Titles of Leadership
I'm going to interrupt my series on preaching and teaching to touch on something that came to my mind again this evening while I was skimming through the news feeds that I get delivered to my blog aggregator (Bloglines). Apparently, there have been some people frustrated that the murdered minister in Tennessee has been referred to in the media as "Pastor Winkler". I was not aware of this, but it seems from some sources that the Church of Christ (in which he was a minister) uses the terms "preacher" or "minister" to refer to the main teacher in the church, but not "pastor".
Now, I have no idea what their thinking is behind this, but it reminded me of something that I had thought of a couple years ago. That is the subject of titles for any leaders in the church. Now, before anyone misunderstands, please note that I am not talking about words that refer to what the person does. For example, I may say, "Bob is a pastor." That tells me what gifting is part of the contribution Bob makes to the Body of Christ. As such, it is a descriptive word. But to refer to someone as "Pastor Bob" takes on a whole different issue, and one which I would like to examine briefly. (Can I actually stay brief?!)
But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. --Matthew 23:8-12 (NIV)
Jesus made some interesting statements with regard to leadership in the Church, and it seems to me that the one above is so often overlooked. What was the point of what Jesus was saying here? In context, he is criticizing the Pharisees, saying that even though they were teaching the right things, they were doing everything to be noticed, and doing everything for public praise. He said in the verses immediately preceding the paragraph above that they loved to be called "Rabbi". It made them feel important. It put them on a level above the people.
Then Jesus tells His own disciples that they should not be called "Rabbi". And what was His explanation as to why? "You have only one Master and you are all brothers." (emphasis added) Do you see the significance of this? Who is the Master? Jesus. And what is the relationship of believers to each other? Brothers.
I think it's interesting that Jesus doesn't only say "Don't call others this." He actually puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the leaders not to be called by special titles! I take that to mean that if someone actually comes up to you and calls you "Teacher" that you should correct them!
So how we have gotten to the point in our churches today that we boldly refer to our leaders as "Pastor So-and-So"? Or, how about "Reverend So-and-So"? What does "reverend" mean? Well, according to one online dictionary, it means "deserving of reverence" (no kidding!) which is defined as "A feeling of profound awe and respect and often love; veneration." Does this sound like it squares with the instructions of Jesus?
Furthermore, if we look at the fact that "pastor" is just one "gift" given to the Church, that sheds some more interesting light on the issue. While it is true that only four or five gifts are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 (the only use in the New Testament of "pastor" as a part of the Body of Christ), some of those same gifts, including "teacher" are mentioned in 1 Corinthians in a list of many other gifts. So, if we are going to call someone with the gift of pastoring "Pastor Bob", why don't we then call someone with the gift of healing, "Healing Jane"? Or perhaps someone with the gift of mercy could be "Mercy Mark".
No, unfortunately, what has happened is that we have done exactly what Jesus told us not to do. We have elevated certain gifts above others and used those gifts as titles. Jesus made it clear that we are to humble ourselves, not exalt ourselves. We are to serve, not be served. Inasmuch as the titles assigned to our leaders today do nothing but exalt them, I think it's high time we take the words of Jesus seriously and get back to the flat organizational chart He described in the above passage. Jesus is our Master and Teacher. God is our Father. Let none of us usurp the titles clearly delineated for use by God alone.
Don't let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don't set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of "Father"; you have only one Father, and he's in heaven. And don't let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them--Christ. Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. --Matthew 23:8-12 (The Message)
Until next time,
By the way, as a bonus, can anyone tell me how the Roman Catholic Church priest system gets around this command not to be called "father"?