The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘How to Get Promoted’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 4/14/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

A Quick Review

In Part One,[1] we discussed the reality that every believer is called to greatness. Moses (Exodus 3), Saul (1 Samuel 10), and David (1 Sam 16) all had their lives divinely interrupted by God, as He called them out of the mundane and into their destiny. Saying yes to God’s call would position them to fulfill their design: a function that would facilitate God’s plan and change the world.

In Part Two,[2] we examined the various forms of resistance that typically rise to the surface when we say yes to God’s call on our lives. When you say yes to greatness, unfortunately the enemy – Satan – typically paints a target on your back. Sometimes the enemy will defy you to your face (see David and Goliath; 1 Sam 17); but more often than not, he will work through other people to try and get you to give up your destiny and sacrifice your call to greatness.

In Part Three,[3] we looked at the reality that destiny takes time. David was a man who waited well; and as he waited for God to fulfill the call to greatness on his life, David “behaved himself wisely” (1 Sam 18:5, KJV). He protected the condition of his heart! When we wait well, we optimally position ourselves for alignment with God’s purposes and plans for our lives.

Biblical Promotion

In this chapter, I want to show you something I call the Biblical Pathway to Promotion. Every Biblical leader – the men and women whom God thrusts into their destiny – has something in common. They approach – and receive – promotion the same way.

You may have heard the old adage, “It’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it.” How you go about seeking promotion is just as important as receiving the promotion you seek. So, let’s talk about how to receive the promotion you crave in a manner that honors God.

The World’s Way

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard about getting promoted? Here are “11 things that will get you promoted,” from the financial education resources site, LearnVest,[4] taken from conversations with managers in multiple fields including marketing, tech, media, executive recruiting, and financial planning:

1) Tell Me I’m Wrong. Bosses like to be around people who challenge their thinking in a healthy way. This isn’t about being annoying and disagreeing; it is about being willing to go against popular consensus, with the data to back up your thoughts.

2) Bring the Bad News First. Don’t just tell your boss what’s wrong; tell her how you are going to fix it. This shows your manager you’re on top of your work responsibilities, and have the ability to creatively solve problems.

3) Be Drama-Free! Gossip Girl should not be your real life: especially not in the office! One boss in the survey said this: “Your job is to make your boss’s life easier, not plop your drama on his or her lap. Save that for your friends and family or your diary.”

4) Smile! “Your boss would like to harbor the fantasy that you actually like your job, since she is paying you, spending more time with you than her family, and helping you more than you realize,” one boss said. “You can at least smile and seem like you are enjoying things in return.”

When I first started preaching as a very young man, I tried to “look serious” at Sunday service by keeping a straight face. Since I was so young, I thought it would make people think I was older and more mature. Instead, I found out it just made me look angry. Don’t turn people away by scowling instead of smiling!

5) Take Notes. I love it when I see people with a pen and paper in church. I immediately want to have a conversation with them to find out what they’re all about, and how I can help them achieve their goals. It shows me they’re focused and serious about what they’re hearing.

Did you know that writing something down with pen and paper helps you to remember it better? Writing with pen and paper boosts memory and enhances your ability to understand concepts and facts.[5] Unfortunately, the same benefit doesn’t apply when we take notes with a cell phone or laptop.

6) Never Skip the Office Party. Sometimes deep bonding can only happen outside of work. People want to get personal! But not too personal 😉

7) Don’t Expect to be Rewarded. “Don’t walk around with the air that you deserve it, because that sense of entitlement is going to get you nowhere,” one boss advised. Are you completely your assignments because you want to honor God with your work? Or because you’re expecting to be rewarded?

8) Hold Up Your End. Be a team player! As one boss lamented, “It’s awful when you claim to be a team player, but complain when you are given responsibilities to help.”

9) Ask How You Can Help. Don’t wait around for your boss to give you work! Be proactive. Take initiative! Make yourself irreplaceable by working harder at solving practical problems than the people around you.

10) Have A Solution. Don’t make your problem your boss’s problem. If you tell your boss something’s broken, bring a solution on how you plan to fix it.

11) Know Your Job – and Do It. Prioritize your responsibilities in such a way that the most critical things get done first. What is your boss ultimately paying you to do? Do that first; and save everything else for later.


There is an entire industry built around how to get a promotion. According to the dominant thought of today’s business leaders, your promotion hinges on what you do to get there. The world’s way says that self-promotion is essential: if you want to get promoted, you have to make it happen on your own! March into your boss’s corner office and ask for that raise!

In January 2018, the Harvard Business Review ran an article titled, “How to Ask for a Promotion.” Jospeh Weintraub, the founder and faculty director of the Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program (CLTP) at Babson College, said, “…to advance in your career, you’ll need to learn to advocate for yourself. You can’t assume that the organization will take care of you just because you do a good job. There is a degree of self-promotion that’s needed.” Put simply, he says, “If don’t you ask, you don’t get.”[6]

This same theme – you have to promote yourself – is evident in most of the literature you read about success in the workplace. We’ve been taught since a young age that, if we want to get ahead, we have to advocate for ourselves. We’ve learned by experience that the squeaky wheel gets the grease: so if you want to get what you feel you “deserve,” you had better speak up!

The Bible Way

But the Biblical Path to Promotion does not involve promoting self. The world says, if you want to get promoted, you have to advocate for yourself (self-promotion!). But God says, if you want to get promoted, you have to lay down your desire for promotion at His feet.  

So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Lk 14:7-11 

Do you see it? How the way of Jesus stands in such contrast to the suggestion of the world’s greatest leadership coaches? Business culture says, “Get up and advocate for yourself!” But Kingdom culture says, “Serve others, and let God advocate for you.”

