What Title Do You Want to Use for Staff Ministers?

Available on Netflix, the multi-episode series Greenleaf is very good at addressing some of the basic issues in church life.  It is about a fictional African-American megachurch in Memphis.  The Greenleaf family that founded and leads this congregation has all sorts of difficulties brought on by the failings of everyone in this family.  Portraying those sinful failings and their consequences keep the series interesting.

While watching it with my wife, I observed that everyone on the paid staff carries the title Pastor when they are doing ministries directly related to the purpose of the church.  Support staff does not carry that pastor’s title.  I think this approach has much to be commended.

First of all, every member of a congregation is a minister, according to Paul’s belief expressed in 1 Corinthians 12.  I find no compelling evidence that he recognized a separate clergy class.  That came later as the Christian church became heavily institutionalized.

In Greenleaf, no one with the title Pastor has a seminary-level education.  They get on the staff because they have shown unusual competence in leading a ministry.  They earn the title by showing their merit rather than by having a special degree.  The father, whose effective preaching built up this megachurch, won’t let two of his children become lead preachers because he observed that they do not have unusual preaching competence.

When in Ephesians 4:11 Paul cites five leadership roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, he is describing roles, not titles.  The apostles at his time were currently active leaders, not just the twelve who knew Jesus.  They oversaw the ministries of many congregations in a region.  Prophets were the preachers.  Old Testament prophets were given unusual insight into the future, but those rare insights are not basic to the role.  Prophets “forthtell not foretell.”  Evangelists were those very effective at this role of spreading the Gospel.  They roamed to where there were opportunities; they did not stay in one congregation.

To explain shepherd and teacher I need to describe where those early Christians met.    They had no access to big buildings, so they met in the houses of the participants.  A big house could hold about thirty people.  For several centuries fellowships met only in house churches.  The prophets and evangelists rotated from one house church to the next.

Each house church usually had had a teacher and a caregiver (shepherd).  Again, these are roles, not titles.  The one who taught well emerged in that house church role. The one who best cared for others naturally took on that house church role.

Here is an observation that makes sense to me.  Women do a much better job of looking after others than men.  Of those why buy Hallmark cards, women far outnumber men.  It seems reasonable that in most house churches a woman took on the caregiver role.  The five roles in Ephesians 14:11 were clearly leadership roles involved in preparing church participants for works of ministry (the Greek word is for ministry gives us “deacon).”

Churches that do not let women perform any of the roles of leadership stand on a very weak biblical basis.  Paul makes a very clear distinction between commands given by the Lord  (not I, but the Lord) and expectations of his own (I, not the Lord) (1 Corinthians 7: 10-12).  One of the two passages usually cited for not ordaining women is 1 Timothy 2:11.  It begins with “I (not the Lord) do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  This is Paul’s view, not God’s.  It made sense in the culture Paul faced.  It does not make much sense in current American culture.

Current pastors naturally try to read themselves into one of the five leadership roles.  The one they think fits them the best is the caregiving shepherd (the Latin for shepherd is pastor).  Some may be good at the role.  Most men aren’t.  It makes much more sense to read themselves into the preacher and evangelist roles.  But then many pastors aren’t good at those functions either.

What to do with an ordained minister who is not good at any of the five functions of leadership?  Logically, he should be in some role other than leadership.  How do you get staff who are good at at least one of the roles?  You recognize participants who have demonstrated their ability in at least one role.  Make that person part of the staff.  Then bring to him or her training that will help them get better.  Do you start with seminary-trained pastors or do you take on someone with demonstrated ability?   At a time when online courses are readily available, it is not hard to answer that question.

What titles does your church use for ministry leaders who are not ordained?  How important in your church is proven competence in leading a ministry?

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