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7 Reasons Christian Leaders Should Avoid Self-Promotion



Before there was Twitter, or Facebook, or even Myspace, there was LinkedIn.

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn bills itself as ‘the world's largest professional network.’ After a decade, it had 225 million members. Three years after being acquired by Microsoft, it has over 650 million users worldwide.

The original social network is sort of like ‘Facebook for professionals.’ Instead of friending people, LinkedIn members add colleagues and business partners as connections. Your profile acts as your online resume. You can post evidence of your certifications and skills, and your connections can endorse and recommend you. 

LinkedIn is popular with churches and church leaders. Thousands of U.S. church jobs, including pastoral positions, currently are listed on LinkedIn. And many pastors are members. So it can be a great way to connect within the body of Christ. In a 2018 article, LifeWay’s Aaron Wilson encourages even more pastors to get on-board to develop their leadership skills and expand their networks. According to Wilson, other benefits of LinkedIn for pastors include:

  • Connecting with church members to understand their professional lives
  • Finding volunteers by surveying the personal skills, experiences, endorsements, and recommendations of church members
  • Browsing free articles on business leadership skills that apply to vocational ministry

LinkedIn and Self-Promotion

A LinkedIn membership certainly offers benefits to a pastor or other church leader. But the main feature of LinkedIn, your profile, is designed to make you look attractive to potential employers. Whenever you present yourself to others—whether on social media or face-to-face—there’s always a temptation to ‘make yourself look good’ and even to promote yourself.

“Today we are expected to sell ourselves at every opportunity, from employment resumes to conversations at parties,” says David Instone-Brewer, a Baptist minister and Bible scholar who covers the topic of self-promotion in his new book Moral Questions of the Bible: Timeless Truth in a Changing World. “Church leaders feel a pull to communicate how qualified, skilled, or experienced we are without appearing to boast.”

According to Instone-Brewer, the Bible gives at least seven reasons why Christian leaders should be very careful about self-promotion.

1. Moses Modeled Humility

Moses, arguably the greatest leader in the Old Testament, was a model of humility. In Numbers 12:3, a verse that likely was not written by Moses himself, he is called “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

“I doubt that Moses was humble as a young man—being brought up as a prince in Pharaoh’s palace isn’t a great way to learn humility,” says Instone-Brewer. 

“But Moses learned humility during those years he spent doing the lowly work of a shepherd, and he exhibited humility the rest of his life. For example, when God called him to lead Israel, Moses pleaded with God to let someone else lead, and in exasperation God let Aaron be His messenger. 

When God offered to replace sinful Israel with a new nation from Moses’s offspring, Moses refused and spent 40 days interceding for Israel.”


Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Elijah O'Donnell

2. Jesus Taught Leaders to Reject Titles

Jesus told Christian leaders that they should reject honorific titles and instead be servants. He criticized those Pharisees who “love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.” (Matthew 23:6)

Instone-Brewer says that the three titles that Jesus rejected—rabbi, father, and instructor—have equivalents today:

  • Rabbi: “This means, literally, ‘my master’,” says Instone-Brewer, “though later it came to mean ‘teacher’.” Similar honorific titles today would be “Sir” or “Reverend.”
  • Father: “This title conveyed even more respect in the days when elders and especially parents were given great deference,” Instone-Brewer explains. Today, Catholic churches use the same term to show this respect, whereas some Protestant churches use the term “Elder.”
  • Instructor: The word translated as “instructor” in Matthew was used rarely and meant “teacher” or “guide to knowledge of the highest kind,” according to Instone-Brewer. “Perhaps the best modern equivalent for this word is ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professor,’” he adds.

 

Status was very important for Jews and Romans. By telling leaders to reject honorific titles, Jesus was giving them a practical way to be humble. “Throughout the Bible, we see humility offered as the antidote to the terrible vice of pride,” says Instone-Brewer.

3. Jesus Was a Servant Leader

As Paul points out, Jesus had every right to boast, because he is God. But Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)

“Jesus didn’t just act out the role of a servant—such as when he washed his disciples’ feet,” says Instone-Brewer. “He regarded his servant role as essential for our salvation. He said that he came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. His entire life was given to serve others.”

