Q: It seems to me that people of today’s generation do not respect the pastoral office as much as previous generations. Is this a valid observation?”
A: Your assessment unfortunately appears to be on the mark. Clergy scandals, preachers espousing liberalism, and money-hungry pastors often hit the headlines, and this has probably taken a toll on the way pastors as a whole are perceived in every denomination. Years ago the laity tended to have a high view of the public minister, but some of the respect may have been attributed simply to his credentials as being more educated and learned than the average person in his parish and even in his community.
Today this isn’t so much the case. Our congregations are filled with lay people who often have just as much formal education and/ or degrees as does the pastor who serves them. This isn’t only true of urban churches but of our churches in general As a result, it is the opinion of this writer that a sizeable number of people today are not as inclined to put up with certain shortcomings of their preachers, though these may have been overlooked by the laity of previous generations. If a pastor is not living up to his calling, especially in doctrine or in his personal morality, lay people not only have the right but the duty to question how he is carrying out his God-given office. However, people accustomed to our high-tech society and polished presentations by televangelists may at times be critical of their ministers for reasons other than what Scripture would endorse.
The Apostle Paul urged high respect be given to the public servants of the Word. He told the Thessalonians: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work” (I Thess. 5:12,13). Dr. Walther once said that if people would stop to consider all that is entailed with the office of the ministry, men would be eager to crowd the seminaries and parents would view it “a high honor and special grace of God if they could have their sons trained for this sacred office” (Law & Gospel, p. 285). Even the feet of those who bring the good news of salvation in Christ to needy souls are to be deemed “beautiful”!
A closing thought is this: The respect and adulation for the pastoral office by dedicated Christians will likely be found only in proportionate measure to the way the public servant adheres to what the Apostle Peter stated in his First Epistle, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (4:11).