Just Who Do You Think You Are?
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.
I couldn’t agree more, Pastor Jeff. Thankfully my daughter married an “old fashioned” guy and they use this principle raising their two girls. The girls get teased about it by some of their friends but it rubs off on the friends eventually because they notice the positive response over time. Our teachers should instruct their students to follow this principle even if the parents don’t although I’m sure this would generate a firestorm from from the very people it would best serve (my daughter is a teacher). Hope all is well with you and your family. God Bless!!!
Jeff, so good to hear from you! Appreciate your comments. Blessings
Dear Pastor Bonzelaar,
I am 68 years old and have a part-time job at our local Library. In my time at the Library, I have given my Supervisor due respect by addressing her as Ms. She has told me that I can call her by her first name but I was raised to respect authority. My Mother and my Father would give me a stern look, at the least, if I neglected to render due respect. In my 36 years of service at Chrysler, I gave due respect to the many persons that were in a leadership position to me. There were many times that they would strain that respect, but I would like to think that those times were at a minimum. I also call my Pastor “Pastor Alex”.
This society is getting too lax by not demanding that certain conventions are observed. I lay it at the loss of a Christian outlook by families and the reduction of the value of human life by the televising of cruelty and disrespect in many programs on the Electric Baby-sitter. The Home Mission Field is indeed white for the harvest.
Keep preaching God’s Truth.
Congregant of The Fisherman’s Net Christian Church, Utica, Michigan
Mr. Kras, Thanks for your input and example. I believe you are definitely on to something in your statement about “reduction of the value of human life by the televising of cruelty and disrespect in many programs on the Electric Baby-Sitter.” We must push against the tide. I do believe in the power of mustard seeds! Blessings
Well said PastorJeff! Today’s society is lacking respect and the ability to honor due to way too many Godless parents not caring. I thank God for parents who taught me respect and a Staff at Life Challenge that reminded me of the definition of it. Thank you, & God bless!
Jeffrey, Great hearing from you! Respect for authority goes a long way. God bless.