Confidence, Pride, and the Sin of Insecurity

Steven W. SmithThere are many preaching pits to fall into.

The desire to use the ministry as a means of self-fulfillment may be the greatest. So we can't do it. We avoid it with all our strength. And yet, even while you are fighting the desire to advance yourself, we must have confidence.

Confidence is the key.

Confidence is often over-rated. You know that guy. The confident guy. Twenty years ago it was the image of the preacher with the power suit, power tie, power smile, power tools—power whatever.

Today it may be the preacher who is quarterback—the kind of person who is naturally confident and inspires people to follow. This is our idea of confidence. I know some people like this and I would gladly follow them. Their persona oozes confidence and they beg to be followed. The problem is this: what is so enviable is often not possible to imitate. So, perhaps in reaction, those without confident personalities underrate confidence.

But confidence is indispensible to the call. To be blunt, if you are not confident, you do not understand God's call or His message. But how do we preach with confidence if we are naturally shy, reserved, or overcome by our own sense of weakness and frailty in the pulpit?

Let's deal with the obvious. This is God's plan. If He wanted to chock the ministry full of über-talented souls, He could have done just that. He didn't. The reason is so that He could be glorified in our weakness. This is clear enough. We know that, but let's be reminded again: my inability to do what God wants is part of his plan.

I am not sharing this as a nice devotional thought to pep you up. This is the fabric of the theology that we live. Think about I Corinthians 1:21:

For since in the wisdom of God,
the world did not know God through wisdom,
it pleased God
through the folly of preaching to save those who believe.

We will ignore the mountain range of context to stare at the little theological gem logged therein and to turn its facets. To look at the passage in reverse, we see that God chose preaching to save those who believe. This is His plan, that people be drawn to Him through proclamation. Proclamation is more than the Sunday morning activity of preaching, but preaching is no less than proclamation. In the context of preaching, then, God's desire is that we proclaim what He has already said, and that the proclamation be a means by which they are drawn to saving grace. This is pleasing to God for the reason that the world through its own wisdom did not come to know God. Note the contrast. The world did not come to know God on its own; therefore God took something foolish as a means to save them.

If the message is foolish, then the messenger is foolish. The world's intellectuals will rarely respect the Christian preacher. We are not advocating anti-intellectualism, we are embracing God's plan: a foolish message from a foolish preacher.

Why did they not get the message on their own? This was "in the wisdom of God." God created humanity with the inability to know Him by itself, therefore it pleased Him to anoint preaching as the means by which He would save people.

The whole operation makes you look like a fool. Your message is foolish. And if we run about fancying ourselves as wise in the world's eyes—a smooth CEO, or a trendy communicator, we don't understand our message. And, what's more, we might be shifting the seat of confidence from the message to ourselves. The confident preacher is only confident in the message. Therefore he preaches as hard and as well as he can so that the message will be clear, all the while careful not to shift the seat of confidence to his ability to persuade.

So, besides this being God's plan, the second reason to be confident is that it is God's message. Our confidence comes in the fact that we are called to give this incredibly important message. If I have been so changed by this message, should I not have confidence that it will do the same for others? My responsibility is to mount the pulpit, make the text plain, and sit down. There is great power in the dispassion that flows from a heart that receives its sole validation from being faithful. The faithful heart finds joy in being faithful. The unfaithful heart finds joy in being liked. The former is faithful to God's call, the latter is faithful only to self: to the narcissistic need for self-fulfillment via the pulpit. There is nothing more fulfilling than being faithful to God. But if I rest my hope on the pleasure of men I am taking the God-centeredness out of the message. I may say it, but my spirit denies it. Think of the irony, while I am preaching about God and I am trying to promote myself. The messenger denies the message. Can God be glorified in my attempts to glorify myself? Much of what passes for shyness in my life is the insecurity based on embracing the pulpit as a means to put me at the center and God at the periphery. Did I say that out loud?

2/4/2011 5:00:00 AM
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    About Steven Smith
    Steven W. Smith is a preacher and author who is attempting to die in the pulpit and call a generation to do the same. He is the Dean of the College, and Professor of Communication, at the College at Southwestern. Follow him on Twitter.