the shape of leadership

The Entitled Leader

Practical ways ministers can break the cycle of entitlement and live in humility

John Davidson on August 3, 2020


You’ve answered God’s call to lead in His kingdom. You’ve worked hard, studied hard, prayed hard and served hard in pursuit of that calling. And now you’ve arrived. You’re leading. People look up to you and respect you.

Whether you lead a youth group, pastor a church, or serve as a missionary, you wield a certain amount of influence over people’s lives. Chances are good your motive for using that influence is honorable.

But everyone who has power is at some point tempted to believe he or she deserves special treatment. In Ego Is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday says, “With success, particularly power, come some of the greatest and most dangerous delusions: entitlement, control, and paranoia.” Ministry leaders are not immune from these delusions.

Entitlement is one of the destructive ways the enemy wreaks havoc in a leader’s life. Entitlement is a belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges. In other words, a soft-hearted individual who starts out in ministry saying, “Here I am; send me,” can turn into a hard-hearted minister saying, “Here I am; look at me,” or, “Here I am; do this for me,” or, “Here I am; give to me.”

Jesus’ call is about sending us out for the benefit of the world. Entitlement is all about me getting what I’m due.

It comes from a faulty assumption that because of your position, influence, calling or experience, you deserve certain things. It plays out in some of the following ways:

  • You anticipate sitting in a place of honor, such as the head table at events or the front row of an important meeting.
  • You expect invitations to serve on important committees or boards.
  • You assume people will seek your input before making decisions, even about things outside your purview.
  • You presume other leaders should ask you to speak at services or events.
  • You expect others to do it your way, because your way is the best way.
  • You believe those under your leadership should never do or say anything that challenges you.
Your position of spiritual leadership does not entitle you to special treatment.

A further telltale sign of entitlement is feeling slighted, insulted or offended when the things above don’t happen.

Don’t they know who I am? If you’ve ever thought or said that in response to a slight, that’s a clear sign you’re feeling a sense of entitlement.

Luke records two statements from Jesus that directly address this.

First, in Luke 17:7-10, Jesus says, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Even the best, most qualified, most talented minister doesn’t deserve any special treatment. He or she is only an unworthy servant doing what God has asked.

Second, in Luke 20:46-47, Jesus said, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Jesus’ message is clear. Don’t be like the Pharisees. Your position of spiritual leadership does not entitle you to special treatment.

Here are three practical ways a minister can break the cycle of entitlement and live in humility:

Serve others. Intentionally do some things you don’t have to do, or things others would normally do for you, to remind yourself and others you’re not above serving.

Elevate others. Use your position and influence to shine the spotlight on others and give them an opportunity to succeed. Sharing power and success will never diminish your own.

Submit to others. Surround yourself with some people who know you and are not impressed by you. Have a group of friends and mentors whom you give the right to tell you when you’re wrong, behaving inappropriately or acting entitled. And then listen to them.

Leaders in Christ’s church must resist the entitlement that often accompanies ministry influence. The one person in history who had a right to be entitled, wasn’t. Just as “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), Kingdom leaders represent Jesus’ best when they give themselves away in a spirit of humility and service.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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