1 Thessalonians 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.

Rodney Dangerfied is famous for the line, “I don’t get no respect…” Repeating that mantra, he adds jokes like, “Oh, I was an ugly kid. My old man took me to the zoo. They thanked him for returning me…” “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them…” “I went to a fight the other day and a hockey game broke out.”

Sometimes pastors feel like Rodney. Speaking about pastors, one writer said,

  • If he is young, he lacks experience; if his hair is gray, he’s too old for the young people.
  • If he has several children, he has too many; if he has no children, he’s setting a bad example.
  • If he preaches from his notes, he has canned sermons and is too dry; if he doesn’t use notes, he has not studied and is not deep.
  • If he is attentive to the poor people in the church, they claim he is playing to the grandstand; if he pays attention to the wealthy, he is trying to be an aristocrat.
  • If he suggests changes for improvement of the church, he is a dictator; if he makes no suggestions, he is a figurehead.
  • If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the Bible; if he doesn’t use enough illustrations, he isn’t clear.
  • If he condemns wrong, he is cranky; if he doesn’t preach against sin, he’s a compromiser.
  • If he fails to please somebody, he’s hurting the church and ought to leave; if he tries to please everyone, he is a fool.
  • If he preaches about money, he’s a money grabber; if he doesn’t preach spiritual giving, he is failing to develop the people.
  • If he drives an old car, he shames his congregation; if he drives a new car, he is setting his affection on earthly things.
  • If he preaches all the time, the people get tired of hearing one man; if he invites guest speakers, he is shirking his responsibility.
  • If he receives a large salary, he’s mercenary; if he receives only a small salary, well-it proves he isn’t worth much anyway.

Well, that’s just a funny bit, right? Pastors don’t really feel slammed like that, do they? Unfortunately, many do.

Perhaps you’ve heard people say, “Respect has to be earned. I can’t respect my pastor unless he earns it.” This statement shows a misunderstanding of the Bible. Scriptures elude to four different levels of respect: earned, inherent, positional and agape.

Earned Respect — Earned respect occurs when we see admirable traits in others and respond with appropriate honor and tribute. I Timothy 3:2 says that pastors should be respectable;that is, they should have the kind of dignity that allows a church to view them with respect. Their good behavior should evoke esteem from those who are impressed with their moral and spiritual character.

Inherent Respect should be shown to all humans. Not only is each person a masterpiece of God’s creation, but each person has been created in His image.

Positional Respect respects God’s appointments. Even those who are cruel should be respected if God has placed them in leadership over us. Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (I Pet. 2:18) We are to respect our pastors because God has placed them in those roles and commands our respect. What if they are wrong in doctrine or sinful in behavior? You can’t respect that doctrine or behavior but you are still to respect him due to his God-given position. It may be that God leads your church to remove a pastor but until that is done your respect is required.

In their book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, Kent and Barbara Hughes say, Encourage your pastor by treating him with respect. A pastor should be treated with respect because of his divinely given position. This, of course, does not suggest that he be treated with an obsequious obeisance as some nineteen century clerics were – “His Worshipful Lordship, Rev. Dr. Pangloss…” Nor does it suggest undue deference – “Whatever you say, pastor…” What we mean is that because the pastorate is a divine office, a minister that should never have to earn his congregation’s respect unless he has done something to lose it.”

Agape Respect is a choice that allows feelings to follow the will. In the same way that “agape” love allows you to love people who seem unlovable, an “agape” type of respectful submission allows you to look up to leaders that may have styles or opinions that rub you wrong.

Respect should be shown to all the pastors (associate pastors, youth pastors, unpaid elders, etc.) not just the senior or lead pastors. Before becoming the president of Grand Rapids Seminary, Dr. Doug Fagerstrom spent the most of his ministry years as a ministry staff member in various churches (he and I were once co-pastors). He remembers how his role was sometimes devalued:

I remember the first time, as an associate minister, I was privileged to perform the sacrament of baptism. After the service, a rather prominent leader in the church critically approached our senior minister and pointedly and purposefully asked, “Did the baptisms performed by Doug this evening count?” That question reported back to me was devastating news. I could not believe the ignorance (my thought at the time) of that comment. It was insensitive. It hurt. As an associate, I was perceived differently; there was an honest lack of understanding my role and relationship to the body of Christ. My credentials were not really recognized and it did not even seem to matter that I was ordained. I was a ministry staff member, not the senior or lead minister. Throughout the years, member of the congregations where I served as a ministry staff member would ask questions such as, “When are you going to become a real pastor?” or, “When are you going to get your own church?”

Kent Hughes concurs,

This understanding must be extended to church that have several pastors and multiple staffs. The tendency in large churches is for the people to think of the senior pastor as the pastor, and everyone else as almost-pastors. Youth pastors are special victims, for they are sometimes asked by congregants when they are going to become pastors! A huge insult. The implication is that they are something else – possibly zookeepers. Understand that a pastor is a pastor is a pastor regardless of his station, size of ministry, or public exposure, and should be treated with due respect. How so many pastors need this encouragement today!


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