Gaining A Realistic Sense Of Self

Bishop Stephen Hale - 10 October 2021

All leaders have to go through the process of sorting out who they are and what they are capable of. More often than not, this is by trial and error. The process can be accelerated, though, by using a range of tools designed to assist with this. Way back when we started the Arrow Leadership Program in Australia in 1995, we used DISC, which helps people to identify their dominant leadership style, and how they respond to other leadership styles. At the time, this was revolutionary. Today it is a much more regular exercise for individuals and teams.

As younger leaders, we will be offered more responsibility over time. This reflects the principle Jesus proposed that ‘if you have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’ Matthew 25:21

A key question is whether there is a biblical framework for thinking about this key area that impacts everyone.

In my view, Galatians 6:2-5 offers a great way of thinking about this. We all know the opening line: ‘Carry each other’s burdens’. What is often overlooked are the verses that follow:.

‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.’

Here are four very helpful principles:

1. Don’t be self-deceived!
‘If any of you think you are something when you are nothing, you deceive yourself.’

The first step to having a realistic sense of self is to accept ourselves for who we are.
We won’t be able to be helped to be realistic about ourselves if we’re self-deluded:

  • if we think we have arrived
  • if we believe we are on a higher spiritual plain
  • if we think we are there to care for others and never need to care for ourselves
  • if we believe that we are incredibly gifted and able, and don’t need to develop or grow
  • if we never see the sin in our own lives, yet condemn the sin in other people’s lives
  • if we are so full of our own importance that we find it a struggle to mingle with the masses
  • if we are so precious that we can’t take on board any helpful feedback (or step back and reflect on unhelpfully delivered feedback).

We must each seek to have a growing sense of ourselves as we truly are:

  • gifted by God yet flawed and fragile
  • wired in particular ways with amazing abilities and potential
  • people whom God wants to use for the sake of his kingdom
  • people who need to be intentional about their growth and development
  • people who are humble and secure enough to ask others to help us

So, first off, don’t think too highly of yourself!

2. Don’t follow the way of comparisons
Next, see what verse 4 says:

‘Each of you should test your own actions. Then you can take pride in yourself, without comparing yourself to somebody else.’

It’s a surprising verse, don’t you think!?
What we seem to be exhorted to think about is this:

  • each of us must come before God and seek to be true to him
  • for some of us – if we compare ourselves to others, we’ll always feel like failures
  • for others of us – if we compare ourselves to others, we’ll always think we’re amazing.

This is tricky, isn’t it? We’re always comparing ourselves to others. It would be wrong to think that somehow, Christian leaders and ministers are immune from this. We do it all the time with ‘my pulpit is bigger than your pulpit’ type conversations. People will say things such as. ‘I just preached the best sermon I’ve ever preached’, and ‘I nailed it’ (until they get home!)

So, what do we read here? We don’t follow the way of comparison, because this pathway will lead to many of us feeling either grossly inadequate or over-inflated.

At the end of the day, in spite of whatever other accountabilities we have, we’re each personally accountable to God. Each of us must come before him and reflect on what we’ve done with the giftings and opportunities he has given us.

3. You can take pride in yourself
If we get it right, then we can be rightly proud and thankful!

In one sense, we never get it entirely right, but we can still be proud when things go well, and we’re able to serve God in a way that is joyous and encouraging. As we seek to gain a more realistic sense of ourselves and our capabilities, there is a point where we can be thankful and rightly proud of what, under God, we have been able to be a part of, and of how we have served God and others.

There have been eras when people’s spiritualties were such that any thought of pride would have been considered sinful. By contrast, what we see here is that as part of the outworking of discerning the way God has wired us and uses us, we can feel affirmed, encouraged and rightfully proud.

As Paul puts it, each of us has to ‘carry our own load’ (v.5). We all need to come before God personally and accept responsibility for using the gifts and abilities God has blessed and imbued us with. If we want to grow and develop, this will involve striving to be the people God really wants us to be. No one else can do that because only we can carry our own loads. When we receive tough feedback, only we ultimately can come before God and seek to reflect on this, and grow and change.

4. We don’t do this on our own
All this brings us back to the most famous of the verses in this section, ‘carry each other’s burdens’. The process of having a realistic sense of self isn’t a solo task. We lead in a context. We lead with others as well as leading others. Everyone we lead and lead with are impacted by us, and we, in turn, are impacted by them.

This little passage captures a marvellous sense of Pauline balance:

  • carry each other’s burdens – mutual encouragement and truth-telling
  • carry your own load – personal accountability and responsibility

Healthy Christian leaders and healthy churches/agencies will strive to put both of these principles into operation. This will mean we will be honest and open about our struggles and issues. Some people will need help to be more humble, and others to have better self-worth. We will offer constructive feedback, and we will be open to growing and changing on the basis of feedback that is offered to us. We will have proper processes for review and feedback, and commitment to development and growth

While we each are personally responsible, together we will seek to help people to be in a team where we help each other to grow and flourish.

See the balance:

  • we give constructive feedback, and we receive and engage with feedback given to us.
  • we are personally responsible, yet we are mutually accountable.

If we all seek to do this:

  • it’s healthy for us together, and
  • that’s healthy for each of us individually.

At the end of the day each of us are responsible before God for the decisions we make. If we sin it is our responsibility. If we decide to drift, or fail to act on God’s word to us, as Paul goes on to say:

‘Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow.’
Galatians 6:7

The goal is to have a healthy sense of self, a realistic self-appraisal. This is for each of us our own load to carry, but it is something we share in together.

Bishop Stephen Hale
Victorian Director Overseas Council Australia