Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jesus' Take on Titles

Africa has become known for its civil wars, but there’s also been a “title war” taking place within the church over the last decade. Titles became so important, that the church created a hierarchy of titles for pastors to climb. The role of archbishop became the highest place of honor and the miserly title of “pastor” was reserved for the insignificant or the novice. I could conjecture where this title war started, but that would achieve nothing. The fact is that many Christian leaders quickly joined the throng in the race after lofty titles.

So, I was intrigued when I arrived at the topic of titles when studying Jesus’ tirade against the religious leaders of his day. In the middle of enumerating the things they did to receive praise from man, he named title-mongering. As we listen to his teaching, we can clearly recognize that he was teaching his followers what not to do, using the religious leaders as an example. And using lofty titles was one of the taboos he passed on to his followers.

But, what surprised me was the reason he gave for not using titles such as “Rabbi,” “Teacher.” “Father,” or “Master” (Matt 23:7-12) Jesus stated several times, “for one is your Master.” It dawned on me that titles have the potential of deceiving us as leaders into thinking that we are somehow lofty teachers or fathers, or masters! Instead God means for us to be reminded that He is our Master. Christ is our Master. And we are his servants. That simple change in perspective has the potential of changing my moment-by-moment choices.

I understand that Christ would have us as leaders carry titles that remind us of who we serve because we certainly need that reminder on a daily basis! This perception aligns with Jesus’ constant reference to the Father’s authority over him in his every word and action. Jesus consistently reminded himself and his disciples of his servanthood and sonship. And his discussion about titles reflects his practice. As we read the epistles we see that Paul caught this meaning from Jesus’ teaching and constantly called himself a slave of the Lord, a fellow servant with Christ, or a bond servant of the Lord.

In addition if I follow Jesus’ whole discussion of religious leaders, I also recognized that titles are also meant to remind us as leaders that we are serving people. We are meant to help carry the burdens of those we serve. Jesus so clearly showed the leaders’ absorption with their own titles, reputation, and benefits rather than being consumed with caring for those under them. Jesus’ life directly contrasted the leaders’ practices as he constantly ministered to those around him with abandoned disregard for his own needs and reputation.

My discoveries sent me on an exploration trip, not into my titled friends in Africa, but to examine my own “titles” to check if I’ve drifted in my perceptions away from servanthood to my Master. My titles also remind me to evaluate how well I am doing at serving those I am meant to serve? How securely am I anchored to abandoned service, or am I drifting into absorption with titles, reputation, and the benefits of leadership? Since God is the Master, it’s time for a check up with him. What does he expect of me in my service roles and how closely aligned am I or how far have I drifted from his intentions?

God doesn’t want us to get in a fig about what title we are called, but he does want us to be serious about who we are serving and how! I believe that’s what was important to Jesus. That’s Jesus’ take on titles, and that’s what he wanted to pass on to the generations of people who would follow him and would be called by his name.

photo courtesy of photobucket

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