Theology Thursday: How To Be a Great Side Character

People walking on a street

Who is your favorite character in Harry Potter? Is it Hermione? Or Sirius Black? Dumbledore? I rarely meet someone who loves the novels because of Harry himself. Yet, he is the main character. Harry’s lack of popularity is a testament to two facts: a story is greater than any one character and as readers, we love side characters.

In This Article:

My Story’s Hero

Whenever we tell a “story” from our lives, we always tell it as the main character. No matter who else is in the story or what it is about, we are the central character. This tendency of thinking of ourselves as “the lead” hinders our success, especially when we are working with a team. Instead of thinking about the common goal or the people around us, we are thinking about our role. We are thinking about our “story”.

The remedy from always thinking we are the lead is the Christian virtue of humility. C.S. Lewis defined humility as, “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Lewis’ definition captures the essence of true humility. Humility is not a low self-evaluation. Rather, it is a self-forgetfulness. Humility is not dismissing your talents or position as inconsequential. In fact, as Lewis also commented, a humble person has a true evaluation of their abilities. They can think and speak of themselves in a detached way, as if they were speaking of another person. Rather than dismissing our abilities, humility is seeking to use them in service to others (Lewis, 2009).1

Stated differently, humility is thinking of oneself as a side character. It is an eye for helping others in their story. It is placing the goal above our role. You may have a vast array of skills, deep knowledge of multiple subjects, or a high status. All the best side characters do. Think of Dumbledore or Gandalf. Yet, you use your status, knowledge or skill to help the people around you. You use them to help a hobbit or a wizarding student.

Thinking of ourselves as great side characters is the best way to flourish in a team. It is the best way to accomplish a common goal. It helps free us to serve others. Ultimately, it helps us take the focus off ourselves.

We Are Supports to Our Hero in Real Life

So, how do we stop thinking we are the lead and start thinking of ourselves as the supporting cast? The first step is to realize that everyone is a side character. Earlier I said, “a story is greater than any one character.” Perhaps the better way to say it is, “every great story has the same main character: Christ.” John the Baptist, who Christ called the greatest among those born of women, thought of himself as the best man at the wedding. By thinking of himself as such, he is acknowledging that his role is secondary. The story is not about him; it is about Christ.

John the Baptist is an example of a simple truth that even the best of us plays a subsidiary role. That is, even the best of us are side characters in the true story of history. That story only has one main figure: Jesus Christ. This realization is the first step toward being humble.

My Source of a Joyful Life

Second is understanding that self-forgetfulness or humility is the path to true joy. Writing to the Philippian church, referring to people sharing the gospel, the apostle Paul says there are some who “do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ… intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter… the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice,” (Philippians 1:17, 18). How can Paul rejoice in people intending to make his “chains more painful?” The answer is humility. It is understanding that it is not about him. Rather, he has a goal: the spread of the gospel. The role he plays in accomplishing that goal is irrelevant to him. In his words, it “doesn’t matter.” The only thing that matters is that the goal is being accomplished.

Later in the letter, Paul says, “Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you,” (Philippians 2:17). Again, we see Paul rejoice in the midst of his suffering. And again, his joy comes from his humility. Paul is a side character in the life of the people of the Philippian church. He joyfully pours out his life as a sacrifice in service to developing their faith.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul demonstrates how humility gives us joy independent of or despite our circumstances. He demonstrates how taking the focus off ourselves frees us. That is, humility frees us from the tyrant of the self. The truth is that always thinking of ourselves is tiresome. Always wondering, “What impression am I making?” “How do I fit in?” or “How do I compare?” and so on, is exhausting. Humility frees us by taking the focus off ourselves. It frees us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep.”

A God-Centered Self-Image

Finally, thinking of ourselves as side characters, or having humility, is the path to true success. Speaking of the people in charge in his day, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,” (Matthew 20:25-27). Here, Christ redefines success from ruling over others to serving others. In Christ’s kingdom, it is not the one who has the most people serving him that is the greatest, but the one who serves the most people. To have success as Christ defines it, to have true success, we must begin to think of ourselves as side characters. Our goal must be aiding others in their story.

Christ said in his Kingdom “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” (Matthew 19:30). That is, in his Kingdom all the best characters are side characters. And the sooner we begin to understand this, the sooner we can have true success and joy.

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1 Lewis, C.S. (2009). Mere Christianity. Harper Collins. pp 122-128.


Approved by full-time faculty for the College of Theology on Feb. 16, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.