I recently began serving on the Emory Alumni Board.  I served on the Candler School of Theology alumni Board, which is my graduate school’s board, but am now one of two representatives for the seminary on the larger university alumni board.  I was very surprised and quite honored to be asked to serve, but was nervous about the first meeting and the commitment I had made to serve on  the alumni board of a university recently ranked as one of the Top 20 universities in America.

So, I went to my first board meeting and met several of the other members.  One guy is a neuro-radiologist who has his own practice and also teaches at Yale University.  Another fellow is a senior vice-president for player marketing for the National Basketball Association.  A new member i met the first day is a CPA and also has an MBA and a law degree.  She was a CPA, stayed home to raise two daughters, then went back to school at both Emory and later at SMU in Dallas.  Her daughters attended Emory and SMU respectively, so she also went to college with them!  A remarkable lady.  Another guy operates a center for human rights and civil rights in Atlanta, and they are currently working on building a museum in downtown Atlanta.  Another lady was asked by her boss to essentially take over the daily running of a law firm in which she was a partner, and in the midst of taking on this task also was going through surgeries for a serious illness.  I could go on like this for quite some time, but I think you get the point.  Folks on this board live in Atlanta, New York City, Dallas, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, Boston, etc.  They are highly successful people in highly responsible jobs.

When it came time for me to introduce myself, what was I going to say?  “I have been a United Methodist pastor for the last 20 years in Mississippi and I currently serve a church in Hattiesburg, MS.”  Next.

Well, when I left that meeting, I was physically tired from the trip, and I felt WAY in over my head.  I was humbled as I listened to these stories, and I left feeling inadequate and out of place.  Now, let me say that everybody was very kind, they listened to what I had to say during the committee times as much as they listened to anyone else, and I never felt as if anybody was looking down upon me.  The inadequacy I felt was internal.  I wondered if I belonged as a representative on this board.  That feeling was my first dose of humility.  Later that evening, I was reflecting on the day, my place as a member of the board, and what I could say to these highly successful, driven people that would be a positive contribution.

And that’s when the SECOND dose of humility came.  I realized that I was falling into the same trap that I have warned people against for my entire ministry, the same trap that threatened to ensnare me when I was younger in ministry.  That trap was measuring my worth and value as a pastor and even more fundamentally as a person by how our society measures worth and value.  I realized that I was focusing on earthly things and not heavenly things, and how dismissive I was being of God’s blessings and call in my life.  I was humbled as I began to think about all the people I have been privileged to serve over the years in all of those different churches I have served ranging from 15 members to 1,700 members.  I thought about how God has placed me at the intersection of people’s lives, people such as those mentioned above who in their times of grief, trial, illness, etc., have turned to those who have been called to be at the crossroads of their lives when the security of the  job prestige, money, position, and possessions prove to be inadequate and false.

I realized how incredibly blessed I have been and how incredibly grateful I am that God called me to serve God in the particular way He called me.  I realized how foolish I was to be jealous, envious, or intimidated by these people who are so successful in their professions.  It was foolish in part because that was my projection onto them and not reflective of any way they carried themselves during our time together, and it was foolish because I was being dismissive of what truly matters in this world and in the world to come.

I am thankful for the amazing people I met and will be serving with on the Emory Alumni Board, and I am thankful for what I will learn from them as my understanding of the world is broadened.  I am thankful, too, that God has called me to serve in the way God has called me, and I am thankful for the amazing people I have met during my time in ministry.  They have enriched my life and the life of my family immeasurably.

My prayer is that I will not fall prey to the temptation to measure myself against the standards of society, but instead will continually seek God’s direction in my life, seeking to serve God in response to God’s gracious love and blessing in my life.

Two doses of humility in one evening for contrasting reasons.  Thanks be to God for God’s patient working in my life and in this world.