Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hey, Show A Little Respect to the Godfather.

    Have you seen the Godfather movies?  Did you catch the idea that showing respect was highly valued by the Mafia?  That is of course until they murder you, but it is the idea of getting murdered that helps one to focus on showing some respect.  We have no such enforced system of respect in the church, the denomination, and it seems we are sometimes scarce on the practice too.

    I am speaking here of the respect between church leaders.  One of the most valuable things I have learned from being mentored by African American church leaders is showing respect.  I learned it again in Africa where Elders, the Wazee, are considered worthy of respect.  I learned it, and had it enforced, when I became an officer in the U.S. Army.  I also grew up in Newark, NJ so I fully understood the Godfather movies.

    I am a Presbyterian Teaching Elder.  I was one of the longest serving pastors in my Presbytery.  I have some experience in urban church planting, cross cultural ministry, and mercy ministry to the poor.  I noticed when younger pastors came into the Presbytery and took no notice of me, or didn't visit me, or didn't consult with me about mutual concerns.  I'm not saying I was all bent out of shape about it, didn't say I was sending anybody in limos to pick them up, I'm just saying I noticed.

    Recently I spoke with a pastor who has a considerable ministry among Hispanics.  He felt the disrespect when the denomination had a meeting about Hispanics, for Hispanics, but didn't have anyone translate things into Spanish.  He felt it because he had carried some pastors to the meeting, most of whom couldn't speak English.

    I remember when the denomination had a meeting about cross cultural ministry and simply sent me an invitation to the meeting.  No one asked me about my view of the meeting, about who was going to speak.  They didn't have to do that, but it would have shown some respect if they had, at least given some indication that they (the agency involved) had noticed that this was my life's work.  I'm just saying that I might have known something about the subject, and it sure would have felt like they had an understanding of the "political love" that is needed to make progress in a community.  For those whose community is only their movement or network, I am telling  you that you need to realize our community is larger than you know.

    Part of white culture is to be self-deprecating and self-disdainful.  We of course spiritualize it and say we are seeking God's glory.  That is fine when you practice it for yourself, but to deny respect to those who have earned it is not just a breach of etiquette but an insult.  We should seek God's glory, and we shouldn't seek our own glory, but we certainly should show respect to one another and recognize the value of other people's work.

    By the way, this isn't about me, I'm just using my personal examples to make a point.  In a day when we have more and more "networks" and multi-site church movements and denominational agencies who plan agendas we have to be careful we don't roll over people who have been doing the spade work of ministry, have spent the years in a place, know the players and where the bodies are buried (so to speak) because we think we have a new and fresh way to get results fast.  Of course these results are for Jesus and the Kingdom of God, so we feel we don't have to be too careful around the old guard who haven't been seen to make much progress before we arrived.

    I think some of this is simply white culture (which most of us white folk don't know we have because we think it is "normal").  Some of it is youthful and movement arrogance.  Some of it is just pure ignorance of knowing how to show what I call "political love."  The reader might be in favor of love, but not the word  political.  OK, why don't we refer to it as "wisdom."   One never knows when the bridges one has burned may be needed, one doesn't always know that the friends they could have had got tired of being had, and tired of being overlooked.  It is amazing how suddenly one might need friends in Presbytery, or General Assembly, or at some denominational agency, or even help after a disaster has swept through your town.

    Some may find this amusing coming from me.  If you know my history you will know I haven't suffered fools gladly, haven't believed in continuing things the same way we have always done them, and have basically advocated burning systems and things down if it meant we could pursue the Kingdom and the Commission of Jesus faster.  So I must come with some repentance (alright, a lot of repentance) and ask for forgiveness where and when I have been impulsive and failed to respect my elders and those in leadership.  I realize how much I am involved in networks, multi-site church planting, and denominational agencies.  Please forgive me where I have been heavy handed and clumsy, too blunt, not careful to love as deeply and fully as I should.

    When I was getting started in the city where I worked I consciously kept a low profile.  I didn't want my name in the papers, didn't want to draw attention to what I was doing in the black community.  I was not the "white Moses."  I know that envy, covetousness, and jealous competition spring very quickly among preachers and leaders.  I have learned this in some painful ways.  I had to earn the right to be respected, and I earned that right by showing respect.

    With that awareness of myself let me shout out a warning to those who think their new helicopter church planting method, their mega church ideas, their denominational agency efficiency gives them the right to step on and over those who are already in the fight, in fact may have suffered much, but don't have the same publicity machine.  You and I need to learn to show respect.  It is not too hard and it pays off big dividends.  People actually like me better when they realize I am not such an arrogant....kind of person. Well, maybe I am, but I don't want to be, I really do want to be more like Jesus.  It is never just the goal, but the means to the goal has to have the same nature as the goal.  If love is where we are going, then love is how we get there.


  1. I've observed that church leaders don't mind it if you move in to their ministry territory as much as they mind hearing about it from a third party... with respect, BRF

  2. I'm sure I have been guilty MANY times of not showing respect. I have always found that African-Americans have heaps more respect for pastors & leaders in the black church. Whenever I mention that I'm a pastor to an African-American, I'm immediately afforded respect (whether I deserve it or not!). I wonder if part of it has to do with "honor culture". My experience in the church and in society in general has been much more anti-clerical and anti-hierarchical, much of what Nathan Hatch puts forth in his "Democratization of American Christianity." Anyway, some very valuable advice here Rev Nabors (I'm suddenly self-conscious about how to address you in a way that shows you due honor). On a personal note, I spent time with Mike Higgins not too long ago, and he couldn't say enough about you. Mike had some interesting thoughts as well about older white men who would see his rank on something he wore while working out at the Y...guys who wouldn't have likely given him the time of day in a grocery store...but when they saw his rank, military culture prescribed for them an appropriate response and they addressed him accordingly. Really something to be said for the "honor" that some cultures ingrain...thanks for raising the issue of how glaringly absent it often is in the PCA (I assume one of you primary targets), and in my life as well.