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Knowing how to practice the virtue of humility starts with understanding what humility is. Being humble is not about being a human doormat or groveling to the point where we lose our dignity and self-respect. Humility is rooted in our understanding of our place in God’s creation. Humility lacks pretense.

The idea of being humble may sound like an affront to our sense of self-worth, but the opposite is true. Humility may enhance our psychological well-being and improve our interpersonal relationships.

Practicing humility also can make us better listeners. When someone disagrees with us, do we stop focusing on what they are saying to begin formulating a response? We assume we already know what they are going to tell us. A humble approach is to fully listen to what they have to say and when they are finished ask clarifying questions to ensure you have the proper understanding.

In some congregations, humility seems to be intrinsic to the culture. The organizational structure is relatively flat and key responsibilities are distributed among members of the leadership team. Discernment happens after appropriate input from staff, lay leaders or the congregation, a practice that recalls Paul’s words to the Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (2:3-4)

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” found that successful executives had two traits in common: humility and a determination to advance the mission of the organization. To say it another way, their motivation to lead was not limited by their individual preferences. So, although it comes as no surprise that leadership is not easy work, it’s clear that practicing humility is essential to being the leader God has called you to be.  

Resources

Book cover detail from “The After Party” showing a donkey and elephant facing each other holding branches

Moving people toward greater hope and humility across political differences

Jesus didn’t say how to vote. But he did say how we should treat each other. And those teachings should be the road map for Christians in this rancorous political landscape, says the co-creator of a free course designed to help Christians engage in politics without discord.

Q&A with Curtis Chang

David Wang headshot

Strengthening spiritual formation using psychology

A pastor and psychologist leads a project that helps seminaries evaluate their goals of spiritual formation.

Q&A with David Wang

The word ''humility'' is written in white across a splash-painted background

Looking beyond ourselves and our church walls to find humility

Owning our limitations may not be comfortable, but it can help us be humble, says a Biola University psychology professor.

Q&A with Peter Hill

An illustration of two heads in profile facing each other, made of wrinkled paper, with the ''brains'' made up of different-colored pieces of paper taped together

Cultural humility can help us become better leaders and better Christians

Cultural humility requires us to adopt a posture of learning from those who are different from ourselves.

By Ismael Ruiz-Millán


Before you go…

Christians have a deep well to drink from when it comes to examples of humility. When John the Baptist was asked if he was the Messiah (John 1:20), he confessed freely that he was not. John said he was the voice of one calling in the wilderness. John was confident and courageous as a prophet and he was clear that he was not the Messiah.

When we’re humble, we don’t pretend to be someone we are not, but we also don’t refuse to be who we are. This is why I think humility requires courage. Whoever God has called you to be, and whatever God has called you to do, go forward with the courage that the God who sends you will be with you.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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