Not long ago I worked with a well-known ministry for several months, during which I developed a close working relationship with its leader. Because of the nature of our project, I spent more one-on-one time with this man—we’ll call him John—over the course of those few months than most of his own staff had in years.
Despite the frequent television appearances, best-selling books and demanding ministry schedule, John was a likeable, down-to-earth, normal guy—a far cry from the larger-than-life persona carefully maintained by his staff. In fact, it became obvious his staff wanted John to be anything but normal—and they tried their hardest to make sure he wasn’t treated that way.
All phone calls and e-mails were screened by a legion of assistants. Any in-person meeting invariably involved waiting at least 30 minutes outside his office, after which a “high-level assistant” would finally be gracious enough to notify John that you’d arrived. And, of course, John was never to be called John; it was Bishop John. Pastor John would suffice, and Dr. John was even better—but never, ever John.
I made the mistake one day of calling John by his first name—sans the glorified title—in front of his wife. Fool that I am, I figured we’d become close enough, plus John had point-blank told me to call him John. Bad move. John’s wife immediately scolded me and launched into a lecture on how calling John by his first name was rude and, because of his experience and position, showed a complete lack of respect. “I don’t even call him John in public,” she said.
And that’s when it clicked. The top dog rarely feels the need to prove he has the loudest bark or the meanest bite. Instead, it’s those around him who, for some reason, feel compelled to protect his domain. So it goes in ministry—particularly in charismatic circles, where entire kingdoms are built around title-heavy superstars. Unfortunately, kingdoms create cultures, which is how we’ve ended up in our current dysfunctional state.
I’m not so naïve to think some of these superstars didn’t have a hand in establishing their own kingdoms by surrounding themselves with title-conscious bulldogs. Through the years this magazine has undoubtedly featured ministers more concerned with being called prophet, psalmist, first lady or (my favorite) “doctor” than mimicking the servant-leadership model Jesus gave us. Neither am I excusing those who remain humble but whose staffs create a culture of first-familylike ministry royalty. Because whether you’re the top dog or just part of a top dog’s entourage, the fruit of pride looks the same—and has the same infectious results on the entire ministry or church. If you or anyone on your staff are more concerned about making sure no one forgets you’re an apostle, something’s wrong.
Jesus abhorred the name game. He lambasted the religious leaders of His day for being consumed with what people called them (see Matt. 23). At times He even downplayed His own title of Christ until it was time for His honor to be more fully revealed. We in charismatic ministry would do well to follow His lead. God has not called us to lead so that we can glory in what precedes or follows our names, but so we can stoop lower than others to serve them.
We often talk about a nameless, faceless generation on the rise; I want to be part of a titleless one too.
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.