Worthy of Honor (Jul-Aug 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jill Slater
July-August 2002

Relax, I am not a statistician or a sociologist I tend to glaze over at phrases such as “statistically representative samples” despite my one whole semester of Statistics in college. Rather, the observations that follow are “experience-based.” My credentials include growing up the daughter of a preacher (i.e. a PK) and now, despite verbally promising to never do so, I am a preacher’s wife.

Growing up in a minister’s family was overwhelmingly positive. My parents are sincere and devoted to the job. But there were times of frustration, not only with the lack of receptiveness from non-believers, but from within the congregation. That may be expected in over 30 years of ministry. However, when my husband started full-time ministry and I talked to other minister’s families in the Church of Christ, I saw some familiar attitudes regarding ministers that troubled me. There was even some resentment on the part of those who had devoted themselves to this work. Allow me to explain.

One attitude faced by ministers is the “humble servant?mindset. This was labeled as such by a dear minister’s wife, whom I call my mother. Jesus was humble, and this is a trait all Christians are called to have. James 4:10, however, says to “humble yourself.?Humility is internal and cannot be forced on another. It is never an elder or member’s job to “keep the preacher humble.?Yet, many of us have known local church members who saw their role in the church as official humility enforcers? Preachers who have had their salaries printed in the dreaded annual budget, have preached sermons to which there was a differing of opinion, or has even—gulp—driven a new car to church, have been witness to this attitude.

Some imply that the minister should not make more that the lowest paid person in the congregation, despite the minister’s experience or education. Ministers may not be provided health insurance, dental or vision benefits, or even a retirement plan. If benefits are even suggested, someone may reply, “Hey, I don’t even have that benefit.?

Do you see an attitude there? Ministers may dismiss this type of attitude at first; but over time, they can become frustrated with that thinking. Frustration can turn to bitterness as ministers realize they have devoted their lives to God, who is always faithful, but also to the local church, which can be fickle.

A missionary from Africa recently visited our congregation and spoke of the work there. He was telling a story about driving in his truck one day when he was surrounded by African children, who were admiring his truck. He stopped the story there and quickly added with a smile, “Not that my truck is that nice!?I wanted to yell out, “I hope you have a great truck—you live in Africa!?I wanted him and his family to have the best they can because they are literally devoting their lives for the work of God. I would not begrudge them a nice vehicle, nice home, or nice life. But I DO understand. I understand the feeling of having to qualify or explain so as to not disrupt the “humble servant?mindset of others. I know of no minister who entered this life lured by the big bucks. If so, he has not been around many “I preach for a congregation of one hundred?ministers. It is truly a calling, and the motivation is to spread God’s word.

I can only describe another attitude I have seen as a lack of respect for the job of minister. This is expressed in numerous subtle – and not-so-subtle – ways. In the Church of Christ, I see that we pride ourselves in the belief that every member is able to read the Bible for him or herself and understand it. Amen to that. But that can be translated into the mindset that everything the minister says is up for debate and criticism. It is a fact that no one will agree with a minister 100 percent. This holds true for even the minister’s wife. The way that disagreements are handled, though, says a great deal.Is the minister openly criticized? Is he continually facing argumentative members? Is the Bible class more reminiscent of high school debate than Bible study? The heart of the matter is the attitude.

If one believes that everything the minister says needs to be critiqued, it points to a lack of respect for the job this man is attempting to do. If complaints are taken directly to the elders without first talking with the minister, not only is this unbiblical, but it is undermining. Who would want their job critiqued by hundreds of people every week and all complaints taken directly to the boss? A minister’s beatitude might sound like: Blessed is the minister whose elders refuse to hear a complaint until the complainer has first gone to his brother. Treating the minister how you yourself would like to be treated is the hinge of respect.

These attitudes are quite pronounced when viewed in contrast to attitudes held by other denominations regarding their “pastors.?

A close friend of mine is married to a pastor with the Church of God (Cleveland).She relates a very different experience from mine. The position of pastor is viewed, in her opinion, as being respected both academically and administratively. Her husband is considered “on-call?24-hours a day but it is left up to his discretion as to whether or not follow-up is necessary. Material blessings are just that: blessings from God.

Complaints are handled directly with the pastor and behind closed doors. On her husband’s 10-year anniversary with the congregation, the members sent them on a cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate this anniversary. I know ministers who have worked 25 or 30 years with the same congregation without as much as a “Happy Anniversary?card. Please know this is not about money, cruises or benefits. In my eyes, though, such things may reflect an underlying attitude.

An associate pastor’s wife with the Church of God (Anderson) described the pastor’s role as a very respected position, so much so that the associate pastors were almost ignored. An Independent Baptist pastor I spoke with stated he felt the role of pastor was greatly respected within the congregation, although he thought the job was losing respect in the world’s eyes. He conveyed that he and his board of deacons shared a mutual respect, that disagreements were handled one-on-one, and that he was paid well. The Baptist minister said he felt the scriptures were quite clear that the pastor is to lead the church. It must be noted that the Churches of Christ hold a different view of how the church is to be organized. Most would certainly take issue with the idea that one man is to lead a congregation.Is this where some negative attitudes have formed? Are we so diligent to stay away from the “reverend?and “father?mentality regarding ministers that we may adopt a dishonoring attitude toward our ministers? Perhaps because so little is said in the Bible about the job of evangelist, we as a fellowship do not highly respect the men who have chosen to devote their lives to this work. Although he does not serve as the sole pastor of a church and we do not elevate any man to the position of reverend, the minister’s job is still worthy of honor.

Perhaps the attitudes mentioned result from a lack of knowledge. Many people simply do not understand what the minister’s job entails. Is there a minister out there who has not been asked if he only works on Sunday? I still laugh when I am asked that question. Rather than a job, ministry is a life. It is being available at all times: vacations cut short due to a funeral, your day-off canceled due to a hospital visit, or being called on a holiday to help with another family’s crisis. It is rather like being a doctor, but without the pay or respect. It is, however, a job with eternal significance. Ultimately, the work is for the Lord and His attitude toward the job is what will matter

Give everyone what you owe him: … If respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. -Romans 13:7

About the author: Jill Slater is a graduate of Harding University, holding a degree in Social Work. After working for several years as a licensed social worker, she is now enjoying her full time job as a stay-at –home mom. Jill has been married for married for 17 years, and she is an assistant in the Pastor’s of Excellence Program at Ashland Theological Seminary. Her husband Jeff is Minister at the Ashland Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. Jill’s father, James Kinser, has served as a minister in the Church of Christ for over 30 years. Contact her at [jillmslater@yahoo.com].

 

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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