Pride and confidence are different. And someone needs to say so, before we go off in our sanctified zeal and call all confident people to repentance. Confident people may in fact be prideful – and if they are, they should repent. But we should be careful not to blithely judge their confidence as pride, lest we strip them of the courage they need to lead the rest of us.
In the movie Hoosiers, the Hickory Huskers are facing a close game with one final play to determine the outcome. Jimmy Chitwood is the best shooter on the team. The defense knows it, and they’re expecting Jimmy to get the ball. So the coach draws up a decoy play in the huddle – we’ll fake the pass to Jimmy, then get it to Merle for the final shot. The team sits for a few seconds in uncomfortable silence. Finally, Jimmy looks up and says meekly: “I’ll make it.”
No one who’s seen the movie would ever accuse Jimmy of pride. He’s the most humble guy on the team. He’s also the best shooter, and everyone knows it. We want him taking the last shot.
Now, let’s try to shift from sports movies to Christian ministry without the rampant over-spiritualizing that usually attends such a shift. If it’s not pride for Jimmy Chitwood to ask for the ball on the last play, it’s also not pride to say:
- We are confident in our theological vision for ministry… therefore we want other churches to share it.
- I have spiritual gift X and have (by God’s grace) learned wisdom and effectiveness in its use; therefore I want to train and equip others to use spiritual gift X.
- “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
CAN these things be said in pride? Sure they can. But they can also be said in humble confidence. The difference may seem slender, but in reality it’s massive. It’s the difference between Jimmy Chitwood asking for the ball and Joe Namath guaranteeing victory.
GK Chesterton framed the dilemma differently (and certainly more brilliantly):
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition [and] 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… The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.
If I may apply this post to myself for a moment: I want to be the best preacher in Omaha. I want our church to be the most fruitful church in Omaha. I want our missional communities to be the most vibrant and healthy small groups in the nation. I want our network (Acts 29) to be the most effective church planting network on the globe. Is that pride? No. It’s confident conviction. Does that conviction ever manifest itself as prideful ambition? Sure. And when it does, by God’s grace, I want to repent quickly. I want to be doubtful about my efforts. But not about my aims.
So make sure the humility you’re pursuing in yourself and expecting from others is the biblical kind: a spur that prevents a man from stopping, not a nail that prevents him from going on.