Are Ministerial Titles Helpful or Can They Harm Movements?

ministerial titles

Pastor Cindy”…ahh! That had a nice ring to it! Being called pastor somehow set me apart. I was special. When my husband and I first started pastoring, we were quite young…fresh out of Bible college. We served as youth ministers in a church that instructed us to call ourselves “Pastor Todd” and “Pastor Cindy.” Only later I came to understand the danger of titles, and what it did to increase the separation between myself and those I served.

Titles put you on a pedestal. It’s one you will sooner or later fall off of. It may be in a very visible way that hurts many. Or it could be in a hidden way, which hurts you. We all fail to live up to that standard of perfection and holiness. We’re human. The titles of Pastor, Bishop, Apostle, Reverend, sometimes cause more harm than good. This is certainly true when it comes to Disciple Making Movements and releasing the priesthood of all believers.

Where Do Ministerial Titles Come From?

This article won’t be able to go into depth or be complete on this topic. I simply want to give a brief summary to help us understand a bit of the historical context.

In 312 CE, the Roman emperor, Constantine, became a Christian. His conversion to Christianity and the following Christianization of the Roman Empire led to many changes in the Church. New structures emerged. The separation of the clergy (those who served full-time as ministers) and the laity (those who attended church but worked secular jobs) grew. Offices, titles, positions, and payments for the ministerial service (by the state) became the norm.

This continued within the Catholic church and eventually led to the establishment of the office of the pope. Though Catholics claim Peter was the first pope, this title is not found in scripture. It didn’t begin to be used as a title until the 10th century. Interestingly, the time of Constantine was also when we see the prominence of church buildings in association with Christian gatherings. The Emperor built elaborate churches and established bishops, and others to preside.

Centuries later, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg in 1517. This caused an outcry against many of the abuses of the Catholic church. Protestants left the church and formed new congregations. During this time, many traditions were stripped away. The separation of clergy and laity remained.

Titles Are Not Evil, But Can Be Harmful

My aim is not to strip ministers of their titles. If that is your tradition, it is for you and others in your denomination to evaluate this in light of both scripture and its relevance to your context.

It is for those who are aiming to start new Disciple Making Movements that I write this article, not to attack the existing church in any way. If your aim is to start a DMM, then you must know that it is quite harmful to make use of ministerial titles. This is a general principle, though, not a rule. The rest of this article will explain why.

For more on this topic, read my previous blog as well.

3 Reasons Titles Harm Movement Growth

1. Titles emphasize the distinction between ministers and members.

When I use the title “Pastor Cindy” it separates me from you. Unless you are also a pastor. If you are called pastor too, it puts you and I in a “little club” together. One that is a bit higher in status than other ordinary people. We know more and are somehow to be regarded as more holy than others.

This does not help movements grow! Avoid it. Be normal. Be ordinary. Level the playing field.

Yes, you may have done some special training or seminary studies. That doesn’t necessarily make you any better at making disciples. Not all pastors, bishops, reverends, and such are disciple-makers. In fact, many are not.

In Disciple Making Movements, we don’t elevate knowledge above obedience to Jesus’ commands.

It is not our ability to write beautiful sermons, or exegete Greek and Hebrew words that will launch a movement. It is our life of obedience to Christ. Our lives must model what we want to see every disciple do.

Give Honor Where It Is Due

Leaders who serve should be respected. Those who teach and train many, should be given honor where honor is due. Some leaders may even receive financial support for what they do or part of the tithes and offerings given in the movement. This is appropriate.

That is different from expecting honor and using your title to elevate yourself. It’s far different than when people honor you, but you never asked for it.

2. Titles discourage “ordinary believers” from doing the work of the ministry.

“I could never be like my pastor! He is so holy, he prays and reads the Bible all day. I’ll never be used by God like he is.”

This is not what you want people to think. Instead, you want those you are training to be disciples to know that you get up every day as they do. You do your best to serve God, to listen to His voice, and to share His love with those around you…and it’s not always easy.

The more we help people see that we struggle with the same things they do, the more they will step up to the task of making disciples.

Jesus didn’t elevate Himself above His disciples. He lived with them, ate with them, slept with them, walked and talked with them. He didn’t sit in an office or preach from a pulpit. He was an ordinary carpenter who also happened to turn water in to wine and heal the sick. He used language they could understand and spoke in parables, stories from things they could relate to.

What would it have been like if he had instead called Himself the Most Holy Reverend Messiah Jesus? He would have had every right to do so for that was who He was. But he never gave himself that title. He did allow Himself to be called Rabbi, but He instructed His disciples not to let people call them that.

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 23:8-12 NIV

Have we not replaced the term Rabbi with Pastor? Forgive me for being so direct about this! I don’t mean to offend, but these are things we must consider if we want to launch movements.

3. Titles make us susceptible to pride – the allure of power that comes from position.

I’m not saying everyone who uses a title has an issue with pride. But it can become connected to our identity, and we can be tempted to lean on a title rather than on our life in God. Be careful. Titles can also cause a fear of being vulnerable and open with those you lead. We don’t want to “fall off the pedestal” or be ashamed before others when they find out we are normal people. Titles sometimes make us feel we are above others and can cause some leaders to cling to power rather than freely give it away.

De-emphasize Titles

If you already use a title like Pastor or Bishop, it’s not easy to change that. You can choose not to use it about yourself or require it to be used. You can tell people, “Just call me Fred. I’m an ordinary guy!” Give people permission to relate to you as a human being and fellow disciple, not as a person in a position.

Yes, you may lose some respect. But it’s respect that wasn’t based on the right things.

Let’s live before others as a example. True leaders lead out of influence not position. People follow us because they see Jesus in our lives.

How have titles hindered multiplication in your area? Share in the comments below or on the DMMs Frontier Missions Facebook group.

Comments

  1. Bahati Mutabesha

    Thank you for sharing your ideas , but I will like to ask you few questions: Matt. 10:2, Luke 6:13 Acts 2:23, Acts 13:1, Acts 14:13 , Act 15:22, Luke 10:1, Hebr. 3:1, Eph. 2:20 ,Luke 11:47 , 1 Tim. 5:22 ,1 Cor. 12:28,
    Eph. 4:11. I have many bible verses which shows me about titles in the church.
    Don’t push people to believe your convictions which is not in the Bible . Are you really disciple of Christ?

    1. Post
      Author
      C. Anderson

      Thanks for sharing your question brother. Yes, I am a disciple of Christ! 🙂 We may not agree with each other but let’s not say that kind of thing to each other okay? It’s not helpful if you want to have a meaningful and real dialogue about these issues.
      Certainly, the verses you mentioned use the term apostle (I just took time to look at the first two you mentioned there). The Greek word there is apostolous. It means one who is commissioned or sent by Christ. See the Strongs concordance. Its the same in Ephesians 4:11. This is not talking about a title. It’s talking about a responsibility…to go out with His message.
      apostles,
      ἀποστόλους (apostolous)
      Noun – Accusative Masculine Plural
      Strong’s Greek 652: From apostello; a delegate; specially, an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ

  2. Prince Das

    Thank you for excellent teaching/writting. Absoluately it is not Biblical.
    I have face lot of questions from Pastors, Decones and lay man for baptizing and having memorial meeting (breaking of bread and wine).
    Because I do not have any theological back ground and not a ordinated pastors. So they wishpring to the new belivers that your baptism is not correct and he can not do this. You will be thundered to hear that one of our so called Bishop deployed Gun man for his security.

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