Not Titles, Just Ministry

People are sensitive to titles. When I visited Korea last May a friend of mine took me to a hotel spa, treating me to a massage. During the massage the masseuse addressed me by a title reserved for CEOs of large companies. Apparently, people are so sensitive to how they are addressed that he played it safe by using the most honorable title possible.

Unfortunately, this penchant for honorable titles seems to be creeping into our church. Some of our newer members who moved here from other areas seem to feel offended when they are addressed as “Brother” or “Sister”. They would rather be addressed as Elders, Deacons, or Deaconesses. They also embarrass our members by calling them “Deacons” or “Deaconesses” when we have only two offices, Pastor and ordained Deacons. Most of our church members are just brothers and sisters.

The reason we have only two offices is that there appear to be only two offices in the New Testament: Elders and Deacons. Of course, there were Pastors. But we Baptists believe that “Elder” and “Pastor” were two different names for the same office. It is sad that some Baptist churches are starting to install Elders, disregarding Baptist tradition. They claim that having Elders will help them work with Christians from other denominations. I think the real motive for establishing this office is that some people like the title Elder better than Deacon.

The terms Elders and Deacons in New Testament churches seem to have signified their ministry rather than their office. “Elders” meant mature church leaders and “Deacons” meant ministers providing day to day services for the congregation. This idea, equating a title with ministry, seems to be lost today. Now we call seminary students Jundosanim (meaning evangelist) even when they are not involved in evangelism at all. And we call certain staff members Administration or Music “Pastors” when they are not doing pastoring at all.

Our church’s model is the New Testament church. Our church consists of house churches because we believe New Testament churches did the same. If we want our church to resemble the New Testament church it should be not only in organization but in spirit as well. One such spirit is caring not about titles but about ministries. I sometimes call a shepherd “brother” or a shepherdess “sister” when we are not in a house church ministry situation to make sure that they are not too attached to a title. Taking offense to this might be a sign that someone is valuing titles too strongly.

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