The Power of Humility in Ministry

By Joel Muddamalle

The difficulties of Christlike humility are not new to the modern age; the early church had to grow in this area of discipleship, too. Here are three reasons to pursue humility as you lead others to pursue Christ.

The Early Church and You

Ministry is exhausting. This is true for the church planter who is just getting his core group together or for the minister who’s had years of ministry experience. Exhaustion in ministry is real, and burnout seems to come for the best of us. But it doesn’t have to. It is quite possible to do all that God has called you to do, and it requires us to return to the humble way of Christ. Humility—it may be unexpected, but it honestly shouldn’t be. Humility was the very thing that set the first-century church apart.

Our modern context is not so different from the first-century church. The concept of humility was largely despised in the cultural climate of the first century, much like it is for us today. If you walked the streets of Corinth, Ephesus, or Galatia and heard someone was tapeinophrosynē (or “humble”), you would have probably gasped at the insult. Markus Barth, the Swiss New Testament Scholar said, “The entire word group which belongs with tapeinophrosynē, according to its usage in common Greek, is used in a negative sense and means ‘a low slavish orientation.’”[1] And yet, it was the humility of Christ embraced by those first disciples of Jesus that created stability, security, and confidence for those local churches.

Look at the words of Paul:

  • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble [tapeinos]. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Romans 12:16)
  • “When we came into Macedonia, we had no rest. Instead, we were troubled in every way: conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast [tapeinos], comforted us by the arrival of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:5–6)
  • “I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility [tapeinophrosynē] and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3)
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility [tapeinophrosynē] consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4)
  • “As God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility [tapeinophrosynē], gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Humility was the necessary virtue that was cultivated to keep people from different backgrounds and contexts together by the risen Messiah and to remain united into one new multi-ethnic and multi-generational family of God. And it is exactly what Jesus invites us into as He urges, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

A Worthy Pursuit

The power of pursuing humility in ministry is the rest you will find, the renewed sense of self-awareness without the entrapment of self-obsession, and how it points to the power of Christ amid our very real weakness.

1. Humility invites us into an exchange of yokes where we find true rest

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus contrasts the heavy burden of the law propagated by the religious rulers of the time with His light and comfortable burden. The language is specific; it is an exchange of yokes, not a removal of yokes. We may pause here and consider what heavy burdens we bear. Often, for pastors, these burdens are self-imposed by expectation, ambition, and desire. These aren’t inherently bad, but without aim and proper motivation, they can become a snare for our hearts. How fast is the church growing? How “good” was my sermon? What are my ministry friends doing? Why are the sermon clips that they post doing so much better than the ones I’m posting? Jesus offers us another way. It is His way of humility that begins with an exchange of yokes. His reference to the yoke could be either a human yoke, which was placed on the shoulders of a person to balance the weight and lessen the strain on the body, or an animal yoke, which connected two animals to pull the burden together.

I think the imagery here is rich and beautiful for a few reasons. First, because God in His kindness never desires His children to be crushed by an unbearable weight. This is why he gives us a yoke. Further, the yoke is bearable because Jesus Himself carries the burden with us and, in fact, front-loads it. While it is impossible for us to truly take on “the yoke of the Law”—to follow the Law completely—Jesus does so perfectly.[2]

Jesus wants us to learn from Him because He is both gentle and humble. In the English Standard Version, the Greek word translated as “gentle” in verse 29 (praus) refers to “freedom from pretension (1 Peter 3:14–15), gentleness (Matthew 11:29; James 3:13), and patient endurance of injury—where it is proper to endure.”[3] Jesus calls us to share His yoke because there is room for us beside Him. We don’t have to be crushed by the burdens placed on us. It’s true that we will still carry burdens and walk through fears, but in the midst of all of this, we can turn our head to the side and see Christ next to us, walking with us as we experience His peace and the rest He provides.

2. Humility grants us self-awareness without the entrapment of self-obsession

You may have heard this phrase, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” There is some debate on the origins of this quote, though it’s historically been attributed to C.S. Lewis. I love this quote and think it is so helpful. I also want to expand it a bit by pointing to where humility starts. Humility shouldn’t start first with ourselves; it ought to start first with God.

I would summarize biblical humility as a three-part movement. Humility is first an awareness of who God is, which defines who we are so that we can rightly relate to other people. The order matters. Humility starts with knowing God so that we can truly know ourselves, and with this understanding, we are equipped to rightly relate to others. Pride suggests that the story starts with us. Pride promises clarity but delivers a distorted reality that places me, myself, and I at the center of creation. Pride robs us of our self-awareness and leads us deep into self-obsession. But humility re-orients us to God and regains our self-awareness. John Stott once said, “If pride and madness go together, so do humility and sanity.”[4]

3. Humility reminds us of the power of Christ in our very present weakness

We live in a society that wants to eliminate every weakness. To be weak and have limits is to be associated with “losers,” the world suggests. And frankly, it’s not even the world. This same impulse and ethos can be found in the undercurrent of conversations at ministry conferences where discussions are framed around “ministry success and growth.” And the truth of the matter is that not every day is a success. Sometimes, the reality of our ministry is pruning, not extravagant growing.

The great theologian J.I. Packer wrote, “Weakness is the way.” It is the way for us to come to terms with our limits and to accept our weaknesses. At this spot, we are perfectly positioned to experience the provision and power of Christ. Romans 5:6 says it this way, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (ESV). What good news! Your value and worth do not come from what you do or achieve, but in what Christ has done and achieved. You are not defined by your ministry’s successes. You are not defined by your ministry’s failures. Your value and worth come intrinsically from being made in the likeness and image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Humility isn’t something to be achieved and to move on from. It is something that must be cultivated and constantly returned to. It is a gift for everyone, especially those of us in ministry. The hidden peace we long for is found as we “put on” the humility of Christ, like Paul wrote to the Colossians. I can think of no better reason to pursue humility than this.

Recommended Resource:

The Hidden Peace by Joel Muddamalle

[1] Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, eds., and Astrid B. Beck, trans., Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 34B of The Anchor Yale Bible, ed. John J. Collins (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 343.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1992), 296. New Testament scholars are divided on whether the yoke in view here is a human yoke or animal yoke. I tend to believe that both can be in view but the metaphor/image should not be taken further than the text allows.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, vol. 1 of Zondervan: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 443.

[4] John R. W. Stott, “Pride, Humility and God,” C. S. Lewis Institute, Sovereign Grace Magazine, September/October 2000,

Published January 31, 2024

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Joel Muddamalle

Joel Muddamalle holds a Phd in theology and serves as the director of theology and research at Proverbs 31 Ministries. He is a co host of the Therapy & Theology podcast with Lysa TerKeurst and licensed counselor Jim Cress.
Joel serves on the preaching team at Transformation Church in Indian Land, SC and is a frequent speaker for conferences and events. He just released his first book, “The Hidden Peace: Finding True Security, Strength, and Confidence Through Humility. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Joel and his wife enjoy a full house with their four children and two dogs. If he doesn’t have a theology book in hand, you can be sure he’s coaching one of his kids in a sport, or doing his best to keep up his hoops game on the basketball court.