When Chris Hutchinson presides over the ordination of elders and deacons in the PCA, he likes to copy the tradition of the Roman generals who carried a staff of authority. But instead of presenting them with a scepter, he hands them a toilet plunger.

“It reminds them that they have authority to imitate Christ, to serve as He did,” he writes in his book “Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up is Down.”

Addressing a Proud Church

Hutchinson, pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Blacksburg, Virginia, doesn’t claim to have an edge on humility, only that he believes someone needed to write a book on the subject.

“Someone [had] to do it, so it might as well be a typical proud Christian,” he explains. “The gospel frees us up to speak into areas that we’re even weak in.”

Based largely on the teachings of Christ in Matthew 23 and Luke 14 and 18, and Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians in chapter 4, the crux of the book is an invocation to corporate humility among church leaders. Hutchinson says the book has “been writing itself,” since his conversion when he was in his late teens.

“As I switched into the evangelical church, I saw a lot of emphasis on success and size and celebrities, and I saw the disconnect there,” he says. “I think the American evangelical church in particular has been proud. It loves access to power, and at the same time it’s very scared about what’s happening in the culture. It’s tempted to either access power in a very prideful way or tempted to withdraw in its own form of separatist pride. I think humility provides a third way where we, with God’s help, are trying to be in the world but not of it.”

A Universal Ailment

No tradition is immune to pride, Hutchinson points out. While the theological left is guilty of  “displac[ing] humility in the name of progress, tolerance, and self-esteem,” those on the right are just as guilty of “glory[ing] in their numbers” or, on the other hand, getting puffed up about “their ability to remain pure while they watch others succeed.”

These warnings are for leaders in the PCA just as much as for leaders in other evangelical traditions, Hutchinson asserts. In fact, Calvinists can be exceptionally skillful in pride.

“There’s an irony there,” he says. “We’re telling people, ‘Everything’s by grace. You’re predestined. Anything good you have is from God alone.’ And then we’re pretty arrogant sometimes in the way we treat other Christian traditions.”

Of course the antidote is a deeper understanding of grace.

He writes, “The humble church will constantly point everyone to Christ and His glory. They will also be aware of the subtleties of pride, which puffs them up with the thought that they alone are the ones getting it right, in the face of so many worldly churches around them. Aware of this danger, they will not promote themselves as anything special. They will promote no brand except Christ and the gospel of grace for all kinds of sinners.”

Demographics of the denomination can also create barriers to humility.

“In the PCA we can tend to be fairly upper or middle class. And that means we can overlook passages like 1 Corinthians 1:26-27:

Ultimately, humility means discovering more of Christ who is not just prophet, priest and king; but also for our sake, an obedient subject, sacrifice, and servant.

Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

“And we forget that really the majority of the church is made up of those who are nobodies in the eye of the world.”

Heralding the Nobodies

At presbytery meetings and at General Assembly, Hutchinson says that he senses within himself and his peers a temptation toward the idol of being seen as “learned, wise, and respectable” — which can sometimes lead to “putting on a show of religion.” Similarly, there can be an unintended emphasis on those who “have the biggest churches, or the best preachers, or those who have written the most books.” Instead, why not ask the unexpected to speak at such gatherings?

“I often wonder whether it would be better to be slightly bored by a less-gifted speaker than to constantly herald the same few celebrities over and over — for the blessing of humility it would bring the church,” he writes.

Near the end of the book, Hutchinson shares a story about an experience at his own church where a guest preacher rather unceremoniously administered communion. After the service, while Hutchinson was still cringing from the guest preacher’s awkwardness, a woman whose salvation he had been praying for told him she had given her life to Christ after hearing the guest preacher speak.

“It pleased [God] to use His servant, in all his apparent goofiness, to accomplish what I, in my proper solemnity, could not.”

Similarly, humility looks like promoting the good work of other Christ-following churches, and not elevating one’s own gathering above others.

“We’re going to be careful about branding ourselves and we shouldn’t always be talking about our own church vision. We should be very supportive of other traditions and churches that preach Christ. We want the whole Kingdom to grow, not just our own congregation.”

Ultimately, humility means discovering more of Christ who is not just prophet, priest and king; but also for our sake, an obedient subject, sacrifice, and servant.

“The surest way to a greater humility is to gaze upon Christ hanging on the cross,” he writes. “When believers focus on Christ and His work on their behalf, then they get both Him and humility to boot.”