Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote in his book—Lectures to My Students—about a young man who allowed his learning and knowledge to go to his head. Here is the excerpt of Spurgeon’s conversation with him:
One young gentleman with whose presence I was once honored, has left on my mind the photograph of his exquisite self. The same face of his looked like the title-page to a whole volume of conceit and deceit. He sent word into my vestry one Sabbath morning that he must see me at once. His audacity admitted him; and when he was before me he said, “Sir, I want to enter your College, and should like to enter it at once.”
“Well, Sir,” I said, “I fear we have no room for you at present, but your case shall be considered.”
“But mine is a very remarkable case, Sir; you probably never received such an application as mine before.”
“Very good, we’ll see about it; the secretary will give you one of the application papers and you can see me on Monday.”
He came on the Monday bringing with him the questions, answered in a most extraordinary manner. As to books, he claimed to have read all ancient and modern literature, and after giving an immense list he added, “this is but a selection; I have read most extensively in all departments.”
As to his preaching, he could produce the highest testimonials, but hardly thought they would be needed, as a personal interview would convince me at once. His surprise was great when I said, “Sir, I am obliged to tell you that I cannot receive you.”
“Why not, Sir?”
“I will tell you plainly. You are so dreadfully clever that I would not insult you by receiving you into our College, where we have none but rather ordinary men; the president, tutors, and students, are men of moderate attainments, and you would have to condescend too much in coming among us.”
He looked at me severely, and said with dignity, “Do you mean to say, that because I have an unusual genius, and have produced in myself a gigantic mind such as rarely seen, I am refused admittance into your College?”
“Yes,” I replied calmly as I could, considering the overpowering awe which his genius inspired, “for that very reason.”
“Then, Sir, you ought to allow me a trial of my preaching abilities; select me any text you like, or suggest any subject you please, and here in this very room I will speak upon it, or preach upon it without deliberation, and you will be surprised.”
“No, thank you, I would rather not have the trouble of listening to you.”
“Trouble, Sir! I assure you it would be the greatest possible pleasure you could have.”
I said it might be, but I felt myself unworthy of the privilege, and so bade him a long farewell.
How humbling to read this story. I think back to the varying degrees I’ve done similar boasting, and just as oblivious to my pride as this young man. It’s ugly, humorous and sad at the same time. I wish I could believe I’ll never do it again, but self loves to display its accomplishments. Thank God, in his infinite wisdom, he loves us enough to expose such displays of vanity.
Conceited leaders have one favorite subject—themselves. Approach one and you’ll see it within minutes of the conversation. For leaders, I believe it’s better to avoid boasting at all. Let your achievements speak for you. Solomon understood this when he wrote: Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips. And … if you have played the fool and exalted yourself, … clap your hand over your mouth!
This doesn’t mean we belittle ourselves, or downplay our achievements. To do so still draws attention to ourselves. It may seem noble or humble, but it’s not. To belittle yourself, self must be there to belittle. So, as boasting shows we’re “pleased” with self; belittling shows we’re “displeased” with self. Both, therefore, reveal a high opinion of self.
A spiritually healthy leader will neither exalt nor downgrade themselves because their interest has shifted from self to Christ. What he or she is, or is not is no longer a concern. They’ve been crucified with Christ; egotism has been replaced with Christ’s humility. Instead of being self-centered, the leader is now Christ-centered. They forget self because they’re delightfully preoccupied with Jesus and his kingdom purposes.
 Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. 1977. Lectures To My Students. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 36-37.
 Proverbs 27:2
 Proverbs 30:32