This is part four of a series of five on the characteristics of Godly leaders. Part one, Humility, can be found here, Part two, Goodwill, can be found here, and Part Three, Empathy, can be found here.
My husband started his ministry as a Youth Pastor. We loved working with youth. We found them to be hungry for the Gospel and for truth, and we genuinely enjoyed their goofy immaturity, especially as they tried so hard to be “adults.” We learned so much from the youth we served, but one lesson specifically sticks with us: the difference between positional authority and relational authority.
In positional authority, you have a person’s respect because of your position in their life. As adults, we are used to this authority because most of us have employers who are in the position to speak authoritatively in our lives. Many of us were also raised by parents who expected this type of respect. But in this generation, there is more value placed on relational authority, where a person’s respect is based on your relationship to them. You can’t speak authoritatively in their life unless they value your relationship with them.
We had many adults who volunteered in youth ministry who felt that the youth would respect them because they were parents or teachers, or simply because they were older– positional authority. But what we found is that teenagers responded much better to relational authority. We could earn their respect and the ability to speak truth in love to them when we had a relationship with them. Without it, we were just another adult annoying them with rules and expectations.
Watching this generational switch showed us something: leaders have to show respect to others before they can ever earn the respect of others.
Thankfully, God is not silent on the issue of respecting others. In Romans 12:10, Paul tells us that not only are we to love one another, we should “outdo one another in showing honor.” (ESV, italics mine) We are to respect each other more and more, almost as though respecting each other is a competition we are seeking to win. In 1 Peter, Peter tells us we must respect not only the good and gentle, but also the unjust (1 Peter 2:16-18). And in Matthew 22, Jesus himself instructs us that the greatest commandment is to love God, but the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.
Mankind is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), so when we are respecting others and honoring them, we are respecting Him. Thus the inverse is true– when we disrespect others, we have disrespected the image of God in them. This goes not only for how we treat people with our actions, but especially how we treat people with our words. Ephesians 4 reminds us that we are called to “bear with one another” in an effort to always strive toward unity. When we disrespect others through gossip or slander, we have failed to speak only what is “good for building up” and what gives grace to those who hear us. We must remember that respecting someone isn’t just about our treatment of them when they are around us, it’s also how we speak about them when they aren’t present.
In case you can’t tell, I haven’t been able to write this blog post without Aretha Franklin demanding respect in my head. I have always wondered what “TCB” meant, and after doing some research I found out it was her shorthand for “take care of business.” So here’s where we as leaders take care of the business of respecting others. There are five imperatives that we must follow if we are going to show the respect to others that we must as Godly leaders.
George Foreman once wrote, “Without appreciation and respect for other people, true leadership becomes ineffective, if not impossible.” It’s not enough to merely have positional authority as Godly leaders. We must build relationships on mutual respect to be able to be effective leaders who can speak the truth (in love) to our congregations. We must learn to treat others the way we want to be treated, giving them grace and honoring their story.
Leaders who lead from a place of authority lead people to fear them more than respect them. True respect comes when a team can come together as a family and can acknowledge each person’s value within it, even when they disagree.
For further reading on Respect as a Godly Leader, see Designed to Lead by Erik Geiger, this episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, and this article on the need for Pastors to respect their congregations.