Avoiding the Trap of Pride: Leadership Lessons from Chris Bolinger

In a recent episode of the StrongTeams.com podcast, hosts Steve NeSmith and Rodney Cox interviewed bestselling author and podcaster Chris Bolinger. As the author of popular devotionals for men including Daily Strength for Men and 52 Weeks of Strength for Men, Chris had much wisdom to share about avoiding sinful pride and cultivating humility. These are essential lessons for leaders in any field, but especially for those leading in ministry contexts. Here are some key takeaways on pride, humility, and leadership from Chris Bolinger.

The Perils of Pride

As Chris Bolinger shared, pride can easily become “invisible to you” even as it wreaks havoc in the lives of leaders. Though we quickly spot pride in others, few “imagine they are guilty themselves.” This blindness to our pride reveals why it is such an insidious trap. Leaders often buttress themselves against criticism and self-doubt by building up pride. Yet in refusing to acknowledge our weaknesses, we cut ourselves off from both grace and accountability. As Chris put it, when we lack humble brothers to hold us accountable, we are “left with yourself and that’s a dangerous place to be.”

C.S. Lewis called pride “the great sin” and “the utmost evil” precisely because of how it isolates us from the community and hardens our hearts. Pride leads us to elevate ourselves above others, prioritizing our desires and perspectives over those of others, even God himself. As Chris summarized, “wanting to be God of your own life” is the essence of sinful pride. This stands in direct contradiction to Jesus’ example of humility, as seen in Philippians 2. Though Jesus was God, he “emptied himself” and served others even to the point of death. As leaders, we are called to have that same mindset, counting others as more significant than ourselves.

Cultivating Humility

When asked how leaders can become more humble, Chris pointed to prayer. Humbly acknowledging our weaknesses and struggles before God is essential. As Chris put it, God already knows where we have failed and where pride has crept in, so we need to be vulnerable and specific in confessing this. Reflecting on our need for grace and restoration through prayers like Psalm 51 allows God to renew our hearts and empower us to change.

Beyond prayer, Chris lifted Scripture passages like Philippians 2 that highlight what humility looks like in action. Humility shows itself in cheerfully listening to and honoring others. The humble leader looks “not only to his interests but also to the interests of others” – considering their needs above his own at the moment. This ethic of servant leadership exemplified by Christ stands opposite the competitive, status-seeking pride that often infects leaders.

Humility also reveals itself through authenticity and confession. As Chris shared, being open about his failures and weaknesses after his divorce allowed him to minister to other hurting men. The trials we walk through, though often painful, can equip us to serve others when we approach them in humility. Our stories matter not because they showcase our achievements, but because they reveal God’s persistence in refining and restoring us.

The Antidote to Pride

Social media and ministry contexts that focus on comparison and appearances often exacerbate the problem of pride. Given the virtual nature of social media, Chris noted that leaders easily craft an image that hides weaknesses and exaggerates successes. Numbers, outcomes, and appearances take center stage. Yet the most important aspects of ministry like deep discipleship can’t be captured in tweets or posts. This fuels pride by putting reputation above reality.

So how can leaders steer clear of these pitfalls? Chris returned often to the themes of community and service. The antidote to toxic leadership is Christ-centered leadership which focuses on empowering others over self-promotion. Rather than isolating ourselves in pride, we need accountability and honesty within the Christian community. We grow in humility when we are unafraid to confess our failures and ask for help. And we must remember that the call of Jesus is one of service, not status. Practicing humility comes down to a simple ethic we too easily forget – treating others as more important than ourselves.

Though simple in concept, living out Christlike humility requires transforming grace. Chris made clear that for him, pride remains a recurring struggle. Sanctification is a lifelong process. We cannot manufacture humility through sheer discipline – we grow through dependence on Jesus. By continually laying down our pride and seeking empowerment from the Holy Spirit, we find the strength to walk in the newness of life. Our prayer must be that of Psalm 51 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” As leaders, humility starts and ends in recognizing our desperate need for God.

Discussion Questions

1. In what ways have you seen pride lead to downfall for leaders you know or leaders in the public eye? What were the consequences?

2. Why do you think we are often blind to pride in ourselves, even as we recognize it clearly in others? What causes this disconnect?

3. How would you describe the difference between false and true Christlike humility? What do they look like in daily life?

4. The podcast discusses how community and accountability are antidotes to pride. Why do you think accountability is so important for combatting pride?

5. What practical habits or disciplines can you implement in your life to cultivate greater humility as a leader? How can your team help?

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