The Bible warns Christians repeatedly not to boast in their own righteousness. Here are 25 verses about boasting – 22 of them condemn it.
But what about churches? Should they loudly proclaim what God is doing in their midst? Or should they keep quiet about their good works – for fear of becoming prideful?
I used to attend a very large church in Texas that regularly boasted about what God was doing in their midst. In every service they played a celebratory video — a life-change testimony, a recap from a recent mission trip, or an invitation to volunteer. This church also sponsored an annual Texas-sized community service project. Two thousand volunteers descended on the city to clean up parks, serve the homeless and volunteer in the schools. Before the mega-event they contacted the local TV stations and newspapers. They encouraged their members to share pictures on social media.
All this publicity seeking stirred up criticism – not among the unchurched, but among Christians who felt it was unseemly for a congregation to call attention to its good works.
This is the common attitude among churches today. In an effort to stay humble they rarely tell the public what they are up to. They even hide their good works from their own members.
These churches sponsor VBS – but don’t capture any video to show the congregation. They’ll send a mission team to Haiti – without a camera. They’ll sponsor a missionary in Romania – but won’t read a brief excerpt from his letters.
I suppose some churches don’t tell their stories because they lack technical expertise. Video and photography are a fine art. PR and media skills are a rarity in many congregations.
But I believe the main reason churches are so quiet about their good works is Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:1-4:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
So, does this verse apply only to individuals, or to churches too?
In either case, the key distinction is the motivation of the heart. Jesus warned us against performing acts of righteousness so “that we may be praised by others.” He was warning us against doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
So can a church do the right thing for the wrong reason? Sure it can. Congregations can become prideful, just as individuals can.
But remember Jesus also said this (in the same sermon):
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
According to this passage, our good works are supposed to be seen – not hidden. People give glory to the Father when our lights shine.
The Bible does not issue a blanket condemnation of boasting. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” We should boast – but all credit must go to God. There’s a fine line between building up the name of Jesus – and building ourselves up. We must remain on the right side of the line. We cannot simply clam up and refuse to speak of God’s wonderful works because someone might see it as pride.
One of the maxims of public relations is this: If you don’t define yourself in the marketplace, your competitors will happily do it for you. Today’s church is so drenched in false humility that it is allowing others to define it. Christianity’s reputation is suffering – particularly among men.
And speaking of men, my big church in Texas was full of them. One of the best ways to motivate men is to regularly remind them that God is actively at work in their congregation. Men like to play for a winning team.
So – what do you think? Does your church regularly take time during its worship service to tell the congregation what God is doing in their midst? Should Christians be more vocal about the good things their congregations are doing? When do we cross the line from boasting in the Lord to boasting about our own greatness? Comments are open below – or join the conversation on our Facebook page.