You Get What You Honor


Many of us have heard the short leadership quip, “You get what you honor.” The point is that what you hold up for admiration is what receives imitation. The quip calls us to recognize the power of example and use it for the purpose of leadership. I’ve always had some hesitation about its use with regard to spiritual growth and developing leaders because the last thing we need is Christian leaders who are motivated by an ambition for public recognition. I know it doesn’t have to work that way, but lurking beneath “you get what you honor” is the potential that some will do what needs to be done to receive that kind of honor.

That said, it is simple reality that this is part of what forms a culture—the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior is whether it is smiled or frowned upon. When the smile is intensified by public praise and adulation, then that behavior is not only being reinforced, it is being promoted for others to see its importance and imitate it. The opposite holds true as well.

I remember hearing a preacher, a few times, proudly tell a story about how he had taken out a full page ad in the local newspaper to protest a Billy Graham crusade that was coming to town. I can almost hear his booming voice declaring that at the top of page the ad had these words, “God or Billy Graham?” I was a college student the first time I heard that story and my immediate thought was, “Why put an ad like that in a secular newspaper? Why take that fight out into the streets in front of those who don’t know Christ?” But, I’ll have to confess, that it seemed like most of the people around me each time I heard the story found it amusing and commendable. This was a leader of a significant organization held up as an example of standing for the truth. He was honored and his action, in this case, was being honored.

This past year, a good bit of handwringing has been done because a conservative SBC pastor, Mark Dever, spoke at a conference at Calvary in Lansdale. One particular critique made much of the fact that Capitol Hill Baptist Church has connections to other organizations, actually beginning a sentence with the words “If I am playing Ring-Around-the Rosie and I join hands with Mark Dever” and ending it with “sooner or later we come full circle and we realize that we all are holding hands together.” Some folks found this argument so strong that they posted it to their websites and promoted it for others to read. They held it up for honor, and it isn’t surprising that they would since there is a long history and widespread use of such extended connections as evidence of ecclesiastical connectedness and compromise.

What do these two stories have to do with the idea that you get what you honor? Well, as I watched 20/20 last week, I thought that years of applauding stories about full page ads attacking Billy Graham in secular newspapers are coming home to roost. What was honored has been imitated. I thought that years of making a case for ecclesiastical relationships like a connect-a-dot picture are coming home to roost. What was honored has been imitated.

I do not mean to endorse or excuse anything connected to the 20/20 report by this post. I’ve spoken very clearly in other places about some of it. My point here is to say that my reaction to the program wasn’t anger that people with grievances went to a secular news outlet or that they tried to tie a bunch of churches together that don’t really belong together. It was a sad, sick feeling. Most of that was about the horrible things that were done to girls and young ladies. Part of it was because I couldn’t help thinking that we have gotten what we honored. We created, or at least tolerated, a culture that permitted and produced this. We too often smiled when we should have been frowning. Perhaps before we start hurling accusations and making counter arguments, we ought to look in the mirror and mourn over what we see there.

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