Titles do not make leaders

Those of us who have been called to minister in God's church are leaders. Whatever title has been attached to our role will not make us good, bad, or ineffective leaders.

Nikolaus Satelmajer is the Editor of Ministry.

My colleague and friend experienced disappointment when he was not asked to take on a particular leadership role. All of the committee was very much in favor of having him serve in this role, except for one individual who spoke against him. As a result, another person was given the leadership role while my friend tried to figure out what happened. My friend had allowed himself to get caught up in the idea that important titles indicate our effectiveness in ministry. I reminded him of the influential ministry he has had, and how God was using him in the present. I had no doubt that God would use him in the future. My friend not only survived this disappointment, but went on to provide valuable ministry to God’s church.

Abundance of titles

We live in a world where traditional titles are simply no longer sufficient to describe what we do. To be a professor of a particular area is not sufficient; one must have the title of a distinguished professor. Some years ago we started the pattern of calling pastors of large churches not simply pastors but senior pastors, with the explanation that since they had a pastoral staff they should be distinguished from the other pastors. But now I’m even seeing individuals who are the sole pastors in a congregation designated as senior pastors. Title inflation, though, is not limited to the world of the pastor. Conferences, presbyteries, and conventions speak of leaders as chief executive officers, with that title borrowed from the corporate world.

Before my time in the ministry, I worked in the business world for a large corporation. The head of the corporation was then known as the president, but heads of corporations now have the title of chief executive officer; and some in the church feel that this title should be used to describe church leaders. Strange that we feel a need to have such titles, for I always thought that Jesus Christ was the Chief Executive Officer of the church.

At the same time, books on church leadership advance the idea that church leaders are servant leaders, arguing that this concept describes most adequately the biblical model of leadership. I’m beginning to wonder if the title servant leader will be important-sounding enough to be used by individuals or whether we will have to advance it to senior servant or perhaps chief executive servant.

Ministry before titles

The three individuals featured in our lead article are ministers of the gospel. My colleague, Willie E. Hucks II, and I did not choose them because of the titles they have had in their careers or because of the impact they have made on the world. In spite of obstacles set before them, these individuals have managed, under the power of God, to surmount the obstacles and bless the church and the world with their ministry. Each one stands out, not because of the titles bestowed upon them, but because of their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and the power and effectiveness with which they presented the gospel to the world.

Some years ago one of the three individuals featured was scheduled to speak at a large gathering of ministers. One of the ministers present, who had never heard that speaker, was listening to the sermon. After some 10 to 15 minutes, he turned to me and said, “That’s a mighty fine preacher.” He did not say, “That man has a mighty important title.” His title did not make his preaching powerful, rather, it was his commitment to the Word, to the Lord of the Word, and the presentation of the Word.

Our leadership

Those of us who have been called to minister in God’s church are leaders. Whatever title has been attached to our role will not make us good, bad, or ineffective leaders. Our contributions are not measured by the title, but by what we do with the talents that God has given us. When others look back at our ministry, they will not remember the titles we’ve had, but they will remember what we have accomplished. Think back on biblical or historical figures that made a positive impact for God’s church. Paul was not known as the senior apostle; rather, he referred to himself as a chief of sinners (see 1 Tim. 1:15), yet this chief of sinners has blessed the world with his commitment to Jesus Christ and his outstanding presentation of the gospel. Even prison could not prevent him from proclaiming the gospel that had changed his life.

And so whatever title you have— however humble or important it sounds—your ultimate duty is to serve Him in the ministry that He has given you. At the end of the day the Lord will not ask any one of us “What is your title?” Rather, He will ask, “What have you done?”

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Nikolaus Satelmajer is the Editor of Ministry.

May 2008

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