A) "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
B) "But you are to be called 'Rabbi,' for you are like your Master and you are to teach your brothers. And call your spiritual leader 'Father,' for he represents your Father in heaven. You can also be called 'Teacher,' for you follow the Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be served well if they hold to these titles. For whoever exalts himself will never be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will never be exalted.”
C) "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. Instead, you should take proper titles for yourselves such as Pastor, Senior Pastor, Bishop, Minister, Reverend, Right Reverend or even Very Right Reverend. Those with the greatest titles will be greatly exalted."
(For help, see Matt 23:8-12)
Which one of the above was said by Jesus? Which one is followed in your church tradition? If you can honestly say that your church follows what Jesus actually said in “A” then you are truly blessed with leaders who are followers of Jesus (at least in regards to the titles that they have chosen for themselves).
Unfortunately, many if not most of us live in a church tradition where we act as if Jesus said “B” or “C” or some combination of the two. Church leaders are given titles that exalt them and place them above everyone else. It is assumed that since they went to seminary and have jumped through the appropriate hoops then they must have a better relationship with God than the rest of us and are holier than the average person in the pew.
Sadly, this is often not the case. Quite often the person up front has become good at leading meetings, preaching, and praying publicly. However, deep inside, they haven't always developed the vibrant relationship with God that we think they have nor do they possess the Christ-like character that a church leader ought to have. In short, they are often just ordinary people like you and me. They have their strengths but they also have their faults. They might have extraordinary ministry skills like speaking and leading worship but still have character flaws like the rest of us.
That is why Jesus warns us against giving church leaders exalted titles and making them equal with God. For even though our local church pastor or priest might have every good intention, he or she is human and might make a mistake and misrepresent God. They might fall into unintentional sin or might even become deceived or weak and fall into some kind of intentional and willful behavior that causes a lot of hurt for their followers.
"When a self-exalting “spiritual leader” such as this is seen as being from God and representing Him, the result is toxic."
Church leaders can even become so separated from God that they become manipulative, self-seeking, and abusive. When a self-exalting “spiritual leader” such as this is seen as being from God and representing Him, the result is toxic. It is pure poison to their followers' relationship with God and it brings spiritual wounds and even spiritual death to those who mistakenly trusted that their pastor/priest was a true representation of God.
This is why Jesus says that we have one Heavenly Father – one God in heaven – and his earthly representatives are to be humble, loving, and self-sacrificing like Jesus was rather than being self-exalting lovers of titles and positions.
Thank God that there are many clergy today who do have a vibrant relationship with God and do have Christ-like humility and character. If you know someone like that, thank God for them and let him or her know how much you appreciate them. Encourage them and support them in prayer.
If, on the other hand, you have been hurt by a church leader, take that person and situation to the Lord and pray for them. Ask the Lord to bring healing to those who have been hurt, including yourself, and pray for God's justice and healing for the clergy person who went astray from God's will.
And finally, if you recognize yourself in the description of a clergy person who has strayed from the will of God, ask God to forgive you and help you to get back into the center of His will. Repent of what needs to be repented of, change what needs to be changed, and do what you can to make it right with those you have hurt.
As for all those titles for church leaders that we all love to use, consider the words of Jesus and pray about simplifying things by simply calling each other by our first names or by “brother” or “sister.” For we are all on equal ground at the foot of the cross, we are all saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and to exalt one person above another goes against the clear teaching of Jesus.
Let's Pray Together: Lord, thank you that we are all on equal footing at the foot of the cross and that You don't see any one of us as more important or more valuable than another. Help me to see people just like You do. Lead me as I pray today... (pray as the Lord leads according to whatever situation you are in as described above)