A pastor was beginning a new initiative in a church. The church was to be split up into geographic regions and the associate ministers were to be the “spiritual leader” of each of these regions. The lay people were to go to the senior pastor only after having counseled with the regional associate. The program was created to attempt to aid the senior pastor in addressing the counseling needs of the congregation.
At any rate, the senior pastor called forward the proposed regional associates. He then called an elderly retired minister to give a charge to the associates as well as encourage the congregation to make use of the associates.
After a few minutes of charge to the regional associates, the retired minister turned to the congregation and said, “Even though today they ain’t nothing but associates, who knows, one day they may get a church of their own. So treat them with respect!”
Certainly the retired pastor didn’t mean any harm. He was attempting to get the people to treat these associates respectfully. But, the terminology he used demonstrated the spiritual caste system that we have set up in the church. We should treat them with respect because one day they may be senior pastors? What?!
You know what I am talking about. You know the mindset. The Bishop is spiritually higher than the Pastor. The Senior Pastor is higher than the Elder (In those churches that where an elder is an ordained minister) who is higher than the Paid Associate. And the Paid Associate is higher than the unpaid associate (who is simply a reverend). And The unpaid associate is higher than the minister (who is training to be ordained). And the “Minister” is higher than the lay people.
And we don’t even have to get into ranking pastors based on church size or number of outside speaking engagements. Etc…
You may use slightly different terminology in your church, but I would bet you have these things set up as well. This caste system means that those higher than you have a closer walk with God. They know the Bible better than you. If they tell you something that is obviously incorrect, you are to go along with it because they are higher up the ladder than you are. You don’t correct someone higher than you, only their peers can do that.
The higher up the ladder the better they are treated. The better cars. The less access. The more money. Instead of the priesthood of all believers with some having the spiritual charge of church leadership. We have just a few priests. We turn church into simply viewing the “ministry” of a few spiritual superstars. Evangelism becomes viewing superstar “bishops” while those lower on the wrung cannot compete.
We have got to get past this elitism and “I am better than you” mindset. Ministry is about service not about status. When it becomes about status..then we lose something and we hurt our people and ourselves…
I do recognize that there is a time and place for all titles. I also recognize that titles in and of themselves are not wrong. I try to use the generic title “pastor” with all of the preachers unless you correct me. I don’t mean to offend you. On my end, you have called me Reverend Cox, Elder Cox, Pastor Cox, Bishop Cox, Preacher Cox. I even had someone call me Father (I am not a priest), lol. But some of you have even called me Brother Cox, I not only don’t take offense to that title, I love it! In the words of the song, “I’m so glad to be a part of the Family of God.”