March 31, 2011 Tony Morgan

The “Culture of Honor” is 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 ministry 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.

Curious to learn more about my theology of leadership? Download my new eBook for free.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (58)

  1. I’m a lead pastor in the Seattle area. I haven’t taught on honor & it isn’t officially part of our church’s culture. Some of the other local pastors have been teaching on honor—and I’ve been impressed. Quoting from Kevin Gerald, “We honor up, we honor down, we honor all around.”
    I’m not sure if you’re reacting to sound bytes or sermon titles or if you’ve heard complete teaching series. Out here, the honor teaching is balanced & biblical – not dark, sinister or laced with ulterior motives.

    • Brandon Stewart

      GREAT comment Brian. I 100% agree… the teaching of Honor is working in our church (Kevin Gerald’s Church). Honor is not a one way street…it’s an every way street. I see this trend as being HIGHLY valuable to the local church.
      I would be surprised if most pastors out there who are teaching honor, do not honor their congregations by serving them. I think sometimes it just goes unnoticed or undetected (as does the honor we show our leaders sometimes). So, it might be a bit early to put a ruling out there that this teaching isn’t working. In our church, it’s spreading like wildfire.

  2. Danny Rogers

    Tony,

    I say this from the viewpoint of being a Lead Pastor, “You are spot on!” I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I’ve seen it trending, too. In fact, I have a good friend on staff at a church with an extreme honor culture and they have been encouraged to stand up when their senior pastor comes in the room, not let him open any doors, and even cheer for him when appropriate…this scares me greatly.

    I agree, honor is to be given to those in positions authority, but as we see from the time when Jesus washed the disciples feet, He demonstrated honoring those under His authority through servant leadership. In fact, Peter was overwhelmed with feelings that he should’ve been the one washing the feet of Christ, but Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” We must serve those we lead or we don’t belong to them, and visa-versa.

    Jesus, the King of Kings, came to serve and show us how to honor and serve one another. If each of us, regardless of position, title, or influence, will serve one another, we will ultimately honor God, who is the One ultimately worthy of our honor.

    Thanks for helping me process. I appreciate your leadership.

    -Danny Rogers

  3. THANK YOU! This is head on. I been a church member of some churches where the pastor would demand honor and calling it on the name of unity. While yes, we ought to honor our leaders and pastors, we shouldn’t idolize them.

    I sincerely believe honor is something to be earned. If the pastor does have a servant attitude and humility is nor something he/she only talks about it, I guess he/she would receive honor and God the glory.

    If the Shepperd has its heart for the best of its flock, then honor will follow. As members we know when a leader is really humble or just talks about it. Actions are always lauder then words.

    Honor and respect MUST go both ways in church culture, in families, in workplaces and we should say everywhere we interact with people. We ought to be different then the word, we are children of God, we must live up to our names and live to bring him glory.

    Proud, bossy, controlling and honor expecting pastors do hurt people immensely. Rather then making a way to God they close the way to God. Thank you for this post, well said it.

  4. Jeff

    Tony, great perspective! Especially looking at difference between being “preaching” & “pastoring” would love to see a follow-up post covering this more..

  5. Scott Gamel

    “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.”

    Leadership GOLD! Honor does not imply “homage” – or someone carrying your backpack or helping you with your coat or opening a door for you. It is the mutual recognition of the spirit of God in each of us and a determination to serve each other. Demanding or expecting the fawning idolatry of sycophants you call staff is worldly in the extreme.

  6. Derrick Scott III

    Tony,
    Thanks for this post. I imagine you might take some heat for uncovering and exposing this topic. I am sure you meet many pastors and ministry leaders. More than likely, you are speaking from experience, not the sidelines. So thanks for having the guts to put it out there. Truth brings freedom!

    D

    • Tony Morgan

      yes, it’s likely i’m going to lose “business” (and friendships) taking this position, but i don’t care. i’m tired of watching young pastors try to emulate something that isn’t healthy for the pastor, his marriage and the church.

      • Thanks for the great article and taking this stand. I’m with you on this one all the way. I actually wrote a short blog post from August 2009 about this same topic.

  7. Jeremy

    Every time I see a church with a “Pastor’s Parking” spot and it’s the closest one, I nearly blow a fuse. So many people have no concept of servant leadership.

