12 Practices to Cultivate Humble Leadership


The best leaders understand the importance of humble servanthood. But what practical measures can a leader take to demonstrate genuine humility? David Horner offers 12 practical suggestions to cultivate a humble spirit.

Maybe I am too much of a pragmatist, but sometimes a leader just needs to know what to do next and why that is important. Since I am convinced that the best leaders understand the importance of humble servanthood, what measures can we take to demonstrate genuine humility? Here are 12 practical suggestions you can put into practice immediately to help you cultivate a godly and humble spirit.

1. Look for some way to serve each day.

Life offers a limitless variety of opportunities to serve others. Why not make it a point of special emphasis to find out how you can encourage humility in your own heart by taking the initiative to find needs in others and meet them?

2. Treat everyone with respect and without partiality.

Demanding people, complaining people, critical people, excessively needy people. You name it. Churches are filled with them. We can devise creative ways to avoid them, but can we really afford to do that while affirming genuine love for them? It is fitting to show them respect, even honor, in the name of the One who places them in our care. Likewise, we need to make sure that we do not show partiality or preference to anyone in a self-serving manner.

3. Learn the art of asking questions and listening to others.

One of the greatest marks of humility in a person is that they care what others think. They have the ability to ask questions instead of doing all the talking. Try asking questions the next time you are with someone new. By taking the low place and letting them do the talking you might find it refreshing to listen and learn for a change!

4. Boast of nothing but Christ and the cross.

I have no trouble talking about my family, sports, and ministry issues, so why shouldn’t I become more consistent in bringing Christ into my conversations? Speaking more of Him and less of myself can be just what I need to do to take the focus off of me! We boast most about what matters the most to us!

5. Never demand or even expect preferential treatment.

Some in vocational ministry believe everyone owes us special treatment for the great sacrifices we think we have made to follow Christ. It is time we get a grip! No one owes us anything! Be careful then. Refuse to allow yourself to expect to be treated differently than anyone else.

6. When you meet someone, take the initiative and introduce yourself.

Never assume people know who you are. I find it helps me and the other person if I assume nothing of them and take the responsibility to introduce myself first. This may seem like such a simple thing, but first impressions go a long way. I want to make sure that my actions convey humility in even this small way.

7. Believe the best of people and always give them the benefit of the doubt.

Humility will lead us to conclude that we are not always right and that we do not always command all the facts. Therefore, whenever possible, resist drawing conclusions until you give people the opportunity to tell their side of the story. When you do this, you are admitting that there is room for another perspective. When we rush to judgment, we feed our own ego need to be right, to stay on top of every situation, maintain control of the information flow, and remain in charge. Simply saying, “You may be right ….” offers grace with humility.

8. Learn how to accept praise and take compliments graciously.

I heard about a young soprano soloist who sang just before a veteran preacher was to deliver his sermon. The pastor told her, “That was wonderful. You did very well.” In a stab at humility, she replied, “Oh, that was the Lord, not me!” With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Well, it wasn’t that good!” How hard can it be just to say, “Thank you! You are very gracious to say so.” The person offering the compliment feels acknowledged, and then you can turn their praise immediately into a word of gratitude to the Lord.

9. Admit your mistakes quickly and seek forgiveness when your mistakes cause pain to others.

Humble people quickly admit their mistakes instead of insisting on defending themselves and their intentions, justifying, rationalizing, trying somehow to present themselves in the best light. The sooner you acknowledge your fallibility, the sooner you rebuild trust and regain your credibility.

10. Create situations that will remind you and others that you are not indispensable.

The more the ministry revolves around us, the more our egos get inflated. Our estimation of our own importance blinds us to the truth. One of the best ways to combat this is to make sure that you regularly delegate to others the things you normally do. It will give you a break now and then. It will allow others to exercise their spiritual gifts. And it will prove to you and your congregation that you aren’t irreplaceable. That is a good thing for you to know and them to find out.

11. Honor others by recognizing their efforts, publicly and privately, by expressing thanks.

People love to put their leaders on pedestals. Once you have learned how liberating it can be to get off the pedestal, you will want to do so more often. Teamwork makes the load of ministry much lighter for everybody and ultimately more effective. Wise leaders look for ways to share the work and then express thanks in ways that honor others, both publicly and privately.

12. Always look for ways to take the low place.

There is usually a backseat in a car when a group is going out together … take it. There is always a smaller piece of cake on the plate … choose it. There is always a parking place farther away … take it. How much of your frustration can be traced to your sense that someone else got what you wanted or felt you deserved. If I am determined to take the low place, no one can take away from me what I have freely chosen to give.

Humility takes a lifetime to cultivate but only a moment to plow under — a thoughtless comment, a brief indulgence, a selfish motivation that leads to a prideful action. In no time at all, the pure and simple life of humility we long for suffers a blow that knocks our lives out of balance. If you would walk humbly as a godly leader, the book of Proverbs offers this word of caution: “Watch over your heart with diligence, for from it flows the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Be diligent so that those springs overflow with humility!

7 Challenges Pastors Face

This article is adapted from 7 Challenges Pastors Face: Overcome Common Struggles and Thrive in Ministry by David Horner, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group 2019. Used by permission.

Related Resources


About Author

David Horner

After pastoring Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, for 37 years, David Horner now serves as the Executive Director for Equipped for Life, a ministry established to equip men and women to grow in Christ and learn to excel in their ministry callings.

Cover of Discovering God's Future for Your Church showing a blank wooden signpostLewis Center video tool kit resource
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.