Should church leaders have titles?

I’ve always found it quite amusing (and often pathetic) when church leaders take on titles such as “Reverend”, “Pastor”, “Bishop”, etc. I’m sure some people do so in humility, while others simply don’t resist others calling them such titles. On the other hand, some seem to really enjoy these titles of esteem and insist upon them.

Am I saying that esteeming leaders is some sort of problem? No, not so. In fact, we’re instructed to esteem those who labor among us in those capacities:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. – 1Th 5:12-13 ESV

(note: before someone comments that this verse proves hierarchical authority of leaders over “their flock”, please see the word studies that cover these verses)

In western culture, we esteem some vocations and educational milestones higher than others, and therefore confer titles to those who have achieved such ‘success’. Others are conferred titles based on their civic authority (such as Judges). Aside from these, how many other people introduce themselves to others with such titles? If all other titles in society are success-oriented or civic-authority-oriented, then why do those within a non-hierarchical organism such as the Ekklesia follow such practices? Because people are fully unaware that the scriptures do not dictate or warrant any such structure, and readily adopt such structures from other aspects of culture!

 

Yeshua had hard things to say to those who desired to be esteemed above others – particularly those who did so in a religious capacity, seeing themselves as the agency or channel of knowing God.

 “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses.   Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it [author’s note: I believe the intent here is the admonishment to follow Torah, which these leaders taught] . But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.  They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues,  greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people.   “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven.  And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  -Mat 23:2-12 HCSB

Some would decry “Jesus is speaking the the Pharisees here!”, or “This is for the Jews!”. Okay… so Yeshua has these opinions about only Jewish Pharisees and thinks it otherwise okay in “Christian” circles? To that, I say “Bravo Sierra!”

Yeshua’s harsh words towards these leaders are specifically addressing their self-assured, self-righteous, and pompous view of themselves as higher than others. Yeshua makes it clear of His view of people when he says “… you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers”.

So we have before us two distinct views of how to treat leaders. Are these views at odds with one another? I contend they’re not. It must be possible to truly esteem those among us who care for and guard the flock but do so without conferring on them special status reserved only for those.

Who knows, maybe the better outcome would be if all saints greeted all other saints with titles of esteem? That would be more scripturally true than only doing so toward some. My intent is not to condemn this practice of titles, but to highlight a larger issue in the Ekklesia – wrongly esteeming some as higher than others. In doing so, I don’t seek to lessen the value of those who lead, or incite anyone to esteem them less. The intent of these comments is to raise the level of esteem toward the rest of the saints to the same level as those who lead. All parts of the Body of Yeshua are honorable and worthy of esteem, not just some!

 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. – 1Pe 2:17 NASB

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