Sunday, September 11, 2011

Arrogance vs. Confidence

There's a thin line between confidence and arrogance. Many people walk the line, others don't even come close. Confidence is a good thing, generally. I can't think of any time when arrogance is good. Leaders need confidence, not arrogance. Sometimes, confidence is interpreted by some as arrogance. How do we distinguish the two?

I have seen this played out in people all of my life. There are those who carry themselves with a strict confidence, fully aware of their own gifting and not afraid to let others know that they possess it. There are also those who think that they possess something more than they do and act like allowing you into their world should be considered a privilege. I guess it borders on entitlement, but what causes it?

I can think of three places where I have encountered the arrogance: music stores, educational institutions, and churches. I remember going to a chain of music stores when I lived in Connecticut. I remember walking in and seeing tons of people working, none of whom was willing to give me the time of day. As I observed the situation, I realized that any time that someone would approach me, there was an attitude there. It said, "I'm doing you a favor, so be grateful and don't waste my time." The other thing it said was, "I really don't want to be here, but I can't make enough money doing what I love to do, so here I am."

I remember an engineering professor that I had whose arrogance oozed like an infected sore. He acted as if you were privileged to be under his teaching. I can think of some names that I had for him at the time, none of which are appropriate. I pointed out an error he had made on the board during a class and he glossed over me, like I wasn't worth his time, until a teaching assistant pointed out that I was correct. Did I get an apology? Do pigs fly?

I guess the place where I have seen this arrogance that makes the least sense to me is within the church. As followers of Christ, we are to look to him as our example. Every day, we should see less of us and more of him, we shouldn't be too familiar, otherwise, we haven't been transformed. How is it that people who claim to be proclaiming the message of Jesus could be so arrogant?

Thankfully, I have not had to face too much of this firsthand in recent years. I have had the privilege of working with people who understand that humility makes us look more like Christ, even if we come across as weak in the world's eyes. They understand that they are instruments and vessels, used by God for his glory, not their own. They understand that if they don't submit themselves to be used, God will find some other person and way to accomplish what he intends on accomplishing.

When I went into full-time vocational ministry seven years ago, I did so with no small amount of pondering. I had been trained as an engineer, receiving a bachelor's and master's degree in engineering. I was licensed and working as a senior engineer in a nationally recognized engineering firm. I was fairly successful from the vantage point of the people around me. In the 10 years that I had practiced engineering, I had doubled my salary and I was continuing my way up the ladder of success. But I wasn't very happy and fulfilled. Something was missing.

I didn't take the decision to pursue ministry as a calling and a profession lightly. I am the son of a pastor and I knew the drawbacks that came with the territory. I knew that if I didn't pursue this calling, my life would be miserable. Seven years into the decision, I don't regret the decision, but I do often wonder whether I am supposed to be doing what I am doing exactly as I am doing it. I'm not questioning my calling, I'm questioning how I am going about that calling.

I avoided seminary for fear of becoming an arrogant jerk who thought that he knew everything that there was to know about God, the Bible, and Christianity. When I finally went, I was blessed to find a program set up exactly for me and people who were in the same place that I was in. As I near completion, I think that I can honestly say that I have not become that arrogant jerk that I so feared becoming and I haven't really met too many others like that either.

But, I entered ministry through the "back door." There were lots of people who went from Christian college, to Bible school, to seminary, to a church as a pastor, who had no clue what it was like to do anything else. The Christian bubble that they had surrounded themselves with had created an arrogance within them. They were not only unable to relate to people who had no belief in God, they could barely relate to people who considered themselves Christians.

I'm at a place in my life where I'm tired of those kinds of people. I have no space for people who want to "play church." If you want to play church, do everyone a favor and set it up in a place where you will have little impact on anyone other than people who think, act, and look just like you do. The world doesn't need another church full of arrogant, self-righteous people who think that salvation means a "Get out of Hell Free" card instead of a life of abundance (not abundance of material things but the abundance that Christ spoke of) through Christ.

Christ called disciples, not Pharisees. Last time I checked, we were still incapable of saving ourselves. That's why we need a savior, that's why we need Jesus. Arrogance comes from a place where we legitimately think we are capable of doing this all on our own. Confidence comes from a place where we know that we can do all things through Christ, working in us and through us.

I don't know what the future holds for me. 2011 has been a tumultuous year for me and I am simply living moment by moment, day by day, in the grace that God gives me. There are some who fear that as soon as my seminary education is finished that I am moving on from where I am. That's not my plan. That's doesn't mean that it can't happen, but there are too many unknowns for me to make that kind of judgment call right now.

I do know that as I read more and more and grow closer to God through my walk with Christ, I begin to see things that I can't ignore. I see that the call to be a disciple is an uncompromising, unflinching, unbending pursuit of God's kingdom. Sometimes that pursuit requires a price. Often that price is high. It's always uncomfortable. To diminish this is to diminish the example that Christ set forth for us. Sometimes, I push forward, feeling as if I am the only one moving in a certain direction. The challenge is to distinguish if that's because I'm wrong or because where I am going is hard. After all, I've heard it said that if you are a leader and your are leading, if you turn around and find that no one is following, you're just taking a walk.

Jesus never promised wealth and fame for those who followed him. He did promise that he would provide for them, that he would give them what they needed, and that he would never leave them or forsake them. Do we really need much more than that? If I have confidence, it's because of this. If it appears as arrogant, so be it. My confidence is not in myself, it's in the One who created me and who has equipped me with every good thing to do his will.

I'm in this for the long haul. The time to act is now, the time to be a disciple is here. So, here we go. I once saw a bumper sticker that said, "Jesus is coming back...look busy." But I say, Jesus is coming back, get busy. Who's with me, other than the goldfish (apologies Jerry Maguire)?


  1. I believe that if we are all honest with ourselves, we are self-centered sinners - no matter where we are. It is only the work of Christ in our lives that changes that over time (for many of us, a very long time), helping us die to self, bringing an honest perception of our strengths and our weaknesses - but also bringing about a certain amount of humility. We can have a humble confidence in an honest perception of our strengths, but just as you say, more so a confidence in the work of Christ.

    In my mind, the more you grow, the more you see your need for Jesus. And the more you can see your need for Jesus the better off you are. I'm with you!