Call Me VEEP!
Are titles appropriate for the Christian minister?
September 2011 -- Nuggets of Faith
Call me VEEP! Years ago I remember watching a sitcom where a high school student had been elected to the student council as the Vice President. He was so proud. At the same time, he would often get frustrated because no one would take him serious enough. He kept insisting with increased adamancy that his family and friends call him VEEP. Whenever anyone would use his real name, throughout the program he would say, "Call me Veep!".
Likewise, I remember when I first started ministry on KSLR in San Antonio. I felt I was an evangelist and I wanted to be referred to as Evangelist Tony Barnes. I remember being especially frustrated one Sunday morning when the announcer introduced my program by referring to me as Evan Tony Barnes as if "Evan" was my first name. I was more concerned with my image than I was the image of Jesus Christ.
In the years since, I have come to the conviction that I don't think God is either impressed with or wants us to use titles. Although I am an ordained minister, I am not sure using the word 'reverend' is even in God's will. The only time it has ever been an issue whether I was ordained or not was during my deployment to Saudi Arabia. In fact, for that deployment I was only licensed to preach and had not been ordained. That licensing by my church in Anniston, AL had only happened a few months earlier. It had never been important to me and I had been preaching for 10 years at that point. However, when I got to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), the Air Force chaplains were interested in me preaching at some of the chapel services. However, per Air Force regulations they had to have a copy of my credentials on file. Aside from that, it has only been important when conducting weddings.
Recently, I was helping to produce a radio program while the usual host was out of town on a family emergency. We had a young man in his mid-20s that was the guest for this interview program. He wanted to make sure that I introduced him as "Prophet" So-and So. While I personally believe in the modern application of the five-fold ministry gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12, I do not think we should use these titles of pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle or prophet as marketing tools in our ministries. I don't believe Paul was introducing titles to put on our business cards, letterhead and websites. I told him I could not in good conscience introduce him as a prophet because I had not witnessed his ministry which means I didn't know if he was a prophet or not. A prophet is known by the accuracy of his prophecies and I certainly wasn't going to entertain introducing him with this title without knowing more about the integrity of his walk with Christ and ministry.
His response was that he has been marginalized in his ministry and yet feels that God wants to express a message through him. I was able to share with him that his ministry gifts will make room for him. There comes a time when many of us in our early days of ministry want to rush things. We want to go from zero to sixty in a short period of time. Regarding my early days in ministry, I shouldn't have been worried about someone referring to me as an evangelist. If I was one, there would be a record of people being won to Christ. Just as someone who is appointed to the role of a deacon should have a record of already serving people.
So, what should a member of the clergy call themselves? Frankly, in our society I am not sure we will ever get past using the term reverend. When visiting a hospital patient outside of visiting hours, it's sometimes necessary to introduce myself as Reverend Barnes. When performing a wedding, depending on the state it's important to sign a marriage license with that title. But, in the grand scheme of Christianity I am not sure God wants to see people use titles as marketing tools. To further make my point if you Google the term "the Most Reverend and Right Honorable" you find all manner of people with that title. Really? Is there anyone that could really use that title except Jesus Christ? In the meantime, if I ever become the Vice President -- call me VEEP.