jesus was the most humble of leaders, and we should always follow His model.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.