10 Signs of Arrogance in a Spiritual Leader
- Sue Schlesman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2022 17 Nov
Ar-ro-gant. (adjective) 1350-1400. Middle English (arrogant-arrogãns) “presuming.” 1. Making claims or pretensions to superior important or tights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud
In the secular world, arrogance and leadership go hand-in-hand. Cocky and confident are adjectives that describe a seemingly successful leader. Most churchgoers would claim to want a humble pastor; yet in reality, churches and Christian ministries have positioned themselves to attract and create arrogant leaders because ministry is largely results-driven, just like secular society.
Churches want popular, hip self-assured go-getters for their pastors. But we might be unintentionally gravitating toward arrogant leaders and breeding proud spiritual mentors who one day will fall from the pedestals we’ve put them on--usually in a scandalous, embarrassing kind of way.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:18-19)
How can you tell if your leaders are motivated by humility and obedience to the call of God? What are the indicators that your spiritual leader (whether a mega-pastor or a country preacher) is filled with arrogance and selfishness?
We’ll start with the obvious one: arrogant leaders talk about their storied accomplishments, their relationships with important people, and their perfect families. They are not vulnerable or transparent. Instead, they name-drop, obsess over self-promotion, and put use their families and position as a brand for people to admire and follow.
“They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.” (Psalm 94:4)
Arrogant leaders don’t lose a discussion, argument, or debate. They have the last word and the final say with limited reference or deference to Scriptural models. While they may ask for input or feedback, they don’t use other people’s ideas or take critique seriously. They respond to attacks with sharp retorts instead of graceful corrections.
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)
Arrogant leaders criticize and mock other ministries, ministers, or laypeople. Through passive-aggressive behavior, sarcasm, or intellectualism, prideful leaders jab at anyone who threatens their reputations as successful and popular leaders. They feel competitive toward other leaders, so they feel the need to put down those leaders. They also withhold praise for their peers and their followers because nobody quite lives up to their expectations.
"Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.” (Psalm 101:5)
Arrogant leaders aren’t truly coachable. They don’t utilize mentors, counselors, books, or conferences to help them grow personally; instead, they absorb information for themselves and learn about what’s wrong in the world and who’s to blame for it. They like to lead change or point out problems from the sidelines, but they struggle to take responsibility when things go wrong on their watch. Platform-building is a modern necessity, but arrogant leaders prefer to attach themselves to popular people for a quicker rise to the top.
“Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (Proverbs 13:10)
5. Singular Perspective
Arrogant leaders struggle to see multiple perspectives (since theirs is always right). They don’t like considering other viewpoints or hearing input from a variety of sources or demographics. They want to be left alone to do things their way and delegate their precise objectives to their underlings. Struggling to balance and honor multiple perspectives is as uninviting as sharing the glory.
“My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1)
6. Hoarding Power
Self-absorbed leaders have difficulty empowering their followers to carry out God’s vision. They hoard or micro-manage tasks because it’s easier to transfer blame than it is to transfer ownership or risk the success of an important task. Arrogant leaders hoard power and dole out useless titles and responsibilities. They build a close group of loyal peers to champion their causes and manipulate group approval. They struggle to transition out of their roles because transitioning roles means giving up control.
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5)
7. Loves Attention
Arrogant leaders can be introverts or extroverts. Regardless of personality, people love attention because it makes them feel more loved and secure. Attention-seeking is a dangerous goal for a minister of the gospel, as it will interfere with the ability to stand for truth, implement mission, and love the unlovely. Excessive platform-building, social media obsession, and flattery are all signs that spiritual leaders want attention for themselves.
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them.” (Galatians 4:17)
Even though arrogant leaders might use committees or consensus to generate and implement goals, arrogant leaders stick to their own ideas most of the time. They often take credit for their people’s work but do not take responsibility for their people’s failures. They are unable to admit when they feel overwhelmed, unqualified, or failing. Under the title of strong leadership, they keep all their plates spinning because they can always blame someone else if they drop one. But God promises that the proud will eventually bear the disgrace of their actions.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
Arrogant ministers center their ministries around themselves: around their personality, personal goals, and fears. While it’s true that every church structure adapts to the strengths and weaknesses of its leader, if a ministry revolves entirely around one or two central leaders, then everyone ministering there will worry about how their work is seen by the leaders in the middle of the vortex instead of serving as an offering to God. The ministry will become dysfunctional, cultish, and idolatrous. When leaders are not encouraging and mentoring individuals to grow the ministry according to their own gifting and calling, those leaders will view themselves as irreplaceable. As the example of a perfect servant leader, Jesus modeled spiritual leadership better than anyone else in Scripture. And he transferred his position and ministry to flawed humans to grow and mess up as they willed.
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
Arrogant leaders struggle to maintain personal boundaries. They feel entitled to privileges and exceptions; they cite respect, rights, and spiritual authority as the primary reasons for their protection from personal, spiritual, moral, or ethical accountability measures. They feel they have earned the right to set their own rules for themselves. Leaders without boundaries attach loyalty and trust to privilege, which hampers accountability and opens them up to spiritual attack and moral failure.
“Now the overseer must be above reproach.” (1 Timothy 3:2)
Arrogant leaders fear public opinion instead of fearing the Lord. Their pride and insecurity cause them to focus their attention and energy on themselves, on the outward perception of their worth instead of the inward condition of their character. Be careful about following arrogant leaders.
“To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (Proverbs 8:13)
A Prayer Against Arrogance
Lord God, root out the arrogance and selfishness in me. Fill me with your humble spirit. I pray for my spiritual leaders to seek your face and your wisdom. Protect them from arrogance and pride. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Photo Credit: ©Sparrowstock
Sue Schlesman is an award-winning author, teacher, and church leader. In 2020, Sue won a Selah Award for her nonfiction book Soulspeak: Praying Change into Unexpected Places. Sue is a top-contributor to Salem Web Network radio ministry and Crosswalk.com. She loves traveling, reading, missions, art, and dessert. Sue has a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Theology and Culture. Sue is agented with Karen Neumair at Credo Communications. She and her husband Shane are launching a podcast called “Stress Test: the heartbeat of healthy leadership” in late April, 2023.