People love job titles.
One corporate executive revealed to me that to keep employees happy, her company is overly generous with titles. The title “vice president” is attached to many positions. The corporate brass knows that titles motivate people. And it is easy to give a title to someone who is willing to work longer and harder for a new business card.
You have attended dinner parties where the first question after you introduce yourself is, “So what do you do?” Perhaps you struck up a conversation with a stranger on an airplane or at a restaurant. If you are really proud of your title, you could not wait to be asked, “What do you do?” If you want to end the conversation, just tell the person you are a pastor. Works for me every time.
Many people love titles because they find their identity in their title. Their title is more than a description of what they do. In their minds their title is a description of who they are.
My introduction to our obsession with job titles came during my first official job. Besides cutting lawns, my first job was at Bayou Animal Clinic, where I worked for a veterinarian. I took the job when I was fourteen to work a few days after school for $3.15 an hour, the going minimum wage at the time. I worked alongside a guy in his twenties who was really proud of the speakers in his old beat-up truck with tinted windows and his name sprayed on the back window. I think he worked just so he could continue dumping money into his truck. The rims and speakers were worth more than the truck itself.
When we first met, he introduced himself to me as the Kennel Assistant. Wow. Kennel Assistant sounded important, and since I was even younger, I would be the Associate Kennel Assistant.
As a fourteen-year-old, I was excited to know I had a cool title like Associate Kennel Assistant. After working a few days, I realized that a Kennel Assistant was a fancy title to describe someone who cleaned birdcages, fed cats, issued enemas to dogs, and picked up dog mess. The dirtiest tasks were delegated to the Associate, me.
Since we find much of our identity in our title, we tend to drift toward titles that make us sound important. Fancy titles give us a greater sense of identity. They contribute to our sense of self-worth.
What title should we be most proud to claim?
What title did the early Christians claim as their own?
In the introduction in their letter to the Philippians, Paul and Timothy introduce themselves by their self-appointed title. Their title is not one the world would expect them to proudly proclaim. Paul and Timothy, two of Christianity’s earliest and greatest leaders, introduce themselves with a lowly title. They begin their letter with a statement of their identity.
“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:1 NKJV). The word for bondservant in the original language is doulos, which literally means slave. A doulos is a slave who is willingly bound to another.
Hi, my name is Paul, and I am a slave of Christ Jesus. Good to meet you.
Hello, I am Timothy, a bondservant of Christ Jesus. What about you?
Paul and Timothy could have chosen other titles to describe their identity. Paul could have identified himself as the coauthor of half of the New Testament, the most popular book ever written. Or one of the greatest church leaders of all time. Timothy could have identified himself as one of Christianity’s most influential young leaders.
But they chose the title doulos.
Adapted from Identity (2008, B&H Publishing Group)