A few years ago a young man called me for some advice. We had a friendly talk. He was gracious and inquisitive, but I was bothered by something about our conversation.
I called him back five minutes later and said, “Jeremy, I like you and think you have some incredible gifts. I want you to succeed in life, and if that is to occur, you need to learn something about addressing a superior. Never do so by their first name. You can call me ‘Pastor Jeff’ or ‘Mr. Bonzelaar,’ but not ‘Jeff.’”
That was not the last time I had such a conversation.
Let me clarify before you charge me with megalomania. When I say a superior, I am not talking about superiority of intellect, personal attributes or socio-economic status. I am referring to a person’s God-given role as leader, teacher, pastor, parent and so on. I’m not stuck on titles. I try not to be stuck on myself (no small order for me). In social circles, I introduce myself as ‘Jeff.’ Ninety-nine out of a hundred times I sign letters by simply writing my first name.
I certainly don’t expect my peers to call me “Pastor Jeff”—let alone my wife (although I like that passage in 1 Peter 3:6 where the apostle says that Sarah “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”). Take note Lori!
What troubles me is the attitude that it often reflects, something indicative of our culture as a whole. We are a people that doesn’t understand boundaries or authority. Deference is a foreign concept to us; submission a dirty word.
And I think we are the worse for it.
I know many adults who are okay with children calling them by their first name (parents, teachers, coaches). Several of my pastor-friends insist that their congregation call them by their first name. They don’t want any distance between themselves and those they serve. I can appreciate that.
But I don’t like it. There are other ways to foster camaraderie and community. Call me “old-fashioned.” I simply think the idea of being on a first-name basis in these particular relationship dynamics is too familiar, too flippant. Disrespectful.
We could use a touch of Southern courtesy here in the North: I like, “Yes sir” and “No ma’am.” A lesson in etiquette from our English friends on what is proper and tasteful might be helpful. Our own servicemen could teach us a thing or two about this as well. No private would dare call his commanding officer by his first name.
The Bible tells us to “honor one another above (ourselves)” (Rom. 12:10). But special honor is to be shown to certain individuals: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). Of course, giving honor to another is more than addressing them in a certain way. It is expressed through our attitudes and actions.
Interestingly, the principle of honor is so important it finds its way in the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, . . . so that you may live long and that it may go well with you” (Deut. 5:16). Honor—treat and hold as precious, weighty. Esteem.
Without honor, we lose wellness; we lose life. We miss out on what it means to love.
So give it.
And demand it.