Re: The question of culture
I hear what you are saying. I think at best culture clashes with the Bible to some extent; especially with the Pastors the line is blurred and open to interpretation. I was a Pastor for 10 years in a palagi church where the view of the Pastor differs drastically compared to the Samoan view. In the palagi church you are just like everyone else, no special treatment, no elevation above the next person, but they still respected you were a man of God.
My first experience of being a Pastor in the Samoa culture was when I visited family in Hawaii, I went to their church and when the church found out I was a Pastor I was given special treatment, after the service they put me at the front table, I was waited on and given an envelop with $200. The whole time I felt out of place and awkward. The following week I preached twice and received another two envelops over the two days containing around $750! I rang my father back in Australia and asked him what I should do with the money as I didn’t believe I should take it. My father said it was there way of showing appreciation for a worker of God and to return it would be rude.
The following week when the offering came around I put all the money back in and that’s what I did throughout my whole career when I preached at Samoan churches I would either return it anonymously or give it anonymously to a family that was in need at that church. I was glad I never had to deal with this on a continual basis as I was always assigned to Palagi churches.
My thoughts on the matter is this, I am a Christian before I am Samoan and according to the Bible the Pastor is a servant, this was the example of Jesus. Although He was God he didn’t befriend the rich and those of status for glorification but associated himself with the poor, the needy, the outcasts of society. This is where I struggled in the Samoan setting because the Pastor is viewed totally opposite to what the Bible reveals and what Jesus taught.
The treatment which Pastors receive in the Samoan culture can easily be abused by the church and also the Pastor as I have experienced in many cases as you have yourself. The above figures I posted were from real life examples at the suffering of the people. I have known of colleagues who have expected this treatment and at times have even demanded it which shocked me!
This all stems back to the Pastors being given the highest title of all in our culture. I guess this is another example of culture, which is questionable by Biblical standards. The future however looks positive, more and more young Pastors are moving away from that mentality and when taking up office (in my denomination) they insist of their congregations that they need not the special treatment, not to disrespect the people but to follow the example of Christ. So you are right in pushing back, if not then where will change come from.