I’ve also suggested that a number of other marks will flow out from this one. The first I want to look at is humility.
1 Corinthians 8:1 says that love builds up others whilst knowledge (without love) puffs up, in other words it leads to arrogance and complacency on the part of the speaker whilst others are shamed and broken.
When considering joining a church, look around at how people relate to each other. Are their interactions characterised by pride or by humility. How do leaders relate to the church? Do they follow the example of Christ who came to serve and who loved his disciples by stooping to wash their feet? Or is there a bossiness, a sense of entitlement and a feeling that they seek to lord it over the congregation enjoying privilege and power?
It is important to remember that it is possible to fake godly characteristics. I can put on a good show of being humble and self-deprecating. The real test of the mark is about what happens under pressure. Pride leads to defensiveness. You see when I am proud, it goes hand in hand with self-righteousness and so I cannot afford to admit to any weaknesses or failings. True humility comes from an awareness that I am a saved sinner, justified by faith alone. In fact justification gives me permission to own up to my weaknesses and failings knowing that my salvation is secure in Christ.
For this reason, I committed when I came to Bearwood that I would be quick to acknowledge when I get things wrong. I think that this is important for leaders. I also think this provides an important defence against narcissistic and bullying behaviour. We need soft-hearted leaders who are quick to repent and to say sorry.
If I am unwilling to accept my own mistakes and eager to justify myself, it is likely to lead to me putting the blame, explicitly or implicitly on others. This is one way which people experience bullying and abuse in church when they are caused to suffer false accusation and with it the shunning and shaming that often sadly comes too.
Humility on the other hand will be accompanied by gentleness and compassion. It will come hand in hand with a desire to see others equipped, growing and flourishing in their gifts. Humility is likely to lead to fruitfulness in the church.
Elton John once sang that “sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Pride prevents us from saying sorry. However, I have found that there is another word which seems harder for us to say and mean. The word is “forgive.” There is something incredibly healing about hearing that phrase “I forgive you.” Yet what is it that prevents us from saying it so readily? Whilst “I forgive” is genuinely hard to say when we have been badly hurt, the reluctance to say it that I feel even when the hurt is objectively minor arises out of pride. I am tempted to hold onto hurt because it is another way of providing me with status and attention. Saying “I forgive you” releases the other person from obligation to me and I lose control of the situation.
A loving church will be a church where people are humble, quick to say sorry and quick to forgive.