Part 2 of the Series:
Questioning Church Authority
by Don Enevoldsen
What is a leader? Or more specifically, what is leadership? In church, many titles are used for a variety of functions—pastor, priest, elder, bishop, just to name a few. Paul spoke to Timothy and Titus about those who desired to be an overseer and he spoke about appointing elders in various churches.
I remember the day I was given the title “pastor.” It was a in a large church, at the time about 5,000, so there were quite a few pastors, some on staff, but most unpaid. I had attended the church for a couple of years, got involved in various departments and gradually assumed a few leadership roles. As the senior pastor took notice of my activities, he decided to make it official. I stood before the congregation, closed my eyes while they prayed over me, shook hands with the pastor and his wife and received a certificate along with their congratulations.
In retrospect, there were some good things about this process and some not so good. One good thing was the fact that the title came after I had already functioned in leadership. I’ve always believed that being appointed as pastor does not make you a pastor. Rather you are a pastor because you engage in a pastoral ministry, which might or might not be recognized with a title. My appointment merely confirmed what I was already doing. You can call someone a leader, but if no one is following him, the title is probably inaccurate.
That is not to say the office is irrelevant. People were specifically appointed to offices in the early church, after all. However, my experience also highlighted a potential problem with these appointments. I received congratulatory exclamations and gifts as though I had won a prize. Everyone meant well, but the tendency was to elevate the position of pastor to a place above the rest of the congregation, which created an unhealthy desire to attain the office for the sake of status rather than as a position for ministry.
I saw this attitude displayed often around me. During my years on the staff of that church, I often listened to complaints from various pastors and elders who didn’t get the right nametag to wear on Sundays, the special and distinct “pastor” tag. It was a different color and design from other nametags used by ushers and greeters. One man in particular became such a nuisance that his tag had to be redone several times in order to satisfy his vanity.
The vanity showed up every time we did a conference with guest speakers. We always reserved seats in the front for some of the pastors and elders in the church by writing their names on stickers, which we attached to the seats. Since my staff assignments often required that I be in the sanctuary when the doors were opened, I frequently witnessed the ensuing circus. A mob of leaders rushed down the aisles in a wild-eyed frenzy to find stickers with their names.
Reactions were mixed. Some merely found their names and sat down. Many registered visible sighs of relief. Some smiled with pride. Some scowled as they compared their seats with others closer to the front or the center. Some couldn’t find their names and plopped down in the cheap seats where they pouted for a while.
Then there was the couple who routinely pulled their names off of the chair and sat in the back so other people could take the better seats. That couple stood out to me because their attitude was do different from nearly everyone else.
I wish I could say that I never took pride in my position or in the recognition from the congregation. I hope I’ve grown out of it. I’ll leave that judgment to others. I can say that I’m at least aware of the tendency. A good friend gave me a gift that first day when we went to lunch after the service. She had a beautiful nameplate engraved with “Pastor Don Enevoldsen” and fixed on a decorative wood base so that it could sit prominently on my desk.
I still have that name plate, but as I learned more about the function of a pastor, I turned it toward my chair where I saw it every time I sat at my desk, rather than letting it face the other direction. I realized that I needed to be reminded of my responsibilities as a pastor far more than visitors to my office needed to know my title.
Next, Part 3: Call No One Master
Go to the beginning of the series, Questioning Church Authority: Part 1: False Prophets
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