    • Craig

      I understand what you’re saying Jeremy – servant leadership is lost. At our church our pastor has a “Pastor’s Parking” spot but he did not ask for it (nor even hint for getting it). I’ve actually watched him for the last 2 years purposefully park a half-mile away from the church (when he is the first person on campus each Sunday) just to create the example of being a servant leader. It’s pretty awesome.

  8. “When an unhealthy “culture of honor” is promoted, God’s people wait for “God’s man” to do the work of God.” Wow, What a powerful statement. Tony, you are right on the mark.

  9. Neal MD

    As a consultant I’m sure you see an abundance of unhealthy systems and scenarios. Thank you for sharing on this one and encouraging me in a time of ministry difficulties. I appreciate the time and insights that you share.

  10. Thank you 100,000 times. You have nailed it Tony. I’ve been saying things like this for years both in SF where I was a pastor (servant) for 14 years to the homeless and not to a new church in Charlotte (The Salt Mine) God bless you brother!

  11. LeadHership

    Should I be concerned that I’m the only chic (thus far) commenting? ;)
    Great, honest, biblical, irrefutable post. Thanks for sticking your neck out. God bless.

  12. Roy Bowen

    Fantastic post Tony! I have seen exactly what you are talking about, and it’s very dangerous. Way to say it like it is!

  13. Thank you for the biblical perspective and balance on both sides of the leadership spectrum in ministry. I agree with your concerns, thank you for speaking for all pastors and helping the younger pastors who are doing their best to serve where they are.
    M_

  14. Timothy Stewart

    I was on staff at a church that pushed a one-directional “culture of honor” for 7 years, and it imploded and serious hurt thousands of people. I’ve also witnessed a church that had what I called 360 culture of honor, and saw what I believe was a healthy culture of honor. It was honor given to leaders, peers, and followers. That is the culture I want to create now that I plant a church. As the pastor, I cultivate honor, not by seeking honor for myself (wicked) but honoring those around me.

  15. Jeff Brewer

    Great cautionary word to leaders and pastors Tony “….. and humility comes before honor.” Thanks for the bold post

  16. Brian Bloye

    Thanks Tony! I guess now I’ve got to give up my parking space in the church loading dock. Great post my friend!

  17. I can’t begin to describe how refreshing this post is to me personally. After checking out some blog posts lately, my concern has been that “honor” is code for “roll out the red carpet for the pastor and never offer constructive criticism.” To be honest, I wondered if I was the only one who was a little bothered by that. Now it looks like I most certainly am NOT the only one who is a little uncomfortable with it. Thanks, Tony, for addressing this. Well stated.

  18. Ricky Burnett

    “…outdo one another in showing honor.” The places the Church would go if its community would continue to go above and beyond. Amazing perspective. I’ve seen too many churches that were inward focused on honoring each other. Imagine if instead of standing up when the pastor walks in, we stood up for those who are lost and broken. Imagine if instead of cheering the pastor, we cheered and more over shouted for the soul that found Christ. Imagine if we all gave up our best seat in the church building. And imagine most a church that put the needs of the community above parking spaces, building paint, and stained glass windows. Honor… love it. God bless.

  19. Thank you – Gracias – Mahalo – Mesi Anpil – Salamat – Thank you! Our church/pastor/leadership culture is SO quick to jump on the latest “fad” & this “honor” teaching is just the latest in a long line of them. Tony you are absolutely correct with the idea of 2-way honor. I counsel pastors all the time to be a servant leader, you serve, you give, you shepherd the flock God has entrusted to you without “expecting” anything in return – & love, appreciation & honor will take care of itself. Thanks for speaking the truth boldly.

  20. Phil

    Thank you Tony for your view and biblical references. You did a great job, but it seems like the comments so far all fall into one bucket…that of servant leadership vs. honor. I’m confused by that. I am part of a church that would be described as very high honor, but does not fit the descriptions offered in the commentary. There seems to be a misconception that high honor means the Pastor is served, but the lost are not. We are challenged by our Pastor to focus our attention and action to the lost. We are externally focused vs. internally. Because we give the “authority” to our Pastor, we listen to him and carry out the biblical Truths he teaches. Honor is NOT something you earn. Respect is earned. Honor is about the “position” not the person. I have no respect for President Obama based on his actions, but show honor because he holds the office of the President. That doesn’t mean that if he ordered all people with brown eyes be imprisoned, that I would carry out his request. We have the bible as a check and balance for honor.

