One of the mistakes many leaders make is believing that when they obtain the “title” they’ve arrived. The thinking goes something like this. “Now that I’ve graduated, I need to get a job. This job needs to be something I’m trained to do, and should also come with a job title, for without the title, how will I tell people what it is I do? Now that I’ve got that title, I must have arrived at what I’m supposed to do with my life, and the what I do is now a perfect description of the who that I am. Since I ‘pastor’ the church and people call me ‘Pastor’ then I must BE a pastor. Therefore, I’ve arrived. Who am I? I am Pastor.”
Do you want proof that this type of thinking takes place? The next time you go to any social gathering where there are people you don’t know, wait and see how long it takes before someone asks, “So, what do you do for a living?” I guarantee it won’t take very long. Conversely, watch how long before that same question enters your mind upon meeting someone new. We all want to know what people do, because we believe what they do determines who they are. Consequently, we tend to make personal judgments upon the lives of people based solely and completely upon their titles.
For example, do you really believe that you will give the same consideration and respect to the person who says, “I’m the custodian at the high school” that you will to one who says, “I’m the CFO for General Motors”? Furthermore, if you’ve ever been a custodian (I have), you’re much more likely (and proud) to tell people when you’re the pastor of a church (like I have) than when you’re the custodian. In fact, I have often steered conversations towards the “What do you do for a living?” topic because I was a pastor and I wanted people to know that and be impressed.
Today, that title is gone. Now I’m just a former pastor who works at a lumberyard, making less money than I did twenty years ago. The ego is bruised, but the hope remains. I’ve been stripped down to how God sees me, and God alone must be enough or I’ll stay here for a long time. Isolation strips you of what you do – and also of what people see you doing – so that who you are is all that remains.
Sometimes our ministry position becomes so caught up I administration, we don’t have time for ministration. I’m still learning that I don’t need a title to validate my existence by what I do (I never claimed to be a quick learner). My title does not determine who I am. Sure, I would rather be called, “Pastor Jim” than “Jim the Janitor.” However, this is more a reflection of my pride than my position as a son of God. We grow up in a society that is big on titles and job descriptions. Our doing determines our worth in America, unless you are fortunate enough to be born wealthy and good-looking. Then you can be famous for simply being famous. Can you imagine telling God He should allow you into heaven because you were more famous than anybody else; that your picture appeared in more magazines that any other living person because of your astonishing good looks?
Leo Tolstoy said, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” I would like to take that one step farther and say, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that titles equals significance.” My worth is based on Who’s I am, not what I do. And I’ll be the first to confess it is a lesson that I’m still learning.
This is another except from my hopefully soon-to-be released book, Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes. The book talks about the four years I was an Assemblies of God minister at a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. This excerpt is from the chapter Isolation.
the “trappings” of “professional” ministry are many. thanks for your thoughtful ponderings, jim.
I’m living this today. For the first time, I no longer have an answer to the question, “what do you do?” The first time I was asked, I was ashamed to say nothing. Today, I’m likely to respond, “hanging on God’s vine” … “what do you do”? Thanks, Jim. I felt as if I was all alone in this.
You are not alone. You are never alone. Nothing you will ever experience will be unique to you. God is always faithful to bring people into your life who will help you along the way.
“Nothing is more natural or beautiful or blessed than to be nothing so that God may be all” _Murry
“Scarcity brings clarity” _Dino
And of course BFHH and so much LOVE. I think about you guys daily!
Isn’t is a shame that we, as Christians, are still so vain in so many areas of our lives. How we need the Holy Spirit to continually sanctify us and the blood of Christ to continually deal with our sins.
Thanks for the reminder.
Not to argue, but I dislike being called “pastor.”
To elevate me above the other spiritually gifted in the church is wrong. I do not say “Hello administrator Ed, Hi Helper Patty, etc.” Our area has a majority Catholic, and the Priest is often venerated. Yuch. I am a brother, gifted by the Spirit to teach and minister. Only one part of the puzzle.
I agree with with you. I, too, dislike the title “pastor.” But I have yet to find a substitute that conveys the same understanding of the position a “pastor” takes in the local church. My first pastorate was with a primarily elderly congregation. Their tradition necessitated calling me “Pastor Jim.” Although I was uncomfortable with the title in some ways, I felt it necessary to allow out of respect to the people and culture I came to minister to and with. However, I am also uncomfortable with the titles Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and Teacher. Although I believe those gifts are in effect today, I see them more as a description of an office or ministry within the body than an identifying marker. But what else are we to call the one person who is the first among equals in a local church? I liked it when my congregation simply called me “Jim.” But what other word could they use to identify me to others? Lead Minister? Senior Elder? Head Cheese?
I wondered over after seeing a comment that mentioned Little Portion monastery at iMonk’s place. I was a summer missionary in Eureka Springs working out of the baptist church downtown back in 1995. I used to drive past the monastery on the way to Wal-Mart and always wanted to visit it, but never did.
Anyway, I wanted to comment on this post as well. I have only been a “head cheese” for a little over a year or so and still can’t get used to the pastor title either. I was used to people in the south calling the pastor “brother” so and so and I am more comfortable with that. But I will still take pastor any day over words like reverend or the nice Catholic lady at the hospital who called me “father.” I nearly choked on that one.
I laughed out loud at your reaction to being called “father.” One time the community was ministering at a conference center in Kansas that was staffed by nuns. Since I was wearing my habit, it was often assumed I was not only a brother, which I was, but also a priest. One day I was going into a building and held the door open for three nuns. As they walked past me they said, “Thank you, Father.” Naturally, I was at an immediate loss how to respond. Should I could I tell them I was a “brother” and not a priest; that I was minister with the Assemblies of God and not a Catholic; that our community was Catholic-based and ecumenical, all in the time it took them to walk through the door? All these thoughts occurred to me in about two seconds, so I replied to their “Thank you, Father” the only way I found appropriate. I simply said, “You’re welcome.”
One more thought regarding titles. I think most people need us to have a title so they can place us in a certain position in their mind. There is no getting around that. However, I want to wean myself from needing such an identifying marker. It is happening slowly, but I know that my acceptability in certain circles will still be based on what I do more than who or Whose I am. We are a performance oriented society and there is no getting around that. Still, I am looking forward to that one day where God will take a look at my whole life and judge it for who and Whose I am, and not for any particular title I may have held.
Thanks for stopping by.
“Brother” seems to emphasize the idea of God the Father and set us on an even field. It has a nice ring to it. Most of the church is getting used to calling me Will. Call me anything, but yeah, Father does set the nerves on edge, i would have loved to see Jeff’s face!