I have had numerous titles during my ministry career. I have been pastor, reverend, padre, chaplain, captain and hopefully soon, doctor. But what titles, if any, should a pastor use?
In my first ministry placement as a seminary student, I worked as a youth pastor. My senior pastor told me that he wanted the youth to address me as “Pastor Steve” and not just use my first name. He also wanted me to change how I dressed, so that everything about me identified me as the pastor.
The next placement I had was with a senior pastor who sat in the pews rather than sitting on the platform. He never used the title “pastor” and when my wife (then girlfriend) Amanda first met him, she had no idea that he was the pastor.
Should pastors use titles?
I generally don’t like titles. It had a role during my ministry as a military chaplain and I really didn’t have the freedom to change tradition. But within the church context, when people ask me how I want to be addressed, I always say “Steve.”
Having said that, on my business cards, I do use “Rev. Stephen Bedard.” I think it is appropriate for people to know I’m ordained. But I chose not to include my degrees on the card. Not that I’m critical of those who do.
I felt pretty assured of my policy of not using titles until I visited one of our families that is originally from Africa. I told them to just call me by my first name but they informed me that made them uncomfortable. In their culture, it would be unnatural for them not to call me “Pastor Steve.” I realized that my attitude was actually ethnocentric.
I think it ultimately comes down to our motivation. If you demand people call you by a particular title because you are proud of your accomplishments and feel that you deserve the respect, there may be a problem.
But titles are not necessarily bad. It depends on the context and on the people you are in relationship with. Be flexible and focus on the needs of the other person rather than your own need for affirmation.