Even the age at which Jesus began his ministry indicates that he was to be a servant leader. “Luke records that Jesus started his ministry when he was about 30,” says Instone-Brewer. “That age was significant to both Jews and Gentiles. Levites started their full-time service at age 30, and the minimum age at which a slave could be freed under Roman law was 30. People in both cultures were reminded that Jesus was a servant, first as a manual worker to support his mother, and then in religious service for all of us.”

4. Paul Did Not Promote Himself

Like the Pharisees, the Greeks and Romans wanted to trumpet their achievements and qualifications. “When a teacher was setting himself up in a town, he hired a hall and invited everyone for a free oration,” says Instone-Brewer. “These were popular events, and a successful orator would be one who employed all the flourishes taught in rhetoric classes, was perfectly groomed, and confidently declaimed his superb qualifications.” 

Paul was a traveling teacher, but he didn’t promote himself. “He wasn’t much to look at, and he deliberately used plain speech instead of Greek rhetoric, without any boasting about his qualifications,” says Instone-Brewer. “He could have boasted that he learned under Gamaliel, who was one of the greatest Jewish teachers alive at the time. He could have shown that he was a Roman citizen by wearing a formal toga, but he spurned that.”


Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Austin Ban

5. Paul Focused on Substance, not Self-Promoting Style

During Paul’s day, many speakers used formal rhetorical speaking. “This was similar to what we now call ‘inspirational speaking,’” says Instone-Brewer, “or the skilled use of techniques for connecting with your audience, moving their emotions, and keeping their attention while you persuade them and make them believe that they always thought your way.”

Paul was a scholar and teacher who didn’t use rhetoric to help express himself in public. In 1 Corinthians 2, he explained that this was a good thing, because his audiences were converted by real facts authenticated by God’s Spirit and not by worldly wisdom or persuasive inspirational speaking. 

“Paul didn’t condemn classical rhetorical speaking, however, because Apollos, who had done a wonderful job in the church at Corinth, was a master of rhetoric,” says Instone-Brewer. “Paul gave praise where it was due—he had planted the seed, and Apollos had watered it.”

6. Paul Encouraged Humility

Paul gave us several commands to be humble, including these:

  • Romans 12:3 (paraphrased): Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith that God has given you.
  • Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

“Paul was trying to help us understand that, in God’s eyes, everyone is important,” says Instone-Brewer. “In Romans 12, he goes on to list various important people—prophets, teachers, leaders—mixed in with others who may have been regarded as less important: those who give encouragement, those who express mercy and forgiveness, those who love with sincerity, and those who give service. Paul treated all with the brotherly affection of equals.”

7. Early Church Leaders Followed the Teachings of Jesus and Paul

The early church took seriously the teachings of Jesus and Paul on humility. “Some titles of early church leaders, such as elder and priest, were adopted from the synagogue,” says Instone-Brewer. “But when the church invented its own titles, it chose ‘deacon’ and ‘minister,’ which derive from the Greek and Latin words for ‘servant.’ Even ‘apostle’ means ‘a messenger.’ An apostle was important only because he carried an important message.”

When considering self-promotion, Instone-Brewer likes to think of C. S. Lewis’s vision of heaven in The Great Divorce. When the narrator meets a great lady in a fine chariot, his guide explains that she was Sarah Smith, who was a ‘nobody’ on earth. All those who are enjoying heaven with her are the many souls she saved by showing them love and the source of love. 

“One day, heaven will reveal the true value of our lives, and our boasting will burst like bubbles,” says Instone-Brewer.


Chris Bolinger is the author of Daily Strength for Mena 365-day daily devotional from BroadStreet Publishing. The book is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleChristian Book DistributorsDailyStrengthForMen.com, and other retailers.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Gift Habeshaw


Chris Bolinger is the author of Daily Strength for Men, a 365-day daily devotional from BroadStreet Publishing. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, DailyStrengthForMen.com, and on the Inspirational Reading rack at many supermarkets, drug stores, gas stations, and gift shops.

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