This is part four of my Panama reflection series. Two months ago, I was in Panama on a mission trip with a group of pastors from Virginia. This series of articles is my effort to share some of my experiences while also debriefing from my trip. Enjoy.
This past Saturday was a rough day for me at our church’s Upward Sports Basketball games. On three different occasions I was upset by the lack of respect of some of the kids participating in our program. These children were talking when I was leading devotion time. They were walking on the court of active games. They were taking basketballs off the stage area. One kid even pushed me. Some might say that it is just part of the child’s growth and maturation as the child works through rebellion and discovering boundaries. Some might say it is a product of their home life. Some might even say that disrespect for those in authority is just a product of our time.
Regardless of which explanation you favor, disrespect is everywhere we look. We pass it off as sarcasm, jokes, and “telling it like it is”. The truth is disrespect is a glimpse into our hearts. Our self-centered, corrupt hearts.
I couldn’t help but contrast this with my experience in Panama. I had always planned on writing on this subject, but after Saturday it is even more striking. Panamanians, pretty much as a whole, have a tremendous, deep, sincere love and respect for their pastors. When I was with Pastor Felix, my host pastor, we were constantly greeted with a smile, hand shake, hugs, and ¡Holá Pastor! I don’t think anyone called me Kris all week long except when I was being introduced to speak to a group as “Pastor Kris from Virginia”. Everywhere I went, I was simply, but profoundly referred to as Pastor.
When Felix and I traveled, I was always in the front seat of the car. Even when I said I would sit in the back so Felix’s wife could sit in the front, I was told I was a guest and I rode in the front. This message was given to me by both Felix and his wife multiple times throughout my week. On Sunday, after I preached, I was going to get in line for some food, and I was told to sit down and someone would serve me (and I was the only one served). When we went into people’s homes, they literally would sit there and listen to us no matter how long we took and they always served us food (and one home did not have much to spare).
In most churches in the United States, pastors are ridiculed if they preach past 12 noon. In Panama, I was told after 20 minutes of preaching I had not preached long enough. In the USA, pastors are challenged for being too young, too old, being too business-like, not being professional enough, not being accessible enough, or any other issue a person can find. In Panama, pastors are treated with honor, respect, and also with a friendliness and gentleness that shows there is a mutual love and respect between pastor and congregant.
Now before we assume that every pastor in the USA is bad or treated poorly, I have seen people sincerely love and care for their pastors here in the USA. And, I am sure people get mad with pastors in Panama, and I know there are many pastors around the world who have abused and broken trust with their people. However, I could not help noticing this dynamic while in Panama.
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verses 12 and 13, Paul writes, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”
Pastors and congregations should live in peace with each playing its respective part. Pastors should love and care for their flocks. And the people should love and respect and heed the words of their pastor. What if we honored one another in this way? What would your church look like? If you are a pastor reading this, I would encourage you to ask yourself, “Am I worthy of being honored and respected?” And, if you are a congregant reading this, I encourage you to show a little love to your pastor this week. Anyway, I was just thinking…