Acts chapter fourteen tells us that when Paul and Barnabas went to Lystra, they found a man who was lame and had never walked. They were enabled to heal him. But when the people saw what was done, they actually began to worship Paul and Barnabas, saying that they were gods come down to earth. Paul and Barnabas cried out saying, “Don’t do this, we are only men. Worship the living God.” Later, Paul writes to the Thessalonians and tells them to esteem their pastors and godly leaders very highly: “Esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake…” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).
So, what is the difference between “preacher worship” and “holding the man of God in high esteem”?
What it Means to Hold the Pastor in High Esteem
- Holding the pastor in high esteem includes defending him when he is spoken against. This is not preacher worship. Does a man worship his wife because he defends her when she is criticized? Does a man worship his country because he defends her when it is spoken against? No, refusing to listen to gossip about those you love and those who are over you in the Lord is right and proper, and does not constitute preacher worship!
- Holding the pastor in high esteem includes allowing him to exercise his God ordained authority in the local church. God ordains the pastor to be the overseer or the bishop of the local church. The church elects him to be the pastor and then should allow him to lead without second guessing every decision he makes.
- Holding the pastor in high esteem includes deferring to him when you are unsure about a matter in the church. A man once told me, “Preacher, I will always vote with you on a matter unless I find a distinct reason from Scripture not to.” That simply makes good sense, and that same rule of thumb should be used by every godly wife who is submissive to the leadership of her husband.
If I go to the dentist, I might disagree with a decision he makes regarding my teeth, but unless I have good reason to know that he is wrong, I am going to go along with his decision because dentistry is his life and he knows more about it than I do. In all seven of the churches addressed in Revelation chapters two and three, the Holy Spirit guided the church through the pastor! It is wise to follow the pastor’s leadership unless he is directly violating a principle of Scripture. To trust his judgment on matters relating to the church is not preacher worship.
What Preacher Worship Is
- Preacher worship is accepting anything the preacher says, even if it contradicts the Word of God. To have allowed these men of Lystra to count them as gods would have been a contradiction of the God Paul and Barnabas served!
People followed Jim Jones to their death even when what he said contradicted what the Bible said. In fact, at one point, Jones is reputed to have said regarding the Bible, “Quit looking at this, and look at me.” Now that is preacher worship! Jones had such control over those people who followed him that they followed him to their death!
Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Someone has wisely said, “The messenger does not validate the message, but the message validates the messenger.” There are many false prophets who have an unscriptural following. That means you must know enough doctrine to test a preacher’s words and works. This is perfectly scriptural for the Bible says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). A godly pastor or evangelist will never mind you testing what he says against God’s Word for his desire is to be faithful to the Word of God.
- Preacher worship is continuing to support or stand behind a pastor who has disqualified himself from the ministry. Sad to say, some people are more devoted to a personality than to God and His Word. To continue to support a man because you like his teaching or personality is to elevate him over your obedience to the Word of God.
- Preacher worship is refusing to serve the Lord because a favorite or well-loved preacher has gone. All of us have our favorite preachers and singers. Many times a particular preacher has so loved us and helped us that we are very partial towards his ministry. This is all well and good. But when my service to the Lord is dependent on one particular preacher, and I refuse to be obedient to the Lord by being faithful to the Lord’s house, because a particular preacher has gone, that is preacher worship.
It is also true that even if we stay in church after our favorite preacher has left, or a preacher who paid us a lot of attention, if we do not continue to serve with a fervent heart, then it is possible we depended too much on that preacher. Sometimes God allows one of our crutches to be taken from us in order to prove our real love for Him and His Word!
Questions to Ponder
- Sometimes there is a fine line between “highly esteeming those over us in the Lord” and “preacher worship.” It behooves each of us to carefully consider where that line is. Generally, though not always, those who accuse someone of being a preacher worshipper are following someone else besides the preacher in the church.
- Is your own worship of the Lord as strong as when your favorite preacher was your pastor? If it is not, then perhaps you need to examine your own worship!