What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? “Handcrafted” and “manufactured” (from the Latin for “hand made”) are similar, but our images of them are different. Manufacturing seems professional, efficient. Handcrafted is personal, caring. Manufacturers receive profits. Handcrafters offer products.

People sometimes ask what they should call me or wonder why Christian leaders have different titles. Titles reveal different traditions and settings, but also different roles. “Doctor” is an academic distinction denoting expertise. “Father” is a priestly title representing family leadership. “Reverend” denotes ordination to an office of honour. Then there is the old Dutch tradition of “Domine,” Lord. “Minister” denotes “servant,” acting under the authority of another. “Pastor” is a description of function more than a title of honor. “Tom” is my first name, and that always works.

Honour and Power
In Matthew 23:5-12 Jesus warned of those who seek honorific titles more than honouring God. This is only a symptom of our great struggle with power. Israel expressed it when they wanted a king like the other nations. Samuel warned of the abuse this would bring, and the first king Saul demonstrated it. Then God gave them a shepherd, yet David and others fell victim to power.

The disciples struggled to understand the new way of power in the Kingdom of God. When James and John’s mother asked for her sons to be at Jesus’ right and left hand, the other disciples were upset, probably because they wanted that power. Jesus then made the contrast,

“‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant . . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Matt. 20:25-28).

Matthew pictures this service throughout his gospel, especially in Jesus’ interaction with the sick and needy in chapters 8-9. This section culminates, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

Shepherding, being a pastor, is a wonderful image. Few would confuse it with self-honouring power. It ties back to the image of leadership God gave in David. It expresses the contrast and hope for a new shepherding expressed in Ezekiel 34.

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” (Ez. 34:2).

“‘Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people,’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God’” (Ez. 34:30-31; cf. Psalm 100:3).

Psalm 23 pictures shepherding as guidance, provision, protection, peace and promise. In John 10 Jesus explores aspects of shepherding in his calling voice, his opening the way, and his life-giving care.

Caring is the key. Matthew 9:36 expresses it as compassion, literally “suffering with.” The Greek word expresses feeling the need in your gut, the center of emotions. Seeing those harassed by power, by false religious, economic and political power, Jesus cares.

Then Jesus calls for help. He calls on God and to us. “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (Matt. 9:37-38, NIV).

Offer and answer this prayer. Pray for workers, pastors. Be workers, pastors. The call is not just for those with professional titles. We can all picture ourselves pastoring with compassion the harassed and helpless, handcrafting care. 


  • Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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