If you insist on taking the “best place” (v 8), God will eventually humble you. Self-promotion might work for a time; but eventually the house of cards is going to come crashing down. If you build it, you have to maintain it! But if you will take the “lowest place” (v 10), God will exalt you. You won’t have to exalt yourself! If you let God build it for you, He will do all the work to maintain it.

I love God’s response when we humble ourselves and willingly take the lowest place: “Friend, go up higher” (v 10). First, we see that humility leads to intimacy. If you come proudly before God and insist that you should be up higher than you currently are, He won’t call you friend! But if you will humble yourself and concede that His plans for you are better than your plans for yourself, He will call you friend. Second, we see that humility leads to promotion. Do you want to go higher? Get lower! Do you want to be exalted? Humble yourself, so God doesn’t have to do it for you! 

Jesus’ Thoughts on Self-Promotion

James and John were devoted disciples. They had powerful ministries; so much so that they were known as the “Sons of Thunder” (Mk 3:17). If Jesus had a Dream Team, James and John would have been on it!

But even James and John had to fight a desire for promotion. They had to fight the temptation of self-promotion!

At one point in their walk with Jesus, James and John tried to promote themselves:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” – Mk 10:35-37

It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be glorified. James and John wanted to be glorified with Him! It’s easy to give James and John a hard time for their request; but how often do you and I act the same way? How often do we pursue God’s glory, only to ask for a little glory for ourselves on the side? How often do we approach God with the attitude, “I want You to do for me whatever I ask,” instead of going to Him with the humble admission, “I want to do for You whatever You ask!:

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.”

So Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.” – Mk 10:38-40 

James and John didn’t know what they were asking for; so Jesus made clear that they were not asking for the right thing. They would indeed “drink the cup” that Jesus drank. James would be the first apostle to be martyred; and according to church tradition, John was boiled alive in oil for his faith in Jesus Christ, but would miraculously survive to later be imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Jesus laid down His life to suffer and die for the church; and James and John would follow in His footsteps. Be careful what you wish for!

Do you know how the rest of the disciples responded? “They began to be greatly displeased with James and John” (v 41). They were upset, because James and John were promoting themselves instead of the Gospel! The truth is, they also might have been upset because they hadn’t thought to have the self-promotion conversation with Jesus first! But Jesus quickly intervened, as He always does, to remind everyone what mattered most:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Mk 10:42-45

“It shall not be so among you.” You don’t have to fall into the trap of self-promotion that the rest of the world is subject to! You get to be above the jockeying for position and recognition that everyone around you can’t ignore. Do you wan to be promoted? Become a servant. Do you want to be first? Put yourself last. Thus is the counter-intuitive nature of God’s kingdom!

The disciples had some trouble embracing this message. Before long, they were at it again:

Now there was also a dispute among [the disciples], as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. – Lk 22:24-27

Jesus’ constant message was the opposite of what we hear in contemporary culture today. Do you want to be “great?” Serve. Do you want to “govern?” Promote the people around you, instead of promoting yourself. The disciples wanted to know who was greatest, and Jesus reminded them: it was HIM. And even He was the “One who serves.”

Every great leader you see in Scripture had one thing in common: a willingness to serve. Jesus provided what is perhaps the most adequate summation of His teaching on this subject to a group of religious leaders in Luke 14:

So [Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Lk 14:7-11 

The way to promotion is humility. The way to greatness is to serve! The Biblical path to promotion does not entail convincing your superiors that you deserve it; it involves serving whomever God calls you to serve, for as long as He calls you to serve them!

Let’s not forget that the promotion you experience in this life is not the most important goal. What better promotion is there than to be seated in Christ, at the right hand of God “in heavenly places,” (Eph 1:20) for all eternity?!

Come Up Higher

At the time of this writing, I’ve been in full-time ministry for six years. Full-time ministry is not easy; but being a pastor has been the most rewarding calling I never asked for. That’s the truth: I never really wanted to be a pastor. I just had a desire to serve; and the more I served the church, the more the Lord promoted me.

When I first came to our church more than ten years ago, I had just moved to New York City. I wanted to meet other guys my age and form a good group of friends. So, I signed up to be an usher. I quickly met some of the men who are still – to this day – some of my closest friends.

Soon after I became an usher, I joined the worship team. I played jazz saxophone all through college and I could improvise well, so I told the Worship Director. He asked me to audition for the worship team, and I made the cut. Before I knew it, I had a church community that felt like family: all because I had made the simple decision to serve.

One day while I was ushering, I met my wife. She was on the First Impressions team: greeting new guests as they walked into service. I wasn’t trying to meet anyone; and neither was she! But the Lord saw that both of us were serving, so He honored that and put us together. When my wife and I got married several years later, our Lead Pastor made us Care Pastors (our church’s term for lay pastors). We never asked to be ordained and given a title; but because we were so focused on serving, God’s response was, “Friend, go up higher” (Lk 14:10).

Several years after that, I got laid off from my job in finance. I had six months of severance to think about next steps. In that time, our Lead Pastor came to me and asked if I would be interested in coming on full-time staff as the Executive Pastor. I would manage the church’s staff, finances, and administration during the week; and on the weekends, I would preach and pastor at our Manhattan location.

Again, I cannot stress this enough: I never asked to be a pastor. Quite frankly, I never even knew I wanted to be a pastor. But God knew my design – what He had created me to do – and as I demonstrated a willingness to serve, He promoted me to where He wanted me to be.

You don’t have to promote yourself to fulfill your destiny. Serve God, and He will promote you.

© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.