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Friday, January 21, 2011

Impulsive Church Habits: Part I- "Oh, Brother!"

There are things that we do as Christians that we don’t give much thought; little things that probably lead to bigger things (and bigger blunders). My goal with this series is to point out some common habits we do as the Church that are impulsive, traditional, and not things we give much thought. Feel free to comment and discuss.

What mental pictures do you get when you hear the word, “brother” used when greeting someone at church? For me, I picture the monks from Monty Python and the Holy Grail chanting some requiem in Latin and hitting themselves with the object they are carrying *THWACK.* So, every time somebody refers to brother Howell or brother Larry, I always imagine that individual in a rope-bound sack nodding and saying, “Bless you my child.” (Unless of course they have taken a vow of silence) I cannot be the only one who is reminded of medieval Catholicism, can I?

Normally we will use the term “brother” (or the superlative, “pastor”) when referring to 1) someone we are not intimately acquainted with or 2) someone we are trying to show deference or respect. Let me say first off, that there is nothing wrong with showing respect to the elders of the church (aged, proven Christians) and Paul even admonished that you should give an elder “double or twice the honor,” because of his (or her) faithfulness to following Christ. However, unconsciously we have  developed this is a habit that mat have implications for undermining a cardinal doctrine of evangelical existence.

Five Words: Priesthood of Believers

Let me say that is ok, to use “brother” or “pastor” when speaking in a more formal manner at church. For instance, I do not know my pastor, Tim Anderson, that well; if I called him “Tim” then that would be assuming familiarity that I don’t have (though I don’t think he would give it much notice, he is not hung up on things like that). Now, if I and Pastor Tim were to hang out more often and we were to visit each other’s house and have long, mentor-like discussions it is likely (and at that point appropriate) for me to call him, “Tim.” I refer to him as “pastor” now because that is what our primary relationship is (if it were a secular boss it would be Mr. Tim or Mr. Anderson [welcome back, we’ve missed you, like what I’ve done with the place?] depending on how casual he was). If you are not relationally familiar it is ok and appropriate to use formal terms.

However, I am concerned about using “brother” or “pastor” to denote some special rank within the church. The hierarchy of the Church is level with Christ on the top; yes, we have people who are given authority because of their function within the Body, but it has nothing to do with their organizational position. For instance, I have become good friends with the College/Youth Pastor/Minister of Students Justin Bedingfield (also affectionately known as “jbed” and “slim jim”  [not really, made that up]). I do not call him “Brother Bedingfield” or even “Brother Justin.” I have hung out, talked to, and ministered with Justin long enough that I don’t have to be formal with him (it would just be awkward and weird). If Justin were to ever become the head pastor of Clements Baptist Church (haha, not prophesying Justin, I promise) then I would still call him Justin. We need to be careful that we don’t undermine our own doctrinal beliefs by giving paid (or unpaid) church leaders an exalted status. There are plenty of ways to show respect without giving the illusion of superiority (just like one can be respectful even if you don’t say, “yes, sir,” and “no, m’am,” contrary to the popular belief that people born outside the South are rude and purposely disrespectful, but I digress).

Honor your elders, pastors, and faithful church leaders but don’t exalt them to “uber-Christian” status. We need to start asking ourselves why we call our leaders what we call them and then we need challenge our lack intimacy with those people and perhaps get to know them better. Formal titles are appropriate but if it stays formal for too long, we need ask ourselves whether we care to know the other person at all…which brings me to the next topic in the series.

Grace and Peace

P.S.: Bonus points if you caught the Monty Python word miscount and the quote by Agent Smith in the Matrix: Revolutions. Too bad the points don’t matter.

Am I off base? Have you ever considered the implication of this impulsive habit? How could it be a part of what is contributing to the inferiority complex experienced by most “non-leadership” Christians?



At January 22, 2011 at 11:27 AM , Blogger Donna said...

I believe that this comes from the same mindset that people have that says pastors are the professional Christians who are supposed to do the work of the church while the rest of us just drag others to them. This also causes the view that pastors are the only ones who are called to do the work of the church. That would be a good train of thought IF the church was made up only of pastors. Since it is not then it is reasonable to state that we all, every believer who makes up the church, are called and should be doing the work of the church. There for Brother is a cultural thing. I called Pastor Tim Anderson Tim one Wednesday night as we exchanged "how are you?"s in the foyer and from the looks on the faces of some folks I thought I was going to be stoned. LOL Really, just lighten up for Pete's sake. I'm sure, like all of the rest of us, he has had people call him far worse things than his name.


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