Church Titles

I heard a pretty good sermon on Wednesday that had to do with differences between churches, structurally speaking. This sermon tied things to scripture but pointed up that scriptural patterns aren’t always clear; thus, the differences that result in human workings-out of things, in various eras.

Despite the feeling of many that Christians need to accentuate the positive, deal in the areas of common ground, etc., instead of working ourselves up over the differences … I’m still hung up on titles, because I’m passsionately averse to hints of hierarchy in the church Jesus wanted to build. A few comments on a few titles found in our churches today:

Evangelist. A few churches in my acquaintance like this term for their guy-in-charge. He may or may not have bona fide evangelistic gifts, and he may or may not spend much of his time in weekly evangelism. But some have moved away from other, more common terms such as “preacher” or “minister,” and “evangelist” seems to signal an emphasis on “reaching the lost.” One might legitimately be called “evangelist” if, as part & parcel of his daily work, he communicates the good news of Jesus Christ to humans who are not believers.

Preacher. Many churches routinely call their guy “preacher,” but it’s more rare as an official, letterhead title. Whether or not this role is scripturally required or logically justified today, we all must admit that in terms of corporate activity, “preacher” is an apt label for many who preach sermons weekly. Or 2+ times/week … in some churches, the preacher teaches an adult Bible class and ends up sermonizing then; plus, another sermon on Sunday night and maybe a mini-sermon on Wednesday night, too. I’m not negating the value of all the administrative work, hospital visits, etc., that preachers do during the week when I say that their primary role in most congregants’ lives is that of preacher. In other words, I do know that the preacher does a lot more than preach, but in terms of my weekly existence, what he is to me, a person in the pew, is “preacher.” The obvious follow-up questions (to me, anyway) are what is being preached? and can it be firmly connected to that which was preached (kergyma) in the First Century?

Teacher. Some paid preachers are really more teachers than preachers in my eye. This is no downgrade!

Pastor. Said it before; saying it again. “Pastor” is a term that has been misappropriated, wholesale, in most Christian churches today. “Pastor” is etymologically related to “pasture,” i.e., a place for flocks, and the biblical role spoken of is that of the shepherd. While many who bear the title “pastor” actually do shepherd individual sheep and sub-flocks of sheep, there seems to be little, if any, scriptural evidence that pastor should be used as a singular, hierarchical title.

Senior Pastor. So-called “senior pastors” may be 35 years of age, fresh out of divinity school, and for some organizational reason set above “associate pastors” or “worship pastors” or “youth pastors” who have been serving longer and who may be older. I don’t get this. Of all the hierarchical machinations, this one irks me the most.

Some other time, I’ll comment on the titles “Reverend,” “Rector,” “Father,” and “Minister.”

Addendum: Please see this post, on or after 12/22/2009, for the follow-up.

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