Recently I was thinking about the highly educated folks in my church while I was growing up. We had no medical doctors, and only a couple of nurses, but we did have quite a few PhDs. I learned about one of the doctorates when I was in college, and I had known him all my life. This morning, I came up with eight names who had PhDs in psychology, chemistry, or math. This is more significant when you realize we were a church of around 200, so it’s a fairly high percentage. These were smart guys, and they had earned doctorates, but I had no idea that was the case throughout most of my life. For about 15 years, my dad, who had a master’s degree plus 45 hours, served as an elder-shepherd with three other men, and my dad was actually the least educated of all of them.
The main point is that I never thought once about the advanced degrees these other men had attained, and neither did I feel it incumbent on me to call them “Dr.” this or that.
And this is the way it’s supposed to be!
I vaguely remember, while I was in college—a strongly Christian college— a discussion about whether or not the title “Dr.” should be used with our professors when we encountered them in church. I was on the side of those who felt the Christian complimentary greeting “Brother” should be used, instead—e.g., Brother Davis instead of Dr. Davis. I still feel that titles can easily get in the way of Christian relationship, but these days, I don’t generally use the affected “Brother” or “Sister” unless it’s seriously senior saint I’m addressing, opting instead for simply “John,” “Carol,” and “Peter.”
I much prefer simple, unpretentious first names in the church’s relationships . . . and all this sheds even more light (unimaginable, I know, that there could be any more light when we’re already hit with 7 million floodlights every waking minute!) on the use of the title “Pastor,” but this angle is for another day.
Certain segments (seemingly divided along regional and racial lines) of our churches seem to like more formality than others, so I will sometimes capitulate in order to fit in with my surroundings. “Brother Moore” or “Brother John” may replace the simple, more familial and brotherly “John,” but that doesn’t mean I like it all that much. The more we can move away from any terms and titles of special respect—not lacking respect for age and experience, you understand, but divesting ourselves of titles and moving toward a more egalitarian concept of who we are and what we call each other in church—the better.