The Value of Honor

Respect is a lost virtue in our day.  Sadly, it is all too common watch a preadolescent male openly disparage all authority and foolishly attempt to sever ties with those should that stand in leadership over them.  Thinking that maturity is found by pursuing freedom and autonomy, many run headlong over a cliff only to realize that they sabotaged a great tool for their growth and ultimate maturity. The same is often true of young church planters and the churches they lead.  Many of these men (myself included) enter church planting with an overwhelming passion for the work, a clear set of ecclesiological and missiological principles, and a ferocious entrepreneurial spirit.  Much of this is healthy and yet it can subtly cause church planters to neglect a primary catalyst for their growth, maturity, and fruitfulness in their context – the pastors and churches that have gone before.

When we planted a church three years ago in Greenville, SC I failed to properly account for the stereotype that church planting had in the minds of many pastors and church attendees in the South.  Much of this stereotype revolves around the issue of honor.  Pick a pastor and he, or one of his good friends, has been wounded by a young pastor (often on his staff) who left to plant a church in an unhealthy manner.  Churches often recount horror stories and wounds that have come from church planting gone bad.  Churches split, friendships implode, gossip ensues, and walls are built.  From this bifurcation, established churches and church planters fail to partner together for the sake of mission to the city and settle for throwing hand grenades back and forth at one another deriding the practices and principles of the opposing church.  By and large, this has been the church planting practice in the South for the last decade.

Thankfully that reality is changing as young planters are once again owning the responsibility that they have for honoring those that have gone before them.   Paul establishes the necessity of showing honor when he exhorts the church in Rome to “love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). If we would teach this principle to believers in our churches, we must practice it among the fraternity of local pastors.  Church planters should, and must, lead out in this regard.  Rather than bemoaning the lack of partnership from established churches, it is vital that church planters be proactive in seeking out relationships with established churches and their pastors for a number of reasons:

  1. Honoring other pastors models humility and thankfulness.  Knowing that church planters have a reputation for bring prideful it is vital that we seek to demonstrate humility by honoring other church leaders. The reality is that many of us are planting churches due to the kindness, support, teaching, giving, and leadership of these very churches.  Even models and strategies that we may feel are antiquated, were often the very tools that God used to instruct us in the gospel.  For others the cooperative giving of these churches provided for seminary training or mission experience at a greatly reduced cost.  By expressing honor, we reveal how thankful we truly are for the work these men have done on our behalf.
  1. Honoring other churches brings hope and encouragement.  Often leaders of churches who have been serving the city for decades are weary, tired, and even discouraged.  While they are often hesitant to admit it, they lack hope that what they are doing really matters.  A church planter can serve as a conduit for hope by speaking words of affirmation and encouragement to those that have gone before us.   As pastors we, of all people, know the pain and heartache that comes from pastoral ministry.  We also know the way in which words of affirmation from our congregation renew our hearts and our spirits.  Knowing this should spur us on to do the same for other pastors.
  1. Honoring other churches demonstrates the unity of the Spirit.  We preach this principle often in the context of the churches we lead and yet often fail to model it with the other churches and pastors in our city.  God’s Spirit unites Christians to Christians, not simply members of singular local churches to other members of that local church.  The work of Christ on the cross purchased our unity, and we demonstrate that by working synergistically with others in our city.  This is best modeled, by working with those that are different than us.  It is understandable when similar churches work together and honor one another; it is supernatural when distinct churches do so.
  1. Honoring other churches serves as a catalyst for the mission.  Pick the city, even in the South, and the reality is that the vast amount of lostness demands all churches working together to multiply disciples to the glory of God.  No church can do it alone.  Nor can one style of church target the diversity of a population.  Every city needs all types of churches and the planter serves the mission by honoring churches and affirming the vital role that each church plays in the mission of God.

Honor is a necessity for young church planters and a skill we need to trust the Spirit to cultivate in our hearts.  Here are a few practical suggestions for ways to demonstrate honor to other churches in your city:

  • Take a local pastor out for lunch and ask a host of questions.  Try to listen to his story, learn about his heart, and discern how God is at work in his church.  Avoid casting vision for your church, attempting to raise money, or appear manipulative.  Simply try to listen and love.
  • Find something the pastor or church is good at and learn from them.  If this man has been married for 40 years, then you likely have something to learn.  If the church does a masterful job at loving one another, then seek to learn how to embody that same Spirit of love in your church.  Make sure the pastor knows that you feel like you have something to learn from him.
  • Say thank you.  Much like approaching a retired military service man, we who are leading churches now owe a sense of indebtedness to those who have gone before us.  Sadly, these men rarely hear such words of affirmation, particularly from younger church pastors.  A simple thank you can advance  conversation and a relationship more than we may know.
  • Cultivate an active prayer life on behalf of other churches in your city.  Privately commit to pray for those that you are seeking to build relationships with and lead your church to publically pray for other churches in your city during your weekly cooperate gathering.
  • Regularly send a note, email, or text message to the pastor affirming your love and support of him.  Especially on Sundays, send the pastor a specific Scripture of the ways  in which you are praying for him and his church.
  • Invite the church into events that you create and allow them to celebrate it as a win.  For example, if you create a summer mission week seeking to serve a community, invite the nearby churches to participate with you.  Even if you do most of the legwork on creating the event, publicize the event as if it is a joint partnership and allow all of the churches to celebrate the fruit of the event.
  • Publically celebrate the wins of other churches.  Use social media, letters, sermons, and other tools to publically affirm the work of other churches in the city that are faithfully serving to declare and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Make yourself available to serve the church in whatever means possible.  This may happen through teaching, training leaders, encouraging a staff team or any of a host of other gifts you may utilize for kingdom good.  Rather than stewarding your gifts solely for the sake of your church, willingly give yourself away for the sake of THE church.

May God guard and protect us from being a culture of men who are unable or unwilling to lovingly honor those that have gone before us. We have much ground to make up in this area so let’s be diligent to take a step of honor today.

Matt Rogers is the lead planter of the Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC. Matt completed his undergraduate work at Furman University and holds a Master's degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife Sarah have two daughters, Corrie Noel and Avery Elizabeth, and one son, Hudson Emmett.

UnityZach Nelson