3 Reasons I Lean Toward Reverence – BAPTIST TIMES ARTICLE REPOST

I wrote the following article for the Baptist Times magazine Youth to Truth column, submitted September 2019:


When I was a youth pastor, I wanted an atmosphere that was exciting and personal—like God—but still holy and reverent—like God.

Former Catholics tell me they revered God but had no personal relationship with Him. To them, reverence itself was god, and majestic ceremonies and cathedrals were as close as they could get to God’s true majesty. The $1 billion budget to rebuild Notre Dame suggests that the externals are all they have.

Pete Buttigieg’s god swings the other way though, dismissing liturgy but accepting homosexuality as a “gray area.” That can’t be right either. God speaks objectively—in black and white—by His Word.

So here we are in the middle. Is God so rigid that we’re required to whip our bare backs to gain His favor? No. He is a judge but shows mercy.

Is God so loose that He overlooks sin? No. He is longsuffering but not dismissive.

While various views might hit the ditches on either side of the road, we should understand God as both perfectly holy and perfectly loving. How we treat reverence, though, reveals which way we lean. Within our Christian liberties, I tend to lean toward reverence for three broad reasons:


The examples of Scripture draw me ever toward reverence. When Moses and Isaiah and Peter encountered God, it was a fearful experience. They might have felt friendship, love, or ecstasy (pleasurable emotions emphasized by modern American Christianity), but the Scriptures describe human encounters with God in terms of respect, awe, and a healthy fear.

Daniel fainted when he met an angel. Belshazzar wet his pants when he saw the hand writing on the wall.[1] Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! For I am undone.” The t-shirt got it wrong… Jesus is not my homeboy.

Imagine how solemn the Old Testament sacrifices were. The butchering, the fires, the blood sprinkling—their ceremonies were reverent. We are no longer under the law, but we worship the same God who still desires to reveal Himself.

My church leaves plenty of room for laughter, but I hope a serious attitude never feels out of place when we are really communing with God.


Reverence in church is good because our culture automatically tends toward ease. Christianity inherently calls for self-sacrifice, but human nature calls for self-satisfaction. Reverence conveys the sense that something else is more important than me, and “more is caught than taught,” as they say.

Dressing up, for example, can express reverence. Americans have a culturally-understood attire for momentous events, and we use dress as a means of communicating importance. Whether it’s a high school basketball team dressing up on game day, a man wearing a tie to a funeral, or a presidential candidate’s attire at a debate, we instinctively associate appearance with importance.

I am sympathetic to the arguments against me on this. I’m not one that sleeps in a 3-piece suit (I surf in one,* but I digress), and I am aware of my own inconsistencies. But our church still intentionally leans toward reverence in our platform attire. For our youth night, for example, we encourage our young men to wear suits to usher, lead singing, or preach. Dress is not the issue to me—it’s the message of reverence that they are hearing all the time.

Word choice is another kind of teacher. My dad (my pastor) uses platform instead of stage to remind people that we’re not performers but servants. It’s subtle, but it’s a message.

Culture has its own moments of reverence, such as at the ceremonial changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You are told to stand up and stay quiet. It was valuable for our teens to see the ceremony because we are rarely confronted with anything so important. The event carried additional significance because of the atmosphere.

I think God is worthy of respect equal to any human standard. Churches will not express it the same way, but churchgoers should know that God is lover and friend, but he is more than mere lover and friend. Reverence teaches us an important respect for God—that He is higher than us.


Teens will not necessarily remember the lesson you teach on Sunday, but they will reflect on the six-year indoctrination that they went through under your youth ministry. They will graduate and think of their high school years with an impression of what was most important. What might be “gray” to you is going to be either “black” or “white” to them, and clearly conveying reverence for God will, in the long run, shout to them through time.

Reverence is both an expression of a deep respect for God and a vehicle to train our teens to one day recognize what should be most important in their lives.

I have been a perfect youth pastor exactly… never. But my prayer has always been that my teens love God and grow closer to Him through His Word. When anyone gets serious with God, a sense of reverence inevitably follows. As close as I get to God as Father and Friend, I want to maintain a balanced reverence for all of who He is.


[1] That’s how I read Daniel 5:6 and Daniel 10:1-9, anyway. I realize that my specifics might not be exact, but the broader point stands.

* Not really.