    I have seen too many churches in America with Pastor’s who are “serving” their congregation in what is typically an unhealthy scenario. That typically means they are doing all the work and ministry while the congregation communicates their personal preferences to the Pastor so their needs can be met. The idea of honor and unity are about the people we are serving hearing one unified loving voice and thousands of hands and feet walking together to carry out the heart of Christ.

    Part of a true honor culture is that the Pastor does not have ultimate authority and is held accountable by an independent group of people, outside of the body.

    Bottom line, it’s not either or (honor or servant), it’s both.

    • Art

      “I have seen too many churches in America with Pastor’s who are ‘serving’ their congregation in what is typically an unhealthy scenario. That typically means they are doing all the work and ministry while the congregation communicates their personal preferences to the Pastor so their needs can be met.”

      That is what I’ve seen also. I’ve never been in a church where the Pastors (Lead, Assistant, Youth, Children, etc.) have been “honored” inappropriately. I have been in churches where the above quote is the rule – where the pastors are slaves to the people, and their job is simply to make the parishioners happy and not rock the boat.

      My guess: Churches over 1,000 that were planted by the Lead Pastor may have honor issues. Churches under 200 that were planted by someone other than the current Lead Pastor long, long ago have pastors who receive little or no honor.

      I would think that is the case more often than not.

      • Tony Morgan

        Art, you are correct. That’s a good word. My perception is that this is a much bigger issue for church planters. Fortunately, not every church is wrestling with this either. But, based on the reaction here and the responses I’m getting via email, DM and text messages, I can tell you this is a very real issue in many churches across the country.

        I also agree that the bigger issue for smaller churches that have been in existence for a longer period of time has more to do with pastors empowering people to engage ministry. In many of those churches, there’s an unbiblical expectation that the pastor is supposed to do all the ministry. I’ve written quite a bit on that topic in the past.

        With this post, though, I’m wanting to start a conversation that I think pastors, particularly church planters, need to wrestle with.

        • Cliff

          Tony,
          I am new to your site and just read this article and can not agree more. I have been in full-time ministry for several years now and have seen this “Culture of Honor” teaching pulled out of scriptural context in ways that boggle my mind. I was just talking to a person I use to work with at a church where the women’s ministry is going through a book someone wrote on this topic. The person I was speaking to was telling me how the church was no longer a safe place and she didn’t feel comfortable bringing friends, family or new converts to the church. Having been on staff there I knew exactly what she was talking about and that what she was saying was true. When I asked her why she stayed she said she had to learn how to “honor her pastor”. Here is the crazy thing, he lied to her and her husband multiple times, he manipulated them to use their credit cards to pay for events the church could not afford multiple times, never paid them back in the time frame he promised, constantly treated her rudely which I saw and heard, and the list goes on…these are not simple minded or uneducated people nor are they new believers.
          I could go on and on with example after example of financial abuse, spiritual abuse, adultery, manipulation, desception, arrogance, pride, envy, etc. I have witnessed or had to deal first hand with these behaviors and they come from the “movers and shakers” as they like to be called on the itinerant circuit. I love the church and I believe in honoring and respecting people. I believe in going the extra mile but I am extremely saddened by the lack of accountability I have seen toward pastors. It seems to be even worse for those who plant there own church and create there own board of directors. People will stay knowing the problems I mentioned above because of there friends. They stay because there children have friends and are afraid to move them to another church or they stay because they have learned how to work the system and like having a title or ministry position. It is all very sad to me but it is across the denominational lines and it only seems to be getting worse.

  21. George

    Thank you. Thank you. I have been saying this for years. When the preacher walks around with someone that just blocks the “common folk” from talking to him then we may have a problem. Thanks again.

  22. Amen to this. It is always great to be reminded that we must honour others and we should also be honoured.

    I am happy to automatically do this and not need to be honoured first.

    I have been blessed to have been in Christian circles where the leaders are the epitomy of servant leaders. What a huge example they are to those around them.

    Sadly I have, more recently, seen and experienced the reverse. As you say pride can be a massive issue. As the time worn phrase goes “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

  23. dan laurenzo

    Tony,

    Your perspective and concern is spot on.

