The Danger of Overconfidence


In Jim Collins’ book, How the Mighty Fall, he uses extensive research to document why many great companies fall from greatness. He says Stage 1 of these companies decline is “Hubris Born of Success.” Essentially, when you’re successful, you become prideful & overconfident, and that can lead to decline. You think you have it all figured out. You stop learning. You stop evaluating. You stop trying to get better. You’re successful, so who can teach you anything?

Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at Northpoint Church, one of the largest churches in the United States, argued at the Global Leadership Summit in 2018 that the same thing can happen to churches. He talks about the need to “autopsy” your success and make sure you understand why you became successful and how to keep the qualities that made you successful. He said he believes that in every industry somebody is pioneering new approaches. And more often than not, successful organizations in that industry are ignoring the pioneers. He believes that’s a mistake and that if you want to position your successful organization to continue to be successful in the future, you need to posture your organization to “recognize, not resist” new approaches and ideas. These new approaches and ideas might shape your industry one day and if you ignore them, your industry could leave you behind. In other words, you need to resist “Hubris Born of Success” or it could lead to your downfall. 

At eLife, 10 years in, we knew we were in danger of this. We knew we needed to humble ourselves & always pay attention to what “the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Revelation 2:7). We knew that what allowed us to see so many people come to faith in Christ in the first 10 years was listening carefully to the Holy Spirit & doing whatever he said. We didn’t want to lose that. Even if it cost us everything we had gained up until that point. If you’ve followed Jesus very long, you know that the way he leads you in one season of your life may be totally different than in another season of your life. We wanted to keep asking the Lord, “What do you want us to do now?” And we wanted to keep learning from people all around us how to effectively make disciples & accomplish the mission Jesus has given us. We tried to avoid the hubris & overconfidence that can be born of success.

I think this eagerness to hear from the Holy Spirit & learn from others is part of what caused us to be so open to Kingdom movements once we started hearing about them. When the Lord began to reveal to us how he was working around the world, we couldn’t help but ask the question, “God, would you do it here? Even if it costs us everything, would you do that in our country?” Through much prayer, fasting, and listening to the Lord, we’ve ended up on a totally different journey in this 2nd decade than we were on in the 1st decade. Same Great Commission vision but different approach. And while the first 10 years were very exciting and God did amazing things, our anticipation for what he’s going to do in the days ahead is at an all-time high!

If I could say anything to American Christians and Pastors, it would be, “Stay humble (1 Peter 5:5-6). Hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying to you and your church (Revelation 2:7). The Spirit may be saying something different than what he said to your church 10 years ago. Listen to him every day & do exactly what he says (Galatians 5:25). Expose yourself to what the Spirit is doing all over the world. He’s not only at work in America. Learn from the missionaries that are seeing hundreds of thousands or millions come to Christ. Have a teachable spirit. Be willing to change. Always take up your cross & be willing to give up everything you have for Jesus (Luke 14:33).”

Most on fire Christians I know want to be effective at making disciples. Most of these same people would admit that they’re probably not as effective as they could be. Some of them may hear about the rapid multiplication of disciples around the world, but… and here’s where overconfidence kicks in. But instead of taking a humble, teachable posture, they are confident that they know the best way to make disciples in their context and so they continue to do the same things they’ve always done. Guess what doing the same things you’ve always done often leads to? The same results you’ve always gotten. This is so dangerous. It’s hubris. And often it’s not even hubris born of success in disciple-making, since many might admit they’ve not been as successful as they’d like to be. It’s hubris born of the fact that they’ve been a Christian a long time and think they know the way things need to be done. But it’s still hubris. And that overconfidence can lead to continued patterns of ineffectiveness in disciple-making.

If brothers & sisters in Christ around the world are seeing the rapid multiplication of disciples and we’re not, why wouldn’t we at least stop and pray, “Lord, we see what you’re doing in that country. We want to see that here. Is there anything you want us to learn from them that we could implement here so that we might see a similar rapid multiplication of disciples?” Instead, I think our thought is often, “Good for them. That wouldn’t work here. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.” Dangerous overconfidence.

In light of what God is doing overseas, American Pastors & Christians need to take a humble, teachable posture with missionaries & say to them, “Praise God for what he is doing through you. Would you share with me more about it? Would you teach me, train me, mentor me? I want to see if there’s anything I can learn from what God is doing through you that might help us make more disciples here.”

Please, please, please, for the sake of the 200 million people in our people group who need Jesus, don’t be overconfident in yourself, your abilities, your ideas, your traditions, & the way you’ve always done things.

I pray that you and I would be willing to do “whatever it takes” to see a rapid multiplication movement of new disciples in our people group like missionaries are seeing in 707 other places around the world where there are active Kingdom movements. Let’s resist hubris & overconfidence & embrace humility, teachability, and a willingness to change in whatever way the Spirit might lead us!