Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Arrogance

When a pastor and congregation, or parts of a congregation, have conflict one of the chief complaints against the pastor will almost certainly be that he is arrogant.

Without judging the justice of that complaint in any given case, I think we can readily admit that pastors are certainly susceptible to arrogance, perhaps more so than other Christians. They are supposed to be smart, at least to know more about the Bible and Church history than the other folks around them, they are college educated, and they possess authority. All that can go to your head. In addition, a confessional, conservative, propositional denomination like the LCMS tends to attract men with a certain set of personality traits: a preference for right/wrong argumentation and deductive logical thinking, a disdain for emotionalism or even emotion, etc. Sometimes this is referred to as "being German." But it's more than that for there are plenty of Pentecostals and Romantics named Meier, Schickelgrueber, and Hohenzollern.

With that combination of education and disposition, arrogance is a temptation we should expect: γνῶθι σαυτόν. So it behooves us all to cultivate true Christian humility in the same way Christians cultivate all the virtues: with the Word and prayer and faithful use of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Confession and Absolution.

And yet there is still a problem - the appearance of arrogance even when arrogance itself is absent. Some of this will be unavoidable. Folks will charge you with arrogance (and much else) when you have the sad task of calling them to repentance. Calumny comes with the job; get used to it.

But since you know that it is coming on this score, get as much inoculation from that charge as you can. This begins with that genuine Christian humility mentioned above: there is no substitute for virtue. But one should also be worldly wise. In Bible class, in chance conversations in the supermarket, at the ball game, etc., a little self-deprecating humor goes a long way. Bringing a beer to the trustee who mows the lawn goes a long way. Volunteering to help out with some of the manual labor on the spring clean up day goes a long way.

I suspect that a lot of this is a rural/small town phenomenon. In my parishes it's not uncommon for my wife and I to be the only people in a room with college degrees. In their Monday-Friday lives these parishioners often work under managers and bosses with plenty of degrees and very little common sense or kindness. Same goes for the politicians whose rule they live under. So they are set up to expect the same of the other college educated authority in their lives: the pastor.

All of this is even more necessary for pastors concerned with reverence in the Divine Service, for amongst the people of middle America reverence and arrogance are sometimes confused. The signs of the former are taken to be the evidence for the latter. This is what the charge of "chancel prancing" comes down to: You are an arrogant show off. The worst part of this is that you may never hear the charge to your face and have opportunity to explain why you do what you do and to Whose honor you do it.

Furthermore, teaching all that good stuff about why we worship how we worship before, during, and after you make changes for the sake of reverence really won't help you in this regard. I'm sorry, but it's true. Those disposed to listen to your teaching are not the problem. Especially if that teaching is done partly or in whole via the written word. Those who have a predisposition against "elites" will not read what you write and only listen to a fraction of your explanations. You can't tell someone "I'm not arrogant" when every Sunday they can clearly see what they take to be evidence to the contrary.

Some you will never convince. And those you do you will convince not with your words, but with your deeds of pastoral care in tragic circumstances, your small talk about pork bellies, your admissions of ignorance, and your sharing of cold beer after a hot afternoon of painting the rectory porch.



  1. Spot on. Taking the time and interest in what others do and seeking to understand how it works goes a long way to show humility. But it also has the wonderful effect of humbling you. As a city boy who is in a farming community, I am ignorant the main industry. But through conversation, reading, riding in combines and in tractors during planting, I can begin to wrap my head around it. Even still, there will always be those who don't like you. And as difficult as that is for some of us to take, it's the reality. And those who don't like us are usually people we don't like too. The most humbling thing to do, I've found, is to pray for them, to pray that God would take our dislike away, and to confess our dislike in C/A. But also helpful is a visit outside of Sunday morning. Go visit them at home or at work. Do this usually puts flesh on their bones so you can understand them and their struggles and thus begin to pray for that.

  2. Re: "elites" -- Even as a non-college graduate layman I can't get any pastors, elders or congregation presidents to read anything that I think is important.


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