The Reverend

‘The Reverend’ is the style most often used as a prefix to the names of Christian ministers. It is for instance to be found on my business card – ‘Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray’. I confess that it is not a prefix I happily use – for ‘the Reverend’ literally means ‘one to be respected’ or ‘one who must be respected’.

But for ministers not to use the prefix is – in a British context at least – to imply that they have not been ordained, that they are not truly ‘professional’. So in my dealings with people outside the church I use the prefix – it is to be found on my business cards, my headed church note-paper, and is part of my ‘signature’ on my e-mails. However when I am dealing with church people, then both the ‘Rev’ and ‘Dr’ handles disappear – I am simply ‘Paul Beasley-Murray’, if not just ‘Paul’.

But are ministers wise to do away with the term ‘Reverend’ in their dealings with their church members? For surely the Scriptures teach that they are ‘to be respected’? My mind goes to such passages as 1 Thess 5.12,13:

“We beg you, our brothers and sisters, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life. Treat them with the greatest respect and love because of the work they do”.

Paul develops the theme of respect when writing to Timothy, where he urges that the leaders who “work hard at preaching and teaching” should be considered worthy of “double honour”: i.e. “double pay” (1 Tim 5.17). As for the writer to the Hebrews, he urges his readers to “obey your leaders and follow their orders” (Hebs 13.17)! In other words, although the term ‘Reverend’ is not a New Testament term, the thought underlying the term is very much in line with New Testament teaching.

How different church life can be today. This week I have been at a conference for ministers of ‘larger’ churches. To my surprise, one of the issues raised was, and I quote, “the slow erosion of authority and respect for ordained leadership”. In the discussion that followed we recognised that in part this lack of respect for church leaders goes with the culture: our political leaders, for instance, no longer command the respect that they used to. As a society we have kicked over
the traces of undue subservience – and that is a good thing.

However, as I reflected on the issue, I wondered whether some ministers are not exactly helping themselves. For the fact is that sometimes, in order to encourage the church as a whole to recognise that God has called them to serve him, we ministers have played down our God-given role. We have rightly rediscovered the ‘ministry of all’, but that does not rule out the ‘leadership of some’. Unfortunately some ministers have given the impression to their churches that the only difference between them and others is that they are engaged in ‘full-time’ ministry. As a result the minister is sometimes seen as just one among many people in the church. But that is not true. Ministers have a very distinct God-given role. As senior minister of my church, I am called to spearhead the mission and ministry of the church. Or to use the language of the Reformers, ministers have a specific calling to preach the Word, to administer the sacraments,
and to exercise discipline. Precisely because of their calling, ministers are to be respected.

True, respect cannot be demanded. It has to be earned. Interestingly I believe the key way in which ministers earn respect in their church is not through their preaching or through their leading, but through their caring. Once people know their pastor truly cares for them, then respect is no longer an issue. In this respect some words of Paul are pertinent:

> “You know about Stephanas and his family; they are the first Christian converts kin Achaia and have given themselves to the service of God’s people. I beg you, my brothers and sisters, to follow the leadership of such people as these” (1 Cor 15.15,16).

People respect and therefore follow those who give of themselves to them.

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