Creative Leadership

The Honor Culture Versus the Need to Disagree

There are a number of leaders today who teach the importance of an “honor culture” within organizations – particularly churches.  An honor culture is an atmosphere of respect for the pastor or leader, often to the point of intense loyalty. Growing up as a preacher’s kid, I can understand a pastor’s desire to have loyal and supportive church members. In fact, my dad (pictured above) was kicked out of a church by a disgruntled elder who engineered his dismissal over doctrinal issues, but by the time the congregation discovered the elder was wrong, it was too late.  So there is certainly a place for civil respect and honor for the role of pastor.

However, there are many cases when the highest honor can be respectful disagreement. During the difficult years when we struggled to convince my dad he couldn’t live on his own anymore and needed nursing care, I often gave in out of respect. But a family friend who’s a professional counselor reminded me the scriptural mandate to “Honor your father and mother” isn’t always about following their wishes. Sometimes he told me, honoring your father is about doing what he needs, not what he wants. He encouraged Kathleen and I to think more about my dad’s safety and health than his wishes, and do the right thing even if he disagreed.

That advice totally changed my attitude about what “honor” really means.

Back to our conversation about pastors, I believe in honoring them, but that sometimes means disagreeing. The questions are – are pastors mature enough to accept that disagreement as honor rather than disloyalty, and is the church or staff member mature enough not to abuse the privilege? Even serious disagreement can be expressed in a respectful way.

While my father and many other pastors have been hurt by out of line church members, I also know many instances where pastors were dangerously close to the edge, but because no one was willing to confront, they crossed the line into personal or organizational disaster.

“Honor” does not mean looking the other way.  Sometimes, it means disagreement.

What’s your take?


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  1. I am in a situation now that if I am honest with my preacher-client, I will be shown the door. I have been here before and I have lost jobs and clients but after not speaking up once, and feeling the shame of watching them lose everything but their salvation, I am getting prayed up to do what I need to do.

    These mega-preachers live too often in a bubble, surrounded by head nodders who are too scared to say the truth. And they have witnessed good reason to be scared!

    Truth — even in love — is often not welcome!

  2. Great post. Too often, the concepts of “honor” and “honesty” are disconnected. If I can’t be honest with someone (and, on the flip side, if I cannot trust that someone is going to be honest with me) then the relationship can’t be genuine. Being honest means disagreeing sometimes.

    But this issue definitely goes both ways. It’s not easy for a subordinate to disagree with a strong authoritative leader… but often leaders are also reluctant to bring correction. Both sides can actually hold back for fear of damaging the relationship, but in the end, lack of honesty is always more damaging.

  3. In some cultures, the intense loyalty to leaders you refer to becomes the basis of the group’s relationships. Those perceived as most ardent in honoring the leadership are then promoted to places of authority. Others promote the leader as speaking the Word of God or even being the voice of the Lord in the earth, and so the thought of disagreeing with the leaders is interpreted as disapproval of God Himself. It ought to be a simple matter to “speak the truth in love,” but group dynamics and peer pressure can get involved.

  4. In John Maxwell’s teaching on the different levels of leadership, he lists first a positional leadership through being given a title that progresses to people following because they want to, to following because they are able to get things done following the leader, etc. Each level seems to be reached through the leader developing relationships with the folower. This honor society and the related teachings on submission tend to be ways to get around building the relationships that good leaders need with those in their congregation.

    Jesus said the greatest will be the servant of all, but too often in our churches it is the greatest of us will be served by all. To keep that paradigm in place you sometimes need honor culture and submission teachings.

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