A crucial lesson learned from atop the “pedestal”

Many years ago, when my family and I were "in the chute" on our way to the mission field of the Central Philippines, an interesting and uncomfortable change of perspective took place in many of our Christian friends and church members.

They began talking about us and treating us as if we were some kind of "super" Christians that deserved to be placed on a pedestal.

--We felt like we began being treated with an increased amount of honor and respect.

--Many of them actually told us that it was our willingness to obey, when that obedience required leaving every familiar and comfortable behind, that was the greatest contributor to the increased level of respect they had for us.

--I was asked by many people at various times about the secret to my prayer life that made it possible for me to hear from the Lord so clearly and then to be so confident that I was actually hearing Him speak, and not my own desires.

To put it mildly, the new way people began interacting with us was........AWKWARD!

We didn't feel like we had done anything to merit the way we were now being viewed and treated.

We certainly didn't feel like "super" Christians and we didn't view ourselves as pedestal-worthy.

We tried to downplay the significance of what we were doing by emphasizing to everyone that we were just "normal" believers in Jesus who were making every effort to know and obey His will for our lives--just like they were doing.

We told them that to us, what we were doing was nothing more than the point Jesus made about servants in:

Luke 17:10  "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.' "

We were convinced that we were just sinners saved by God's amazing grace and that obeying Him in whatever He commanded us to do was nothing more, or less, than just doing what He had assigned us to do.

We honestly didn't feel like we had changed even though it was obvious that everything else in our lives, except the Lord, was in the midst of radical change.

When we returned almost two years later for our first two month period of rest, it seemed like the level of respect and regard for us had increased even more.

That nine-week stretch of time was jam-packed as we met with different people five separate times each day, (breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, and dinner).

They all wanted to hear about what God was doing and about what it was like to live in a country that they knew was different from our country in almost every conceivable way.

And so the sea of awkwardness that enveloped us and that we had begun swimming in as we prepared to make the move to the mission field, came crashing in upon us again--with even greater force.

But this time it was even more challenging to navigate and to try to not be swallowed up by it.

Although I had heard about the pedestal that many missionaries are placed upon by a large number of  well-meaning Christians, as you can see from what I've written, we actually had the experience of being placed on that "missionary" pedestal by people that we knew, loved, and respected.

What was interesting though, is that quite a few of the people that had placed us on the pedestal, looked visibly perplexed and even a bit offended when I told them that we didn't want or deserve to be on the pedestal they had placed us on.

In other words, when I told them about my discomfort with their bestowing an increased level of honor and respect on us, it was obvious that they felt disrespected or dishonored by my refusal to accept what they clearly wanted to give me.

If all of us are wired to give and receive both respect and honor, (and I believe God has designed us this way) and a person wants to give it in an extra portion because of what we've done that is honorable or respectable in their eyes, are we not dishonoring them by not receiving it?

Because that is basically what we're doing.

It wasn't until a specific brother in the Lord took me aside and spoke totally honest with me that I began to see this truth.

He said that by being unwilling to receive the honor and respect that people who know and love us have for us and express to us and others, we were actually showing great disrespect and dishonor towards that person.

As uncomfortable as it may be for the missionary to accept being placed on a pedestal of honor and respect by others, surrendering that discomfort and permitting people to do what God has designed them to do--give respect and honor to those that do things that are respect-worthy and honor-worthy--is one more of the crosses that missionaries need to bear as humbly as possible.


  1. Reply
    David Lewis says

    From a member care perspective, honor and respect are not really the problem. The problem comes in when the people who put us on the pedestal assume that we do not have weaknesses and needs, just like them. Honor is fine; idolization is not.

    • mm
      Pastor Jeff Jackson says

      Great point Dave! Which is why it’s crucial for the missionary to be transparent and humble as they communicate their awkwardness, yet thankfulness to the person that is respecting and honoring them–not idolizing them.

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