At Prayer & Fasting this week Terry Virgo preached a magnificent message about God’s call upon us as pastors. Terry spoke movingly about his own experience as a young man, when an encounter with God resulted in him no longer calling his church minister "Mr Rudman," but "Pastor Rudman." This happened when he realised that his pastor was not just preaching sermons at him, but had responsibility for nourishing his soul.
Despite Terry’s experience, we have made a deliberate attempt to stamp out such formalities as calling a church leader “Pastor.” This was in response to a dead traditionalism encountered in many churches, where status and formality seemed to matter more than spiritual anointing and community. It also reflected a wider shift in a society which was becoming less and less deferential.
I experienced a similar transition myself in the way that adults were addressed. As a boy, at the church I attended we referred to adults – at least those who were themselves parents, or single people older than (I guess) about 35 – as “aunt” or “uncle.” By the time I was 13 and moved to a different church this form of address seemed completely anachronistic – from then on it was first names all the way.
But I wonder if in gaining a relaxed informality we have lost something that was valuable.
There is still something in me that feels it isn’t quite right when a small child addresses an adult – especially an older person – by their first name. And as well as the respect it inferred, knowing the adults in my church as aunt and uncle definitely gave a genuine sense of family – these weren’t just distant strangers, but people I somehow felt related to. I knew they were to be obeyed, but I also knew that they were (in a good way) watching out for me.
And in our wider culture our problem is no longer too much formality and deference, but a general lack of respect. So perhaps resurrecting the title “Pastor” wouldn’t be such a bad thing, as long as it were genuinely given, just as Terry did to Pastor Rudman, and not falsely imposed.
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