We had a brief but important discussion the other night at church council. It was about respect. It brought back memories of 1960 and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was catching for our church softball team. Our young and athletic pastor was pitching and doing an excellent job. Leading 4-to-2, we were excited about racking up a win in our final game before the playoffs.
In the heat of the moment there was a good deal of chatter urging on our pastor, who had two strikes on one of their heavy hitters. "Swing, batter, batter," our second basemen yelled. "Come on, Bobby, zip it by him!"
Pastor called a time-out. He gathered the entire infield around him on the mound and said quietly but very firmly, "You can call me Pastor or you can call me Pastor Nelson, but I don't want to hear you call me Bobby, not even on the softball field."
I recall it like it happened yesterday. It had a lasting effect on me. It was this matter of respect. Our pastor demanded it, and he deserved it.
Those of us who served in the military quickly learned that "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" were much more acceptable answers to our superiors than "Yup" and "Nope." It was a matter of respect.
Our public school experience taught us that addressing our teachers as Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones got better results than calling them Doris or Morris. No matter how friendly the physical education teacher seemed, you learned quickly to call him Coach or Mr. Fitzgerald after taking a few extra laps around the gym for calling him "Fitz." It was a matter of respect.
The open, approachable personality of our new "Pastor Rick" could easily make any of us feel comfortable calling him just plain "Rick." But his wonderful, easy way of dealing with young friends makes it even more important for us to call him "Pastor Rick." Impressionable youngsters will hopefully pick up on the correct way to refer to a respected church leader.
Pastor Rick and our church lay leaders work hard to make church feel comfortable and safe. But it's also a holy place, one that deserves our respectful behavior. After all, the church is not the building we enter each week. It's friends, family, neighbors—even strangers—all of whom deserve our respect too.
Check out this week's articles:
Congregations: They come in all sizes: (right) But it's not as simple as tall, grande and venti.
Where everyone probably does know your name: Small congregations.
The best of both worlds?: Midsize congregations.
Where hundreds, even thousands, gather in God's name: Large and larger congregations.
Also: Winter's discontent.
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