    It is a wonderful thing when a church community and team bless, encourage and value their lead pastor, pastoral staff. However, I am increasingly seeing, from my vantage point as pastor and strategic consultant, something that is dangerous..

    Without attunement to New Testament norms of community, challenge, accountability; some churches adopt an Old Testament “touch-not-God’s-anointed” culture when relating to their senior leader. He becomes and unchallenged “rock star”. None of us in leadership were meant to adopt this role, and it is ultimately unloving to allow our pastors to “go there”.

    Let’s find brothers & siters who have the courage and love to challenge us in character, direction and strategic thinking. Let’s “do life” with them, and advance the reputation of Jesus!

    Great post, Tony

  24. I am so grateful for the leaders in my life that continually model servant leadership. There is something so refreshing when you are around some one who has accomplished great things in life and is in an influential position, but they will be the first one to pick up a stray piece of trash on the floor. People want to honor some one who they know is worthy of their trust. In my experience that takes a while and it is built by putting others before ourselves.

    Why is it that the church has forgotten this? Why do we let our egos get in the way?

  25. David .

    GREAT POST! I have seen this over and over again and have seen an unnamed pastor traveling the country teaching the Honor/Servant Leadership Model with his Armor Bearers/Mighty Men in tow.  After visiting this particular church it is the model of honor gone wrong

  26. disqus_C9dG5q4g1j

    I think the heading is a little misleading because a culture of honor doesn’t hurt the church. A culture of honor means that the whole community has embraced the core value of honoring those around them (regardless of their role or title). A culture of honor is great. If the people only honor leaders, then it’s a culture of unbalanced honour, which is obviously not healthy.

  27. What’s funny is this has been in the charismatic/penecostal church for a couple decades and we are now seeing what type of fruit is birthed from that type of a culture over an extended period of time.

    Just had a conversation today with someone who is still wounded over being told by their former “First Lady” that he call was to serve the Pastor’s wife and that her family would only be blessed by her fulfilling that call.

    Only problem Elijah & Elisha aren’t the bullseye I’m aiming for. It’s Christ. Any goal that doesn’t begin and end with Jesus is about me and not about creating a culture of honor from a heart and desire to SERVE others.

  28. Honor UP, Honor DOWN, Honor all AROUND! You can’t go wrong with that! I Peter 2:17 Honor ALL people, love the brotherhood, Fear God and honor the King.

  29. Michele Benson

    Wow! Love this! I have been seeing this myself and wanted to address it but didn’t want to come across as a rebellious church member. I have no problem honoring my pastor, but I have been in a position where it was only one sided to the point of where my husband and I were being disrespected. Thank you so much, pastor, for this post!

  30. charles stone

    Tony, while I agree that some churches and leaders are guilty of this, perhaps its in the larger ones. In my research of my second book of over 2000 pastors (5 Ministry Killers), most in churches under 500, I’ve seen lots of dishonor toward pastors in those churches as well. Just another side of the coin.

  31. Roger

    Danny Silk’s “Culture of Honor” book in association with Bethel Church works through these issues. This book spoke more into my life than 3 years of sermons as I have been deeply affected by performance driven Churches. Note: “Culture of Honor” in this book has been used in the context; That we should bring a culture of honor to all people not just the leaders.
    1 Peter 2:17 ESV
    Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

  32. Dan Smith

    Interesting, I wonder if you are refering to Danny Silk’s Book with the title “Culture of Honor” if not you should note so… becasue it handles the subject well and actually found this article searching for where to buy his book. In fairness if we are going to tackle a subject we should be direct in naming sources, books, people, references, etc.

  33. spreadtheflame

    I think the book most people are getting their Honor teaching from is John Bevere’s book, Honor’s Reward: How To Attract God’s Favor and Blessing. Who doesn’t want more honor and favor? (tongue in cheek).

    He has also written other Pastor favorites like “Under Cover”- about staying submitted to authority and “The Bait of Satan” which is about not being offended.

    So, if you want to look deeper into the sources, here they are. Danny Silk’s take is different than Honor’s Reward.

  34. Jane Kirkland

    Hi, I so agree with what you have written in this article. Our pastor has been transformed from someone with a servant heart to someone who feels he should be honoured. If you feel you ‘should’ be honoured, there is definitely something wrong. We must have had about 20 sermons on this subject in the last year and the congregation has gone out of the door so fast it is unbelievable.

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