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Is the Culture of Honor Hurting Churches?

At the risk of not showing honor to peers in ministry, I want to tackle the topic of honor today. I’m concerned. I see a trend in churches that I think is unhealthy. Honestly, I believe it’s also unbiblical.

There are a number of churches today that are trying to teach a culture of honor. The concept of honor is biblical. In fact, Romans 12:10 tells us to:

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (ESV)

We should show honor to our leaders, but God designed it to go both directions. If it’s one-way, it’s unhealthy and unbiblical.

Let me explain further how God designed honor to work in church leadership. First of all, we are supposed to submit to our leaders. Hebrews 13:17 says:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

One of the ways we show honor to our leaders is by submitting to their authority. At the same time, though, leaders are instructed to show honor by serving those they lead:

“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘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, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

That’s the servant leadership that seems to be missing when the “culture of honor” is carried out to the extreme. Servant leadership only goes one direction. When that happens, honor only goes one direction.

Honor is supposed to go both ways. That’s not what I’m seeing in churches today. Some churches are trying to create a culture where all the underlings are supposed to honor their senior pastor by serving his every need, by guarding him from the congregation, and by always saying “yes sir” to every request, among other things. Being armor-bearers to each other is one thing; when it creeps into making the pastor the “king,” it’s a completely different deal.

My fear is that this “culture of honor” trend plays right into the sin of pride. Unchecked, pastors can quickly get to a very unhealthy place for themselves, their ministries, and their marriages. God did not design the pastor to be the rock star. God charged pastors to equip God’s people to do the work of God. When an unhealthy “culture of honor” is promoted, God’s people wait for “God’s man” to do the work of God. That may work for someone who only intends to be a preacher, but it doesn’t work if you are trying to be a pastor.

Here’s some wisdom that may help you begin taking steps in the right direction:

“The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 15:33 ESV)

If you want to receive honor, you have to give honor. If you want to experience honor, you have to embrace humility. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Rather than expecting your church to show you honor, maybe your focus should be on serving your church.

I’m thankful for leaders in my life who have modeled a healthy approach to servant leadership. I’m learning daily what it means to be a servant leader.