We ask leaders to be confident, but we bristle when they become arrogant. What is the difference? The dictionary reveals arrogance is pride, egotism, and inflated self-importance, while confidence is the state of being certain. When an arrogant person grates you, however, you’re not thinking about the technical nuances between confidence and arrogance. You simply feel it.
Pastors should preach boldly and lead confidently. The foundation of Scripture gives this assurance. But when church leaders begin to rely on their own abilities, arrogance builds, especially when the church grows. Arrogance is the catalyst for building your own kingdom instead of God’s kingdom. How can you tell when confidence is slipping into arrogance?
Constant defensiveness. Every leader has moments of defensiveness. After all, leaders receive more attention—and thus more blame—for the decisions they make. Rightly so. But when the default reaction to criticism becomes defensiveness, there is reason for concern. Constant defensiveness is a sign the church leader is relying on himself or herself too much. And self-reliance is one of the pillars of arrogance.
Protectionism. When ministries become “my turf,” arrogant decisions become normative. Church leaders should do everything they can to prop up their ministries. However, when church leaders advance their ministries at the expense of others, it’s a sign confidence has become arrogance. Church ministry is not a zero sum game, in which a gain in one area comes at the expense of another area. Good ministry, and confident leaders, are collaborative and cooperative.
Imitation. Imitating other mature leaders is biblical, if the goal of this imitation is to be like Christ. Imitating others to mirror their success is arrogance. Frequently comparing yourself to other successful church leaders is a form of ministry envy.
Using intellect as a weapon. One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from a quiet—but godly—personnel committee member: “Sam, it’s good you like to learn, but don’t ever use your intellect as a weapon.” Those words have stuck with me. Just because you might know a few more facts than the next person does not give you the right to use them to demean others. Only arrogant leaders use their intellect to climb over followers. Intellectual elitism has no place in the church.
Self-promotion. This one is obvious. If all your sermon examples are about you, then you’ve got a problem with arrogance. If all your tweets are about you, then you’ve got a problem with arrogance. The problem with arrogant self-promoters is they don’t recognize their problem. Thus the cycle of arrogance and self-promotion.
Boldness and confidence are biblical. Arrogance is destructive. Discerning the difference between confidence and arrogance can be difficult. Defensiveness, protectionism, imitation, intellectual elitism, and self-promotion are all major warning signs of arrogance.