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.
AMEN – this is not just a Latino Honor/shame issue.
The story of strong relationships suddenly going ‘cold’ is one that has occurred over and over here in my corner of Africa as well. Blending cultural honour with biblical honour is a real problem. The slightest mis-understanding can precipitate a ‘shaming’ and rejection. It seems that a ‘one-off’ shame incident removes any previous honour, and thus in relationships there is little space for ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’ when someone does something deemed as dishonourable (for whatever reason). Weighing up how one ‘bad’ report (and sometimes it is only that – a report/rumour) compares with a lifetime of good reputation and faithfulness of a person seems to not even be on the radar.
I think of a couple of situations here in particular where it took a lot of hard work on the part of a missionary to try to reconcile and restore the relationship after the local folk ‘shunned’ him/her following a misunderstanding even after decades of faithful service and good relationships. Interestingly it was often around the differences of what each culture thought of as honourable/shameful.
This raises the issue of the need for Intentional discipleship about what loving one another looks like in how ‘love believes/trusts’ rather than being quick to revenge, and how a mis-placed understanding of godly love goes right alongside a misplaced understanding of godly honour. (see April 2011 EMQ article on ‘Selfless-Love the missing middle in Honour-Shame cultures’ by Alex Toorman)
Thankyou Patricia for the blog post.