Learning Humility

I suspect most people go to school to become expert, competent, respected and respectable. Who goes to school to be humbled; to be humble? And if you are so fortunate as to learn humility – to become humble, you will never be able to be proud about it, or to post some degree for achieving it… you will just have to live it.

As many return to full-time studies and schools of various sorts, may we be a people aware of the the curriculum of the spiritual life: below is an excerpted portion of Michael Jinkin’s insights on learning humility from the Rule of Benedict:

One day this summer, just a couple of weeks before the beginning of our fall term, I decided to read The Rule of St. Benedict straight through.

What began as an act of discipline, and, frankly, a bit of a chore, quickly became a delight. I had never before read the whole thing in one sitting, but reading it that way, especially right before the school year began, I saw parallels I had never before noticed between the mission of Benedict’s monastic community and that of the seminary.

… Benedict envisioned a learning community of a very specific sort. God calls people, says Benedict. But they need to learn and to be formed in order to live the life God calls them to live and to do the work which the Lord calls them to do. “Therefore,” Benedict writes in the Prologue to his Rule, “we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.” With a clarity that has never again been achieved in an official church document, Benedict writes what he calls a “little rule … for beginners.” (Rule, p. 96)

“In drawing up [the community’s] regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be daunted immediately and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”(Rule, pp. 18-19)

… Repeatedly, woven into instructions in almost every section of the Rule, one finds a reminder that community members are to live together in humility, competing with one another in doing good. Again and again, particularly in what I have come to regard as the heart of the Rule, chapter 4, “The Tools for Good Works,” Benedict marshals passages from every corner of Scripture to admonish the community members to love as Christ loved, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, to never repay evil with evil, to refrain from judging others, to renounce yourself and to reject pride. Closing this section, Benedict describes the community as a workshop, what we might call a laboratory, where all of these virtues are practiced daily until they become habitual. (Rule, pp. 26-29)

It was while reading this section that I remembered something that happened several years ago, in the first years of my tenure as the academic dean at another Presbyterian seminary. I led that faculty into a revision of the school’s curriculum. Before we began the fairly conventional work of looking directly at the curriculum, what we expected students to learn and how we envisioned that happening, we spent two years engaged in self-reflection and research, asking how we could better serve the church and society. In looking into the results of one of our research projects, as we disaggregated the findings of our study, isolating the responses of lay persons from those of ordained clergy and other groups, we found something fascinating.

When we asked the lay persons in congregations what they valued above all else in a church leader, they overwhelmingly said, “humility.”

This was especially surprising because, given the variety of populations we were polling, this finding hadn’t shown up before. The larger aggregated group included pastors, other church professionals such as Christian education directors, judicatory leaders and other religiously related professionals like chaplains, counsellors, leaders of social service agencies and so forth as well as the lay persons; these other categories of respondents simply had overwhelmed by their sheer numbers the findings from the lay people. The aggregated data told us that people value knowledge, expertise, and character in church leadership, but humility had only shown up way down the list of characteristics.

But the lay people, when their voices were allowed to be heard on their own, overwhelmingly, said that they wanted leaders who are humble. They said they wanted leaders who were not proud or puffed up. They wanted leaders who listened (as one lay person said) “as if I’ve got a brain too.”

… Maybe St. Benedict shows us a way to do what we need to do educationally and formatively to provide to the church and society the best leadership possible…

Let us construct a life together in seminary that… provides the formation of character and Christian faith even more than professional formation, and which prefers wisdom over the mere acquisition of information, so that those who graduate from our theological seminaries will be the kind of persons from whom and beside whom and among whom the people of God will want to learn, worship and live. 


 To read the entire article go to “A School for the Lord’s Service” ( Sep 05, 2017) written by Michael Jinkins, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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