I am pleased to be writing this new blog for pastors, church workers, and rank-and-file Christians – to anyone concerned about the great challenge of the pastorate.
Why have I called it “Just Call Me Pastor”? This memory from my days as an active pastor answers that question.
One Sunday morning during announcement time in the worship service I said to my new congregation, “Just call me pastor.” Then I explained:
- Call me pastor for my sake — I need to be reminded of the special reason I’m in this town.
- Call me pastor for your sake, so that you will be aware of the special relationship we have.
- And call me pastor for your children’s sake so that they will have access to one more person who is special in their lives to help them through the sometimes difficult years of youth into a purposeful Christian adulthood.
For me, “pastor” was an honorable biblical title, meaning shepherd — a title which Jesus himself took when he said, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Back then, the increase of secularism had not yet taken the edge off the term.
The time was 1962. The place was the Free Methodist Church in Greenville, Illinois. I was new to the congregation, having come just a few months earlier into this pastoral appointment in this small midwestern city. Sunday morning attendance ran at about 600 worshipers, half of them students from the Christian college across the street. Culture-wise, it was the beginning of the youth revolution, that upheaval that brought into question all traditional standards in a way that was very destabilizing to society as a whole.
One feature of that revolution was an easy jettisoning of titles. It was an authority issue. One had to be careful about any conscious or intended display of authority. When youth sat on the floor to rap, I sat on the floor with them. It was the era when the use of first names became common regardless of the situation. The sense was that authority figures for sure should keep their heads down.
During that period the word “share” began to take a prominent place in much of public discourse. I recall that in college assemblies even if a renowned authority was to give an address in an area of her proven expertise she was introduced as having come to “share.” The word became tiresome to those of us who understood why it was used as it was, but nevertheless it held unchallenged sway.
Yet there I was, at about 36 years of age, asking a Christian congregation, including many my senior in age or credentials, to call me pastor. Was that audacious? Foolish? Swimming upstream against a raging current? Although 47 years have passed since then, I have never regretted making that invitation. It defined in one word both for me and the congregation what I was there to do. It described a primary relationship. It tended to restrain both me and members of the congregation when serious disagreements arose as in church life they often do.
At that time, there seemed to be a growing number of church personnel who were of a different mind-set from mine. They argued that titles, even “pastor,” get in the way of authentic relationships. I could not agree. I found that under one set of circumstances I could exchange hearty laughter with former schoolmates who were now members of the congregation and under another set participate in soul-searching conversations about issues of life and death. As I see it, being real is not helped or hindered by titles. Being real is a state of being that develops out of the bumps and bruises of life.
Yesterday I received a phone call from that midwestern community. It’s been 35 years since I left. A longstanding member had died and the family wanted me to know. That family now crosses four generations. The phone call was from the married daughter of a couple at whose wedding I had officiated — a mother of three growing children herself. It is not lost on me that, after 35 years of absence from that community, to all four generations I am still given that honorable title, Pastor.
I welcome your thoughts, memories, and dreams about pastoring.