A One-Sided Culture of Honour

by Anonymous

'A culture of honour' is a relatively new term that comes from a book of the same name by Danny Silk. This concept has been adapted by a number of churches, specifically those linked to Bethel in Redding, California. The title is inspiring. Honouring one another is indeed a noble pursuit.

The idea of a culture of honour has in some extreme cases become a basis on which unhealthy church leaders are demanding excessive honour from their people and reprimanding those who fail to do so. It has also become a plumb line on which people are being judged by. They are scrutinized by whether or not they honouring or dishonouring the leader and treated accordingly. The honouring ones are promoted (more so if they spend a few moments praising the leaders if they are ever given an opportunity to speak publicly), whilst the dishonouring ones are demoted. People have been on the receiving end of leaders admonishments, claiming they have dishonoured them by the way they worded a text or an email, or by the way they looked at them, or due to something they had said that they felt was dishonouring etc. These leaders are 'straining at gnats' like the Pharisees of old (Matthew 23:24). They take people to task over small, insignificant things all in the name of sustaining a culture of honour.

Books and concepts come and go. I've seen that over and over again in my 53 years of church life. When a new book comes along specifically addressing something that is lacking in the church, it is welcomed and promoted. But there is a tendency for the pendulum to swing too far the other way and extremism becomes the new norm.

For a moment let's put all books aside and explore in Biblical terms, what exactly is a culture of honour. In the Bible, Paul stands out as the most prominent post-resurrection, New Testament church leader. He encourages people to honour civil leaders (Romans 13:1-7), parents (Ephesians 6:2), widows (1 Timothy 5:3), employers (1 Timothy 6:1), and he also stressed the importance of people honouring one another (Romans 12:10). Peter also speaks of honour. In his epistles he speaks of honouring 'all men', including the king (1 Peter 2:17) and of husbands honouring their wives (1 Peter 3:7). Both repeatedly wrote that Jesus Christ is the one worthy of all honour, as did John in the book of Revelation. Nowhere did any of these leaders say, "I am an apostle / pastor / leader therefore you must honour me", yet I have been informed by a number of people that it is happening in their church.

In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 we read an encouragement to voluntary bestow double honour upon elders (senior people) who care for others and spend time studying and ministering the Word. This does not automatically mean that every single person who is in a position of leadership ought to receive double honour. This double honour is for those who rule well (Greek: lead, direct maintain, protect, care for in a genuine precious, beautiful, admirably, nobly, honestly, commendably manner) and more so for those who spend time and effort in preparing and delivering theologically sound encouraging messages that exalt Jesus and minister grace to the hearers. When this verse is read in context, the bestowing of double honour is in actual relation to ensuring the elders that minister God's Word receive sufficient funding to sustain them in their ministry.

To infer "I'm the leader / pastor / prophet / apostle / mama or papa of the house etc., therefore you should honour me", promotes an unhealthy leadership paradigm, and is definitely NOT in keeping with the Biblical model of church life.

The Bible clearly states that servant-hood is a hallmark of authentic leaders (Luke 2:26). And take note, is not in relation to leaders informing the people they are servant-leaders. That is bragging and exposing underlying pride in their hearts. In Matthew 6:1-3 we read how Jesus addressed the issue of not publicizing our good deeds, but doing them in secret. Actions always speak louder than words. Every true servant-leader I have met has NEVER announced themselves as that. Nor did they demand respect. They just did what they did as unto the Lord and not unto men (Colossians 3:23) and as I recognized their ability to lead, direct, maintain, protect, care for in a genuine precious, beautiful, admirably, nobly, honestly, commendably manner I willingly without compulsion gave them the double honour they rightly deserved.

In extreme cases where the church members are expected to honour leadership, people from the congregation do the leader's gardening and housework. I've even heard of people 'honouring' them by buying them lavish gifts and giving them money. This is poles apart from genuine New Testament based Christianity. Paul supported himself by tent making. Money that was collected was not for the pastor's pocket, but rather it funded missionary trips so more people could be reached with the glorious news of the gospel.

As I mentioned earlier, in some cases, a way of dealing with nonconformists is to label them as those who are 'dishonouring' to their leaders. This is usually mentioned in a stern voice with a worried look on the leader's face as they talk down to the offender (or about the offender to others). I have known people who have been expelled from churches or told to stand down from ministry for this reason. They hadn't robbed a bank, they hadn't committed incest, they had not physically assaulted a person but they had apparently committed a very bad sin by saying something to someone that the leaders felt was dishonourable and therefore they were given the boot. In a school, club or workplace there are systems in place to prevent people being treated unfairly, but not so in the church. People are being stood down, placed 'under church discipline' or are commanded to leave for relatively minor issues. These people then have to deal with issues of hurt, anger, grief, loss and rejection. Many of them were so immersed in the group that they failed to have another support group to fall back on, resulting in some serious psychological issues.

"One way a leadership immunity culture is maintained is by inordinate and unidirectional emphasis on honour. That is, honour is defined as never disagreeing with, challenging, or confronting a leader on anything he or she teaches, or in his or her behaviour. In this type of universe, honour flows in only one direction . . . up the hierarchy." - Stephen Crosby

In a true culture of honour EVERY person is treated respectfully and the people honour one another. No one demands it or commands it, and no one is chastised for not doing it. It just happens organically. In a healthy church there is a mutual honouring whereas the leaders honour the people and the people honour their leaders, knowing that there is no class system in the church. There is no one more spiritual or more anointed than another and definitely no one who we ought to honour above others. Everyone no matter who they are, where they've been, and what they've done is worthy of respect and honour. To the church in Galatia Paul addressed the issue of class systems head on by saying we are all 'one in Christ' (Galatians 3:28). Besides, honour is not something that we should feel compelled to do - it is something that we choose to do, from the heart.

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Page added January 22, 2015


August 23, 1997
Copyright © 1997-2015 by Lois E. Gibson
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