Respect and the Ministry
A minister must guard against abusing the God-given authority vested in his office. Both the minister and the flock that he serves must keep this in mind.
What ultimately is the ministry all about? It is about the glory of God. A minister must reflect the glory of God and teach God’s people to stand in awe of his greatness. Nothing must stand in the way of achieving that goal. This is what happens, however, when members of the congregation do not treat the minister or his position with proper respect. How then should he be regarded?
The twenty-first century angrily denies the existence of God, and marginalizes those who proclaim Him in all his glory. Thankfully in the church we do not do that. At least, we do not want to. Yet, in a certain sense we do. Sometimes we treat ministers either as demons or as gods. In either case God’s existence is denied and his glory diminished.
The Glory of God
How does God reveal Himself? He reveals Himself as the almighty Creator. He could have created the world in the blink of an eye, but He didn’t. He created everything in six days. After each day of creation He said that it was good. In the end God said that it was very good. “It is beautiful, magnificent!” Indeed, how magnificent God’s creation is! Even now, after the fall into sin, we stand in awe of Him and his wonderful creation. It is absolutely glorious!
The Bible does not define the word “glory” for us. God, however, created us in such a way that intuitively we see it. We see it in the beauty of a sunset with its brilliant colours, a most spectacular feast for our eyes. We see God’s glory every time we are confronted with the great complexity and variety of his creation. We see it in every moment of beauty. It is at times like this that we want to stand up in awe and wonder and applaud the brilliant artist who conceived it all.
What is most remarkable is that man is created in God’s likeness. We, of all creatures, reflect Him and what He stands for. It is especially the duty of the minister of the Word to remind God’s people of who God is and of who we are in relation to Him. He must also remind God’s people that in spite of our sins we ourselves are all endowed with God’s glory through the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, He recreated us and through his Spirit we bear God’s image once again.
This has great implications for how we treat each other, and especially how we treat the minister of the Word. Paul writes that God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is the task of a minister to pass on the glory of God, to reflect it. He must make God known in all his glory and majesty.
When men diminish the minister and his role, they prevent him from making God’s glory known. This is done when they ridicule the minister, and treat him with contempt. A minister is in the public eye a lot. Consequently, many conversations of the members of the church are about him. His idiosyncrasies and foibles are well known. It is easy to make disparaging remarks about him. He is a ready and obvious target.
When certain changes are made in a church that are unpopular with a few, they make the minister the object of scorn, even though a whole church council is responsible. He is painted as a liberal, or as a dangerous man. This takes away from his effectiveness to present the glory of God.
This also happens when there is constant bickering about his performance: he does not visit often enough with the elderly, with the youth, with those who are lonely; he is involved too much with other ecclesiastical duties; he is not friendly enough; he does not spend enough time on his sermons; his sermons are too deep or not deep enough. The list can go on and on. Often he is held to a standard that no human being can attain. The reality is that ministers often work long hours. Many work seven days a week, and have few evenings for himself and his family.
The opposite also happens. Some people make an idol out of their current or former minister. Although they would not put it that way, they make him to be a little god. They will quote him ad nauseam, and compare all other ministers to him in accordance with their inflated image of him. “He alone knows how to preach, how to counsel, and how to uphold the truth.”
This also degrades the minister, just as much as unwarranted criticism. He is a sinful man, just as everyone else. He may not be put on a pedestal. He must not be worshipped. That honour we may give only to God.
God grants us the glory with which we are endowed. He equips each minister with his unique talents. Ultimately we have nothing to do with it. And so we must have a right sense of how we became what we are. We are all God’s workmanship. We have nothing to boast of.
For that reason a minister may not allow himself to be elevated to an artificially inflated position. It is easy to allow others to tell him, for example, that they could never do without him, and that no one can replace him. It is flattering to hear this, and it feels good. But it is wrong and dangerous to encourage others in this way. The minister may get an exaggerated idea of his own worthiness, and think that he alone knows how to minister to his flock. He might actually buy into the idea that no one else will be able to minister to his flock as well as he. And because he begins to believe in his own superiority, he will not allow criticism of his performance. As a result other members of the congregation will become frustrated and hope that he takes a call elsewhere.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” It is my own experience that by far the large majority of people treat their minister with proper respect. They honour him in his position in every way, and have a good sense of his abilities and limitations. Thankfully so; otherwise the church could not exist. For the minister is the mouthpiece of the Lord. If his position is compromised then God’s voice becomes muffled.
Children who constantly hear criticism of the minister learn not to take him, and therefore God’s Word, seriously. This weakens their faith and they become cynical and indifferent over time. Eventually it may even cause them to leave the church.
We all have a great responsibility to honour those who labour in the ministry, not for the sake of minister in the first place, but for the sake of God and his kingdom. The minister himself, too, must respect his own position in the church. He must not bring dishonour upon himself in the way that he conducts himself.
The Bible leaves no doubt about the submission to pastoral authority. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). These are strong words. These are important words. Let us heed them.