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Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Teacher, Evangelist: Identity or Gifts?

November 15, 2012

The church where I am a staff pastor is a racially diverse mega church. I don’t claim to have any expertise at all in terms of any church culture other than this church and one other all white church. This entry is some observation and musing in connection with some of the discussions that arise as men and women from other cultures (African American, Hispanic, African, etc) come together to live as one body.

Recently I was teaching a class in which a discussion about offices or titles came up, specifically the ones from Ephesians 4:11. (So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,)  At my church, we don’t see this passage as referring to titles, but rather as descriptive of leadership giftings that are used for the equipping of the body.  We preach and practice servant leadership.  This discussion came about because there were a number of people in the class who came from churches that had the practice of using these titles to recognize each other.

Prior to the class, a friend of mine had noted that in her experience, often the church was the only place where people had dignity, worth and value, so the titles were a way of saying “I’m somebody, I have worth”.  While in the context of our conversation, we were looking at an African American church, I don’t think this can be limited to African American culture. Rather, I think it can be traced to the roots of the early Pentecostal movement that was characterized by rapid growth in the poorer segments of society – both black and white.

As I reflect on this, I understand, but I’m also concerned, because it perpetuates the very sin that has engendered this desire & need to be recognized – the positioning of one person above another, a position of power if you will. (Perhaps I’ll blog about power another day…)

As followers of Jesus our worth and value comes from belonging to him, from being identified with him.  Our gifts, spiritual or otherwise are just that: gifts given to us to use in serving others, not to be our identities or our titles.

The outworking, too, of this culture, where one is held above others in the church because of title bothers me.  I had to think this through in the class I was talking about.  What is so different about those of us who have the title of pastor?  Is it an “office” in the way that the person asking the question implied?  Do we see ourselves and do others see us as raised above everyone else in the church?

If you were to ask any of the pastors in our church about that, at the very least you would get a disbelieving raise of the eyebrow, others would be closer to a “rending of the clothes” type of reaction, because we truly don’t see ourselves as over anyone.  We hold very firmly to a view of our jobs as servant leaders.

Yes, being a pastor is a job.  It is a job to which you are called by God and recognized by the church.  But it doesn’t suddenly put you 3 steps above everyone else around you.  It puts you under the entire church body, to raise the members up to increasing devotion to Jesus, to be better, stronger followers of him.

I remember shortly after I was first given the title of pastor, an intern at the church, who was from the tradition of “titles”, congratulated me on my “elevation”.  It made me really uncomfortable.  I honestly didn’t put 2 + 2 together as to why it had bothered me so much until I was teaching this class and had to explain how we don’t see the title of pastor as placing us above anyone. Suddenly the implication of that word “elevation” clicked.

So – where is all this taking me? I’ve been thinking about it for years – since I was a clerk in a Christian bookstore where the pastors from this tradition would come in with their entourage and couldn’t/wouldn’t speak to us in person, but would only speak to us through one of their entourage – what is wrong with this picture?

Going back to what my friend was talking about – in the culture that bred this idea of titles and elevation, the members were (and sometimes still are) without dignity or “place” in the culture at large; invisible, abused, seen and treated as less than human.  I understand where it has come from. BUT, perpetuating the idea that a title gives you worth or value is not biblical.  We have worth and value because we are created in the image of God. We are all sinners saved by Jesus.  Leaders are called to be servant leaders.  Taking our identity from anything other than Christ is sin.

The need to have titles, to be elevated in order to have worth and value is a sinful response to a sinful system.  Everyone gets to play, everyone can play, and we need everyone to play in the Kingdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 12 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 31b And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

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3 Comments
  1. Great message Sue, however it is my observation that the desire of man to be elevated is not something with Pentecostal roots, I would say it has humanity roots. The attitude of elevation is easily seen in the Catholic church as well as every other non-Catholic denomination.

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  2. Laurie, I’m not trying to point to this as an “only” cause, but rather a specific application of the human desire to always be seen as a bit better than the person next to you. One of many examples where a something from the bible is twisted in such a way that the outworking is the very opposite of what was probably intended by the author.

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  3. Having experienced a wide array of faith traditions, and now being a pastor, I have seen the very best of Pastor and the very worse of Pastor – in the title sense. “I AM the pastor of this church and this IS what we will do!!” (As if he were the one and only I AM). And then the beautiful engaged conversation that “I am the pastor – but as a shepherd – to guide, love, care for, and lead to nourishment.” Obviously, the second was living out the life of a Pastor while the first was defining himself as THE pastor. I have known many people within the faith community live out ‘pastoring’ of their fellow church members – again… guiding, loving, caring for, etc. I believe Jesus never intended for us define ourselves by a Capital Letter Title within the community of believers. But that we are to flow in and out of the giftings – we may be drawn to or stronger at one more than another – however in order to meet people where they are in life and minister to them (just as Jesus did), we need to pull from all areas to awash them in Jesus’ love.

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