Why I Don’t Go By “Pastor Mark”

Many times people who are new to our church call me “Pastor Mark” or “Pastor” when they address me. I understand – they’re just trying to be respectful and show honor to me.

Once a sweet elderly lady at the local hospital asked what I did and when I told her she began calling me “Reverend.” Reverend Mark. I like that. And Monsignor Mark isn’t bad either. I like the alliteration. Most Majestic Monsignor Mark is even better.

Anyway, I usually tell people, “If you feel comfortable, you can just call me Mark.” Sometimes they’ll reply “But we’re supposed to honor and respect our elders,” to which I might reply, “Thanks! I know I’m an old guy. And I know you want to honor me, but “Pastor” is just my job description. I tell people if you want to call me “Pastor Mark” I’ll call you “Carpenter Bob” or “Secret Service Agent Sally.” Now don’t go blasting me with comments about my rudeness. I try to do all this in a very light hearted way. Hey you know me – Mr. Sensitive.

But I tell people this because although I have a different function or role in the church than most, I’m a member too. I’m on the same level as everyone else. I’m not on a different tier above everyone else. I’m a disciple of Jesus just like they are. I’m a fellow sojourner, still in process, who has plenty of foibles and weaknesses. Still putting sin to death. Still learning about all Jesus has done and is doing for me.  I’m not THE MAN OF GOD, up there on the mountain where no common sheep can go.

I’m a shepherd, but I’m still a sheep as well, part of Jesus’ flock. I’m a preacher, but I still need preaching. I may dispense the word but I need to take it in myself. I would presume that my family doctor takes medicine himself when he needs it.

When people say, “Mark, when you were preaching this morning, I felt like you were preaching to me,” I often reply, “Thanks, that’s amazing how the Lord does that. Because I was first and foremost preaching to myself.”

I am called to lead the church, especially through preaching and teaching. But I’m leading as a member. A fellow brick in the building. I’m subject to the Word I preach. Whatever I tell others to do I should be doing. If I tell them to first look for the log in their eye when they confront someone on sin, I need to check for redwoods in my eye.

If someone confesses sin to me, I must be gentle and merciful, knowing I am capable of anything anyone shares with me.

 To me, for someone to call me “Pastor Mark” creates an artificial separation or an artificial class system in the church. There’s the flock down here and the pastors up there. I don’t believe Jesus wants that division. He said to call no man “Father” or “Teacher.” The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were shocked that Jesus would eat with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus didn’t look for honor, but washed his disciples’ feet.

I’m not saying it’s a sin to call someone “Pastor” or that if you go by some title you’re a pharisee.  If I come to your church and you prefer me to call you “Pastor Joe” or “Reverend Rick” I’d be happy to. When in Rome…you know. It’s really not that big a deal to me. But when you come to my church, you can feel free to call me Mark. Unless you’re more comfortable with Most Majestic Monsignor Mark.

Comments

  1. says

    It takes a particularly gifted M.M.M. to write with such great humor about something that often can be very sensitive (stumbling?) for many people–especially if you've grown up in an environment where the guy up front WAS the spiritual giant while the rest of us were just crumb-eaters. Thankful for godly men who lead with servant-leadership to know the Cross levels us all to be crumb-eaters! :)

    You remind me, in the way you winsomely write, of this verse: Matt. 23:11-12, "But the greatest among you shall be your servant. "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (for God has surely exalted you as a public leader in ministry!)

    • Mark Altrogge says

      Crumb-eaters! Hilarious, Kim – love it! And thanks for your kind comments. You're always so encouraging. Yep, the cross levels us all to be crumb-eaters – and the crumbs from the Lord's table are pretty darn delicious….

  2. Bruce Resch says

    You sound like a man I could learn under. My own pastor is a man much of your same mindset. Truly humble, and ever conscious of his own brokenness and need of a Savior. We are blessed to have him, as your congregation is blessed to have you.

    That said, you are held to a higher standard, as a called and ordained minister of the Gospel, and as such, I have no qualms about referring to you as Pastor when the situation warrants. However, I would certainly be content to call you Brother, and friend, the rest of the time.

    • Mark Altrogge says

      Thank you Bruce. I do agree – God holds pastors (and thus me) to a higher standard, which puts the fear of the Lord in me. Thanks for your comments!

  3. JackW says

    There you go pointing to Jesus again. It’s like you think he’s the head of the Church or something. Way to go Mark.

  4. Leslie says

    I would prefer you call me Librarian Leslie. Just kidding. It was rather awkward when we first came to SGC to call the pastors by their first names. At almost every other church I had been too, we called the pastors – Pastor (insert last name here). It's even strange for me to call our former pastors by their first names, because I was so used to the formal address. I like the way you and the other leadership are humble and don't expect special treatment because of your exulted positions.

  5. Scott says

    I understand what you're saying, and I appreciate it. I also know how much our society has lost respect, especially in the children/adult category. It used to be children referred to adults as Mr. or Mrs. Smith; not it's just "hey, Bob." I don't think a nine-year-old should speak to adults the same way he speaks to his nine-year-old friend. Maybe that's another issue.

