Skip to site content

A Bad Sign

Yes, the pastor is a vital part of the church as preacher, teacher, leader, guide, counselor and representative. In some traditions and some congregations, he or she is more dominant than in others.

Not caught by architecture awesome or awful, not by landscaping lovely or lacking, not by a provocative sermon title or an impressive number of services, but by an attractive sign stating only the name of the church on one line and–apparently–the name of the senior pastor on the second.

I say “apparently,” because–whether intentional or not–there was no title identifying the man. There was only his name: Such-and-Such Baptist Church, Dr. First-and-Last-Name.

Why the double-take? What so shocked me about this simple sign? It was that the simple sign is simply awful theology, seeming to shout out that the church is the pastor and the pastor is the church.

May it not be so! Rather, the church is the gestalt, the sum and more, of all its people, paid clergy and other staff, lay leadership, those who do nothing more than warm a pew. The church ought never be the pastor or the pastor’s.

Yes, the pastor is a vital part of the church as preacher, teacher, leader, guide, counselor and representative. In some traditions and some congregations, he or she is more dominant than in others.

But may any church always be much more than its pastor! The church was likely there before its current leader. God willing, the church will go on long after its pastor.

Admittedly, the pastor’s name on a sign may mean something positive to church members, to visitors or to the larger community. When used, however, it is best done with a title.

I can take or leave the Rev. and Dr. labels. But let’s be careful to include “Pastor” or some similar noun, distinguishing the shepherd from the church itself.

A sign–both in what it states and what it does not–can be worth a thousand words. What does yours say about your church?

Karen Zurheide is author of Learning with Molly and co-author of In Their Own Way: Accepting Your Children for Who They Are.