Tucked somewhere in the deep and tight recesses of my files are a couple of articles about how the general population views pastors. Twenty different occupations was on one survey list, and a random sample of people were asked to rate each occupation according to things like respectability, trustworthiness, likeability, etc. Sadly, the occupation of pastor was rated eighteenth in most of the areas. Used car salesmen, or as we say now, pre-owned automobile representatives, were listed at the very bottom.
One of those surveys was taken some time in the 1980s and the other in the 1990s. I wonder if things have changed much since then? As a pastor I’ve noticed the same kind of response from the majority of unchurched people. I try to avoid telling people that I work as a pastor. It’s a turnoff, at least where we live. If they ask and I tell, then this invisible barrier pops up. Usually it means the end of the conversation and sometimes even the end of the relationship. So I often hope they won’t ask so I don’t have to tell. Guess that makes me a closet pastor? At least I’m not a closet Christian.
I’ve never found a similar survey of attitudes about pastors in the church at large. My crazy guess is that Christians (and I use that term very broadly) probably give pastors a rating of fifteen, maybe even thirteen out of twenty (1 being the best). Unless they are scoring their own pastor; there you might find very high ratings on the one hand or very low ratings on the other. I suspect that most church people view their own pastors more favorably than they view pastors in general.
Used to be in those “good ol’ days” that pastors were highly respected. In the “good older ol’ days” they were so respected that they were quite revered. Hence the title “reverend.” However, those “good ol’ days” have never impressed me. I don’t believe such days really existed, except in our selective memories or selective historical accounts. No doubt pastors were highly respected and honored in days gone by; at least in Western societies. Such high regard is still found today in other cultures (mostly non-Western). For example, we have dear friends from India who recently returned to their home country. It is very much a cultural thing to show a high honor for people in positions they value. Teachers there are highly respected. Pastors are too, within the small Christian sub-culture. When our friends were here, they were always so respectful and seemingly always surprised at the things I would do that appeared to them as inappropriate; like doing manual labor or serving others food or drinks. I was always surprised at their amazement and unusual respect. As a crude “we’re all on the same level” American, their behavior could be quite unnerving. But then I began to understand the culture of biblical times, and what Scripture says about honoring your pastor (elder) and your brother (and sister) in Christ. My friends’ culture is not too far removed from the Biblical one.
There are several places in the New Testament where Christians are called to honor their church elders, just as believers are to honor civil authorities, bosses, parents and one another. No question that believers in Christ show some level of honor to fellow brothers and sisters. We’re called to honor our pastors (elders) as well as fellow believers in Christ. However, this is something that’s hard for us to do. We tend to honor pastors conditionally – if we like them or if they do what we like then we honor them. If not, well then we don’t.
What does God say? First, there are different ways to honor someone. To honor someone is to give them glory deserving respect, attention and obedience. One aspect of honor is a reverent fear (this is very true of God). Another aspect is submission, which involves humility and obedience (such as with God and parents). A third aspect of showing honor is providing time and/or financial support (such as with parents and pastors).
Honor is a major theme in 1 Timothy. Some have described 1 Timothy as a manual on the life and practice of a local church and its government. Believers in Jesus Christ are to honor one another in Christ because of the honor we have for Jesus Christ. Other verses touch upon it, such as Romans 2:10; 12:10 and 1 Peter 2:17. More so is the honor we are to have for our Christian elders and pastors.
Elders/pastors are deserving of honor (except under certain conditions). Godly, Christian elders/pastors should be treated with honor (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-7) because of their God-ordained position and character in Christ. We show them honor because they serve in Christ (e.g.: Acts 20:17,18). Godly elders who serve in Christ by directing, managing and leading the affairs of the local church deserve honor; especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17, 18). This passage (1 Tim. 5:17,18) assumes that the godly elder/pastor is busy laboring in the good news of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:10; 16:16; 1 Thess. 5:12). His is an honorable service that comes from and flows through the Word of God (Eph. 4:11ff).
Since God’s people are called to honor their godly elders, then just what does that mean? How so and in what way? Again, the New Testament plainly tells us. First, we honor our elder(s) or pastor by having a high estimation of their role and work (Phil. 2:29). We also honor them by imitating their faith in Christ (Heb. 13:7). Like a child mimics her or his parent, so too are we to actively mimic pastors who model the life of Jesus Christ. A third way we honor them is by obeying them in Christ (Heb. 13:17). This does not mean that we are to obey anything or everything the elder or pastor tells us. Rather we obey anything and everything the elder or pastor tells us to do that is a clear directive from Scripture. For example, if the pastor tells us not to steal, then we obey because God’s Word is more than clear that stealing is sinful. On the other hand, if the pastor tells women they must not have their hair shorter than, say, seventeen and seven-tenths inches long, then he is out of line and women don’t have to obey.
A fourth way is to show a two-fold honor. This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 5:17. Those who exercise pastoral oversight in God’s church and minister the Word of God should be financially supported by the local Christian community (1 Cor. 9:7-14; 1 Thess. 2:7; 2 Cor. 11:8-9). We are to count them worthy of such financial or material honor when they work well and as unto the Lord (Deut. 25:4; Luke 10:7). This is not saying the elder or pastor is to be well endowed with money and material possessions. That would violate what God tells us in other places, such as in James. Instead, it means that the elder/pastor who dedicates his time, talents, gifts, etc., in serving God by serving God’s church is worthy of enough remuneration to support his basic needs.
Honoring the pastor isn’t conditioned upon whether we like who he is or what he does. It isn’t based upon his personality, his vision for the church, his charisma, his charm, his philosophy of ministry, and so forth. Rather it is based upon his life in Christ, his godly character, and his work and position as one who is called and ordained to the office. Now, at this point I must say that not all who are called elders or pastors are indeed so, or are even worthy of honor. But I’ll save that for another blog.
Don’t just honor your pastor when you feel like it, or during a special season. Honor your pastor all the time. Honor him in the clear ways God says to honor him. This is God’s will for your life. Honor him so that he might do his work with joy, which will be to your benefit (Heb. 13:17). Honor him so that you honor God.