While reading "Bonhoeffer" by Eric Metaxas this week I was struck with one account of how Bonhoeffer - to the astonishment of his seminary students - insisted that they call him brother Bonhoeffer rather than director. This may sound like a moot point to us, but in that day titles were very important and a way of showing due respect.
I recently encountered something similar when a friend of mine, Bishop James, was referred to in public by his little grandson as "Jimmy". Brother James had indeed earned his stripes - respect - but it must have caused the "blue screen of death" to any legalistic people who overheard the familiar way his grandson addressed him. However, my respected friend seemed to be quite happy with his grandson. By the way, the blue screen is what a PC does when Windows goes really wrong. Get a Mac...
Trivia question here: Which US president insisted that his wife call him "Mr. President"? The winning answer qualifies you to be in a free drawing for my old Dell PC which - you guessed it - is displaying the "blue screen of death".
Titles and ranks are in the best sense earned in the course of service, but they are not who we are as believers. They denote honor and function on a team, but those who see them as goals totally miss the mark. Titles should serve the goal as we pursue the goal, but in God's kingdom they are not the goal.
I do not believe in knee-jerk reactions to such questions, but I would pose a heart-probing question to those who go off track on this. Isn't it ironic that Jesus descended to become like us so we could know Him as brother and God as Father, yet some leaders do the opposite and ascend while putting unbiblical barriers between themselves and those who don't have titles? They are essentially undoing what God did, or it might be more accurate to say they are redoing what God undid.
One misguided pastor I knew on the mission field held to the idea that leaders should only relate upward, but that begs the question as to whether those above want to relate downward to him? What nonsense! God related downward and actually went there...down. Because we could not go up.
I do respect my leaders, and in different contexts I refer to them as pastor, bishop or just friend. But I shy away from those who would ascend the ladder of Christiandom's who's who, taking only themselves. In much the same way a common soldier might be cautious with a superior who they see pursuing self-promotion verses battle-earned promotion among his Band of Brothers.
The soldier instinctively knows if a leader might fail him in battle, and I am thankful to say I have friends and leaders who have gone into the trenches to save my neck. My respect, honor and thanks towards them is deep and long-lasting.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Jesus did eventually ascend... into heaven, to sit at God's mighty right hand. But He did not do so alone. He takes us there to sit with Him and at how great a cost of personal sacrifice? This is leadership, leading us to the Father, and He is worthy to be called Lord.
Pastor Mike ;-)
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. John 13:13-15