    Or how about this one: Students call their teachers "Professor Smith" or "Dr. Smith" if it fits. Patients call their physicians "Dr. Jones." Is this not the same "position" argument? I admit that I don't like being called Reverend Weldon; sounds pretentious. But Pastor Scott sounds "endearing" and respectful at the same time. It says, "you are my pastor." Maybe I'm just not humble enough, but anyway. Thanks again for the article.

    • Mark Altrogge says

      Hey Scott, good points. I may be overly sensitive. If your folks call you Pastor Scott as endearing and respectful that's great!

  6. hamoncan says

    So no long robe and big hat then either, eh? So glad to hear your common sense take on this. In some cases its the membership and denomination that trap poor ministers into some sort of lofty glass house as presumably befits their holy high office. It wasn't until I was old enough that some of those poor guys were peers of mine and now I see how uneasy some of them are, unable to just be themselves as feel they have to play some role like some sort of OT prophet out of an old cliche Bible movie.

    • Mark Altrogge says

      Well put! Yeah, some guys are kind of stuck because of their denominations. Definitely pastors should be themselves, including revealing weaknesses and failures. I wouldn't want to play some role like an OT prophet out of an old cliche Bible movie – my Shakespearian accent isn't that good…

  7. says

    Agreed Mark. I've done this for as long as I remember in my own pastoral ministry. The only exception is children. Parents who are working on manners are left with a few options (other than just a first name) "Mr. Ling" or "Pastor Ling" are both more formal and miss that sense of closeness. "Pastor Jeff" is the usual choice and it's helpful for little ones learning respect but who you also want to feel a closeness with.

    • Mark Altrogge says

      Good points Jeff – I think most of the kids in our church call me "Mr. Mark" but I think some of them call me Pastor Mark and I'm fine with that.

  8. Tracie says

    My husband and I call our pastors by their first names, but we ask our children to call them Pastor Steve and Pastor Rick. That seems a little more polite to me than having my children call them Hey, Steve! I live in the South and am big on manners. Most of the people at our church are called Mr or Mrs and then their first name.

  9. says

    I've always thought of it as an earned title, sortof like"doctor". The pastor has gone through the rigors of seminary, much like a medical student goes to school and basically earns the title. This became something I thought much about years ago when attending a baptist church that was helmed by some non-seminary educated elders, and I had a hard time with referring to them with the designation of "pastor", because it seems like a respectful title that one earns.

    • Mark Altrogge says

      I can see that ds…I know guys with doctorates in theology who go by their first name. But I don't have a problem with it if someone desires to be called Doctor.

  10. says

    I only object to you using a picture of our dear Father Mapple to make your point! The irony, of course, being that he's the preacher character in a book who's first line is an instruction of what to call the narrator. ("Call me Ishmael.")

  11. Chris says

    I think that referring to you as the "Not Joe, Not Bob" Pastor would fit well and it doesn't make you sound old like "Senior Pastor" does.

    • Mark Altrogge says

      I like that – "Right" Reverend! I should have told the sweet old lady to call me that when she called me Reverend. Glad you enjoyed it!

  12. Amber says

    While I appreciate the heart behind the sentiment, there is a biblical distinction between pastors and laypeople, just as there is a distinction between apostles and the rest – thus "Apostle Paul." The title of "Pastor" rightly carries weight and responsibility – pastors will be held all-the-more accountable – so I think that title should not be dismissed quite so lightly. Yes, it is a sign of respect but not so much for the man as for the Lord and the pastoral office that He has ordained.

  13. Jordan says

    I love it.

    I do have a question. Not like a secret agenda i'm trying to put across, but a genuine question.

    Jesus didn't seem to correct anyone when they called him Rabbi. Do you think his allowance of this term was enough for us to allow people to do that too?

    Sincerely a new youth pastor trying to figure this all out :)

    • Mark Altrogge says

      Hey Jordan, great question. Here’s what Jesus said in Matthew 23:

      1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,
      2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,
      3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
      4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
      5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,
      6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues
      7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
      8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.
      9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
      10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.
      11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.
      12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

      Without an in-depth study of this passage it seems the Pharisees exalted themselves above others and one way would’ve been by titles. Jesus said in contrast, his disciples were to not give themselves titles but to humble themselves. Do we need to strictly apply this to the title “pastor”? I personally don’t believe that any of the disciples called themselves by a title – nowhere in the New Testament does it say that Peter referred to himself as Rabbi Peter or Father Peter or Teacher Peter. I also think that it is not the title that earns us respect or honor, but humbling ourselves and being men of character that will cause people to honor and respect us. It is genuinely caring for others and being a servant that will earn us respect. However, I would not say it is a sin if one calls himself by the title of Pastor. It’s primarily my own personal conviction.

  14. Linda says

    Love this and totally agree. In the bible even Jesus isn’t addressed by a title every time his name is mentioned.

  15. Moody says

    I like this article. We are to follow what Jesus Christ taught us. He said “you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers”. In Philippians 2:5-7, ” Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and.coming in the likeness of men.

    Brother Moody.

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