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.