Pastors and Honor
Pedestal or Pedestrian
In the church culture I grew up in, pastors were put on a pedestal. Often, it’s 1 Timothy 5:17 that’s used as the anchor scripture for honoring pastors.
1 Timothy 5:17
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Double honor. I wonder what Paul had in mind? Did he mean for churches to buy their pastors new cars, tons of groceries, and cruises? Apparently that’s what some churches seem to think. Because when it comes time to celebrate a pastor’s anniversary, no expense is spared.
So is God okay with honoring pastors this way?
A couple things. First, in a post about how much we expect from our pastors, I leveled the Christian playing field by lumping the pastor’s role with the rest of our roles. I mentioned that the call to holiness on pastors is not much different than the rest of ours. Pastors are Christians before they are leaders and biblical teachers, and that is precisely the point of Paul’s super-christian list of requirements.
So if we level their role in the church to the same as any other then I see little need for extravagant showers of excess material as a form of appreciation. I’m sorry, but buying the pastor a new Cadillac is not what Paul was trying to tell Timothy.
But then there is this text.
Hmm. I suppose it all hinges on the word: honor. What does the text mean by honor?
Well, honor could mean a price or monetary value, or it could mean a certain measure of reverence. Strong’s commentary seems to support both views as the word “honor” is from the Greek word “timh” (or transliterated – time). Time here could have to do with wages (as in pay per hour) or in time spent, which is often a cue of value and respect.
But we may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Let’s look at the text again.
There are two things worthy of double honor in the text. The first is is for “elders who directs the affairs of the church.” Note the plurality. The world “elder” has almost unilaterally been perceived to mean “pastor” in our contemporary contexts, but the reality is that pastors are often not the ones “directing affairs.” And if they are, they certainly aren’t alone. So if we are to truly do the text justice, a church would need to buy all their spiritual “elders” a new Cadillac, not just the pastor. Note, the end of the verse says “especially” those whose work is preaching and teaching. Which suggests that the preachers and teachers are not the only double honorees.
The second is that the “elders” need to run the church “well.” This is interesting because it leads to asking, “How is a well church run?” Not only does this reinforce the idea that we should hold pastor’s accountable to the Christian calling, but it also seems to suggest that the unilateral position of pastor or elder is not automatically honored.
|A good friend of mine said, “the only thing a person can do on a pedestal is trip and fall off.” Indeed.|
I won’t pretend to have the definitive answer on the matter, but i will offer this viewpoint. A pastor or elder, if indeed they are Christians and led by God, will follow His will into creating a community of love. That is, a community that receives and hands out God’s love unilaterally and unconditionally to as many as it can reach, a community that teaches loving each other (disciple to disciple, Christian to Christian) means selflessness and risky vulnerability and transparency (which makes room for God’s grace and acceptance), and a community that teaches God’s laws and challenges and nurtures our spiritual growth, and thus our effective lifelights in the world.
The modern day pastor must model all these. Unconditional love, transparency, vulnerability, acceptance, and spiritual truth. And it is my belief that as a pastor aspires to these, they will receive “double honor” by default. I think we often get hung up on the “appreciation” aspect of honor. But guilting people into contributions, does not equal honor.
Living under the conditions I just mentioned is incredibly difficult. Leading others to do the same, mostly while failing to rightly model such living, is even more difficult. And scary. To lead a church by loving with no expectation of return, baring naked your sins and failings, and to teach, preach and exemplify God’s love and a desire for His will in your life takes guts and courage many us don’t have.
I think we can best honor these people of God by loving alongside them. By allowing them to fail, and to talk about their failings. I think double honor could mean that we not only pay them honor with wage or time, but that we remember they are in need of community just like we are. I think we honor them by taking them off the pedestal they are so often placed on,
A good friend of mine said, “the only thing a person can do on a pedestal is trip and fall off.” Indeed.
Let’s honor our pastors by co-laboring with them. By freeing them of the pressures of perfection. This, perhaps, is one the greatest of needs in our time.
And if after all that you want to buy him a Cadillac, I guess I’m okay with that.
Another Good Read on the Subject: Alan Knox – “One of Us”
Question of the Day:
What do you think Paul meant by “double honor”? Where does the “double honor” line begin and end in your opinion? What do you think about more than pastors receiving this “double honor”?
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