Church climbing, pride and why I’m not like you

Church climbing is a particularly repellent activity. Treating the church as though there is some sort of greasy pole to climb really irritates me. The people that do this are not difficult to spot and are replete in our churches. 

I am sure we all know the sorts I mean – you can spot them a mile off. They are the ones looking for position in the church, those desperately hoping to catch the eye of elders and ministers. They shoehorn theological training into conversation, the places they have preached are mentioned apropos of nothing and, serendipitously, their latest set of sermon notes happen to fall out of their bible right in front of the minister. If they are musical, they happen to be at the piano after the service, just ‘messing around’ of course. They name-drop in the hope you may know and respect the people with whom they are connected. They are networkers, talking to all and sundry without ever really finding out about, or listening to, those whom they are speaking. They ask you about these same things to find out where you stand in the church pecking order. They cosy up to those who can get them on and laud it over those they perceive as inferior. They are the proud, superior church climbers seeking position and recognition.

It seems clear that this is nothing short of pride. It is a pride that assumes theological training is the same as knowledge and wisdom. It presumes you do not have training, or your training is worse than mine, so I understand things on a level you do not. It says I have experience in preaching, missions, childrens’ work, music, or whatever, that really set me apart from others. It thinks, if others really knew about my background, education and abilities they would see that I really should be given position in the church. In fact, I really should be leading things in some way. Of course, these people never quite frame it in this way. Nevertheless, that is essentially the heart of this sort of self-promotion. It’s the idea, if people really knew what I can do/have done, it’s just obvious that I am the best person for the job. That is the heart of it and it is an ugly, repellent sin.

Now, I accept, I may have mentioned some of these things during conversations in church. Of course, when I do it, I’m not showing off and am certainly not seeking position in the church. When I raise these things it is because I want to be useful in the church and, how can I best be used if people don’t know my experience, background and training? I’m not being proud when I claim my qualifications outflank yours, I’m just stating a fact acknowledged throughout academia. When I talk about my years of experience in preaching and missions I’m just highlighting that I may be able to serve the church in this way. The difference between me and you is: I’m not church climbing, I’m just factually stating my experience. Nevertheless, even though theological training, preaching experience and background in missions are never mentioned as a qualification for office in the church, it’s pretty clear once you know these things about me I should be in the running. I’m not being proud, I’m just trying to make the most of my gifts and serve the church as best I can.

I’m not a church climber. It’s just that, when all is said and done, my experience and training put me in a strong position to serve the church. In fact, I could serve the church all the more if I am given an office and it’s pretty clear my experience lends itself to that. I am being servant hearted, trying to use all my gifts where they will best be utilised by the church. When you do it, you’re being proud and grasping at position – that’s obvious. When I do it, I’m really serving the church and seeking to make the most of my gifts. When you do it, you are a proud church climber. When I do it, I’m being a humble servant of the church. 

That is presumably why I find church climbing so irritating and offensive. If you really understood things the way I do, you would see how much more qualified I am than you for position in the church. You go about crassly stating your experience and qualification in the hope of a role for which you are clearly ruled out both inherently, by your pride, and comparatively, compared to me. I, on the other hand, just make known these things because, of course, the facts will speak for themselves.

When you do it, you’re a proud, arrogant, misguided church climber. When I do it, I’m a humble, servant-hearted individual seeking to serve the church as best I am able. When you do it, it’s definitely a sin, we all see that. When I do it, and if I’m given a role, it’s for the church’s good.