Honor & Patronage Among Church Leaders
Patricia Toland (Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies, Biola University) has served in Africa and Latin America since 1990 mobilizing the Latino church and training Latino Missionaries. She also lectures, trains, and ministers internationally to missionaries on the field and in universities.
Church and ministry leaders in Latin America work together and share a deep mutual trust. It is amazing to watch. They have a bond that is exceptional. I observed close friends work together for years.
Then suddenly they no longer spoke nor worked together again. With no forewarning the leadership team came against one of their peers. They refused to meet and discuss the issue though asked repeatedly for the opportunity. The excluded leader had no clue as to the offense even after a year.
The Good Part of Honor
Honor cultures provide a wonderful basis for tight knit relationships. Honor allows for mutual trust and the ability to operate freely without checking every detail with other leaders. It allows leaders to develop skills and form their own groups of ministerial leaders. Mutual trust allows churches to form solid ministerial teams that flow and function with ease.
Honor between church leaders often functions with patron-client principles in Latin America. There is mutual protection, provision of needed materials, respect, mutual help and sacrifice to see another complete their project. This bond involves going the second mile for each other, and filling in when one cannot be there. It is based on a strong back and forth relationship that freely gives and repays favors which edify and strengthen their relationships and is void of seeking reputation and prestige. Serving one another without keeping account is witnessed when the leadership team practices biblically healthy honor.
The Bad Part of Honor
But sometimes honor goes awry. When it is no longer biblical but includes cultural traits or the fallen nature of man, then the leadership team ceases to function in such a manner. The patronage relationship is ruptured. The mutual protection and support disappear as leaders begin to discredit the unfavored one. Favoritism among leaders can turn into a closed system that locks others out despite their spiritual giftings. Leaders can choose friends or people to whom favors are owed rather than those God has gifted and matured for ministry. Leaders can exclude peers at the slightest hint of a shaming attitude, behavior or mistake. They offer exclusion and shame, not restitution nor restoration. Damaged reputations are made known in the Christian community so there is no entry into a different church to either attend or minister.
When leadership teams switch from biblical honor to cultural honor, seldom does the leadership team regain a healthy functioning of honor. The ingrained cultural default patterns make self-evaluation shameful. In addition, seldom are Latinos able to distinguish between Biblical and cultural honor. So leadership teams function using a syncretism of both biblical and cultural practices.
Pastors and leaders who are able to maintain biblical honor in their churches explain that it means consciously keeping Christ in the forefront as the motivation for serving, not seeking prestige or reputation. Biblical honor entails keeping short accounts with God and evaluating inner motivations frequently, especially if a person has a leadership position for long time. Biblical honor includes giving an account to others to help one maintain pure motivations. Biblical honor means frequently reviewing the biblical meaning and function of honor in the church, so that everyone resists the cultural default mode of honor for self gain.
Both honor and shame can be used in godly ways among church leaders to edify, fortify and restore or to motivate a person to get right before the Lord to keep serving.