The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Do I really have to call you Pastor?

Yes, it's a matter of respect

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:

cover1Congregations: 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: Marshall, former LCA president, dies.

Also: Winter's discontent.

Also: African council condemns West.

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Introducing our parenting blogDworin
Diana Dworin, (right) who writes the "Pass the faith" page in the print edition, is also keeping a parenting blog for The Lutheran. This week she reports live from her family's experience of "National No Name-Calling Week."

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Posted at 2:52 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/27/2009

Resounding affrmation of Dewey Olson's note on respecting the pastor (Do I have to Call You Pastor?).  It's consistent with historic practice and mirrors Korean culture where I work as an Army chaplain.  There's a specialness in many relationships which weakens when we become too folksy.  Compare the honorific title of "Dad" to "Jason".  "Dad" would be much more powerful on the lips of a child than the folksy "Jason."

Rob Zahn

Rob Zahn

Posted at 1:47 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/30/2009


Titles, Authority and Respect....Really?

By Rob Zahn

Today I received via e-mail the online version of The Lutheran, the e-newsletter. The subject line revealed the lead article as it usually does. That title was: "Do I Really Have To Call You Pastor: Yes, It's A Matter of Respect".

Before I go on, let me first say that I am a Gen Xer. I was born smack dab in the middle of the range that most people say the infamous Gen Xers were born. I fit most of the negative stereotypes and hopefully some of the positive ones as well. We were brought up on television (MTV), video games (Atari 2600), and computers (Apple IIe and Commodore 64). For us, the word ‘respect' carries with it an unimaginable amount of baggage.

On July 6th, 1990, Time Magazine published a story by D.M. Gross and S. Scott called "Proceeding with Caution". It was the cover story and said the following about Generation X:

"[This] group scornfully rejects the habits and values of the baby boomers, viewing that group as self-centered, fickle and impractical. While the baby boomers had a placid childhood in the 1950s, which helped inspire them to start their revolution, today's twenty-something generation grew up in a time of drugs, divorce and economic strain. . They feel influenced and changed by the social problems they see as their inheritance: racial strife, homelessness, AIDS, fractured families and federal deficits."

Those of you reading this who do not culturally or demographically fall into the category of Gen Xer may perceive the above description as a pointless, meaningless, rambling of excuses for a given behavior. In fact my point is quite the contrary. Because our world is increasingly made up of people that fall under the cultural experience and general mindset of a Gen Xer and therefore a ‘postmodern', we as church leaders need to be more and more aware of how that population perceives the world in which they (and we) live. Therefore it is the behavior of the church and its leaders that needs modification.

This is a group of people that increasingly believes in the absence of absolutes. From this perspective, truth itself is relative and therefore all authority is relative to a given truth. To require, let alone demand, a title for the simple and abstract reason of respect does not draw this generation in to the message that we proclaim, rather it pushes them away from it.

The role of ‘pastor', although in our tradition it is earned through an academic degree and a candidacy process, is ultimately a personal one. It is a calling to shepherd, care for, and lead, the spiritual needs of individuals and groups of individuals that make up congregations. It is not, as in the day of Martin Luther, an office set aside solely for those who are ‘more' spiritual, ‘more' academic, ‘more' Christian than other people.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines ‘respect' in the following way:          

"high or special regard"

Pastors are not higher or more special than anyone else. The only people who should utter the word ‘pastor' when addressing another individual are those who are addressing their spiritual shepherd, leader, and care-taker. It is not to be spoken simply because it ‘should' be.

By the way, this ‘spiritual shepherd' may not even be their congregation's "pastor".


Rob Zahn

George Roberts

George Roberts

Posted at 7:50 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/30/2009

So, he got the collar, he got the cross, he got the authority!  The article about the pastor calling time out on the ball field is nothing but sure arrogance and ignorance.  In the middle of a possible highly competitive athletic event Herr Pastor stopped the proceedings to let everyone know who was in charge. 

What a terrible example.  If you have to be addressed and designated by your "title", whatever that may be, to exert your authority and deluded mindset that you certainly are set apart from the rabble, there may be some deep seated insecurities or other issues here, folks.  A person will command respect by his positive bearing and demeanor, not because he needs to be addressed by a certain label.

I've had the terrible feeling through the years that many people who have lived with the label "pastor" in front of their names have yearned to be called and treated like the laity--able to tell jokes with them, able to have jokes pulled on them, and be caught up in the daily banter that many of us are a part of. 

It's just that some self-inflicted mindsets, and outside mindsets, have not allowed that to happen because of a misperception of what "holy" and "proper" is in life.  Come on.  Let's get a life!  We have had far too much class related strife in society, not the least which has occurred in our churches and pastoral situations.

I would have told Bobby in the ball game that "we're almost there, Bobby; throw him the old dark one, and let's go celebrate!" (And no, God wouldn't have cared who won or lost.)  There'd be some great sermon ideas out of a game like that--kind of like the game of life in which one can find joy on many occasions, and not have to worry about stepping on people's toes because of their supposed status in the minds of the high and mighty.

Michael Stoops

Michael Stoops

Posted at 8:40 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/11/2009

Goodness…sometimes it really bothers me that we are raising a new generation of church leaders who feel entitled to respect. Just because we can play dress-up like princesses and wizards doesn’t mean that anyone should treat us as princesses and wizards. Here are a few of my additional issues with the article.
1) The church was a very different place in 1960, where pastors would wear there collars everywhere (except, maybe on the baseball field). Even as the author references a school or military environment, we should recognize that these environments are culturally determined. What was “respect” in one environment, might not be “respect” in another.
2) I don’t see Paul ever saying “Silas and Timothy, call me pastor!” He doesn’t even do that to the Corinthians who gave him major headaches. Now, Paul did want respect in order to teach them and minister to them, but he believed that his authority came from the divine origin of his message and his call, and his unwavering response, even leading him to the chains of imprisonment.
3) The author attempts, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to link the title of “pastor” with respect, utilizing the examples of the school and military. So if someone calls me Michael and not Pastor Michael do they automatically not respect me? I’ve heard many a disrespectful comment made about the “Pastor” or about “Father so-and-so.” Titles don’t equal respect.
4) Church is “a holy place.” Where this line was coming from made me want to rend my garments. It comes from this defunct and deficient reasoning that separates the sacred and the common. If we declare that Jesus is Lord over all things, all people, all nations, then we cannot continue to box him into only living in the church. All this encourages is hypocrisy, because Christians won’t do certain things in a sanctuary, but the moment they are outside, their behavior is indistinguishable from the world.
5) “Our pastor demanded it, and he deserved it.” A pastor should demand respect; there is no disagreement on that point. Hebrews 13:7 speaks to us of respecting our leaders in the faith, why? Because of “the outcome of their way of life,” and for this they should be “imitated” just as Paul exhorts new Christians to follow his lead in the faith. Pastors should be far more concerned about the “outcome of their way of life” than a title!



Posted at 5:57 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/17/2009

An honest question:

How can you get around Jeses direct command to never let people call you pastor?

Matthew 23:7-10 "They love being greeted in the marketplace and being called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ."

I have been wondering for a while why so many churches and denominations promote what Christ forbade.  Please, give me an interpretation of the above scriptures that would give allowance.   Jesus seems to say this as guard for the leadership of the church from pride.   I am all for honoring pastors and submitting to their leadership.   But a pastor demanding a title, would only loose my respect.    The whole point is that we are all brothers, some further along than others, viewing each other as more important than ourselves.  Please anybody answer.  


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