Minister, Preacher, or Pastor?

When I first accepted the offer to come up here to Granville Center, I was asked what I preferred to be called. I told them to call me “Lee” and that would be fine. I had never cared too much for titles (still don’t) so I didn’t expect to start using one simply because I worked for the church. They understood my logic and reworded the question. They asked me what I thought my role here at Granville Center was. If someone asked, how would I respond. It was a good question and one that I had not seriously thought about.

I grew up in the independent churches of Christ. We always called the guy up front the preacher or, in some cases, the minister. My Baptist friends had pastors but that wasn’t a term that I was familiar with at the time. To further complicate things, some of them called that call Reverend. My one Roman Catholic friend had a priest and he was called Father. There were also elders and deacons thrown into the mix. Not having titles seemed much easier and caused less confusion.

I realize that some folks are much more concerned with this issue than I am. I have really good friends who insist that all titles are non-biblical and should be avoided at all cost. I also have friends who don’t mind them a bit. If I were to be backed into a corner and forced to take a stance, I would probably lean more towards no titles. I think I am fairly consistent with that. When people ask what to call me, I tell them to just call me Lee. That is my name it works just fine. If they ask what title I prefer I tell them that I really don’t use them. I usually tell them that I am the minister of this particular congregation. Occasionally I will say that I am a pastor, not THE pastor, of the congregation.

There are Greek words used in the New Testament to describe the various “offices” found in the church. I know this. I have studied it. I confess that I do not know Greek and that my studies are limited to trusting what Greek scholars have to say about those words. I grew up being taught that we did NOT use the word pastor to refer to the preacher and we definitely did NOT call him Reverend. That mindset was already firmly set long before I went to Bible College. It wasn’t until I learned about those Greek words that I started to give it more thought.

As I said, in the churches that I attended there were three basic “titles” that were used. We had elders, deacons, and then the preacher/minister. I was taught that those were the only biblical roles in the church and that those were the biblical names for them. It seems that we spent more time talking about what names to use than we ever did on what those roles actually meant. Sometimes I still feel like there are some of us who care more about what we call something than whether or not it’s being done right.

I will be honest here, it is still hard to let go of my upbringing. I know that a lot of it is based on opinion or a very specific interpretation of a word or passage. When you’ve believed something for your entire life it is hard to even consider other possibilities, but I try. I am open minded when it comes to much of this stuff but not at the expense of Scripture. If there is a clear directive in the Bible then I will accept it. If, however, it comes down to opinion I am much more likely to not take a strong stand one way or the other. Some battles are not worth fighting.

It isn’t my intent to discuss (at length) the various “offices” and whether or not we are calling them by the correct name. I do want to briefly go over a few of those words so that my particular view might make sense. In the church we have elders. They, to the best of my understanding, are the spiritual leaders of the local congregation. The three words used for these men (and yes, I believe they are supposed to be men) are: presbyteros, episkopos, and poimen. The English equivalents are: elder, overseer/bishop, and shepherd/pastor. We also have deacons. The Greek word there is diakonos, which means minister or servant. We don’t seem to have too many issues with these, with the occasional misunderstanding regarding their actual responsibilities, but that is another post.

The problem arises when we ask, what about the preacher? What is the Greek word for that? The truth is that we really do not see the modern day idea of “preacher” in the Bible. There is the role of evangelist, which is someone who spreads the Gospel. Even then, it is only mentioned three times (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5). The verb form is used another 54 times and is almost always used to describe preaching about Jesus. However, many people (like Dr. Jack Cottrell) believe this is more along the lines of missionary work than anything else.

So, where does that leave the paid preacher? What are we called? What are we supposed to be doing? I am sure there are many different ideas and opinions. I can only offer mine. I consider myself one of the elders of this congregation. The other elders are in agreement. I just happen to receive financial support because I am the one who does the vast majority of the teaching. I am not the only elder who teaches but I do handle the bulk of it. Because of that, I have no problem with people calling me a pastor. I am a pastor. In fact, I am more of a pastor than I am an evangelist. Evangelism is a big part of what I do but I spend more time shepherding the flock than I do preaching in public places.

Have I solved anything or changed anyone’s mind with this post? I wouldn’t think so. This was more for me. I am constantly being asked, what should we call you? What do you prefer. As I said earlier, I am usually going to answer by saying, “Just call me Lee.” However, when someone seriously wants to know what it is that I do here, I have no problems telling them that I am a minister, a preacher, and a pastor of Granville Center Church of Christ.

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