Things pastors do to make themselves look–and seem–snobbish

“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (I Corinthians 1:27).

The New Testament was written in Koine’ Greek for a reason. God wants the common people (careful now…tread lightly when speaking of “the common people”) to know and understand His truth.

A friend of mine once told his pastor, “Could you preach a little more simply for folks like me?  After all, the Lord said to feed His sheep, not His giraffes.”

“Snobbishness” is a loosely understood word that means one thing to Aaron and something entirely different to Zachary.  As a Supreme Court justice once said of pornography, however, even if we cannot define it, we know it when we see it.

What follows is one preacher’s note to his preacher friends on guarding oneself against snobbishness, that is, appearing better than others, aloof from the very people we are sent to reach and nurture in Christ.

1) Be careful about telling the congregation–or any audience on the planet!–about the time “When I got my doctorate.” Or, “When the U. S. Jaycees named me one of the ten outstanding young men of America.” Or, “When I won my Rhodes scholarship.”

2) Be careful in saying in your sermon  “What the Greek means” or “The original Hebrew actually says….”  You can do this, but work at getting it right and doing it with class.

As a young Christian, I loved hearing what the original languages said.  But try to get it across without something like “When I was working on my second degree in Egyptology and taking my orals for my doctorate….”  No one needs that.

3) If you are better educated than your church members, consider taking down the diplomas from your office wall.  We said “consider taking them down,” because maybe you should leave them up. One can make a case for encouraging church members to get more education for themselves and their children.  Just be aware of how your people may react to the display on your office wall and ask the Lord for guidance.

4) If you love symphonies and operas while most in your congregation have never heard of Verdi or Puccini and wouldn’t know Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky if they showed up on their doorstep tomorrow, refer to this aspect of your life very rarely.  Again, it can be done, but infrequently and wisely.

5) There is a way to tell about something you discovered on your trip to Israel or your visit to the Parthenon without making it sound like bragging. Find it.  We want to hear what you learned, but in the purest fashion possible without an implication of “look where I have been that you haven’t.”

6) If your child will NOT be attending the local community college (where the other kids from your church have enrolled, except the ones joining the military or taking low-paying jobs in the community), but will be heading off to some Ivy League school where the tuition is more than most people earn in a year, work hard to downplay this.  Try saying, “Sarah is in college” rather than “My daughter arrived back at Princeton this morning where she will be working on a Ph.D. in microbiology.”

7)  If you are from the big city and your home church was one of those mega-congregations where the pastor was famous and your father was chairman of this or that in that church, your people will enjoy hearing a story or two about it annually. But no more.

8) If your last church was much larger and the membership was filled with CEOs of big corporations and celebrities and famous people, one story a year is about the limit for your congregation.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.

Once again, it’s perfectly fine to disagree. This is simply my opinion.  As President Reagan once said about a microphone during a debate, “It’s my blog. I paid for it.”  (Smiley-face goes here.)

9) If your wife is an over-achiever and makes good money and you are justly proud of her, ask the Lord to show you how to mention any aspect of her accomplishments publicly.  It can be done, but wisdom and discretion should be exercised.

10) When you do not learn people’s names, some will feel you are snobbish.

11) When you pass your people on the street or in the stores without speaking to them, some may feel you are insulating yourself from them.

12) When you carry your Greek New Testament into the pulpit to read from that–translating the text on the spot–even if your degree was in Greek, is that really necessary?  There are so many good translations today.

13) If you know lots of big words and delight in using them, spare us if a smaller, simpler word will do. (I’m tempted to say, “Try not to pontificate on theological profundities,” but won’t.)

14) If you spent six weeks in Scotland studying at a university or theological school, and learned how to “roll your R’s,”  please spare us.  ( I once asked someone about a local pastor whose Scottish accent was so impressive. “No,” my friend said. “He’s from Alabama. But he spent six weeks in Edinburgh studying a few years back.”)

15) Don’t put “Dr.” by your name on your mailbox, and do so sparingly in the church bulletin.  And the biggest faux pas of all, you must not list yourself with doctorates before and after your name, as in  “Dr. John Jonson, Th.D.”

16) And speaking of doctorates, after you get one, do not give a second thought to “what should people call me now?”  They can decide without your help. If they called you by your first name before, most will continue.  (It helps if your church is like the one I belong to. The people care not one whit what degrees their pastor has, they’re going to call him “Brother Mike.” (Mike actually has two–count ’em, two–doctorates, real ones, too.)  When the seminary’s academic dean was our interim pastor, a man whom I had never ever addressed as anything other than “Doctor (Joe) Cothen,” the congregation called him “Brother Joe.” )

17) Think of things that show the pastor having the common touch (he relaxes and has coffee with the office staff; he gets his own coffee; he helps his wife clean house; he cuts his own grass).  Now, whatever is the opposite of those may tend to make him seem snobbish.

Some former members of my church moved to Memphis, across the street from the home of Dr. Adrian and Mrs. Joyce Rogers of the great Bellevue Church.  One day, Bob was standing at his window and called to his wife. “Wanda! Come look. Dr. Rogers is taking his garbage cans to the curb.”  Wanda did not budge. She said, “Well, how did you think they got to the curb?”  Bob sheepishly said, “I don’t know. I just never figured him for carrying his own garbage cans out.”  Bob loved that common touch.

18) Refusing to acknowledge when you are wrong and it’s obvious to everyone else in the room will make you look like a puffed-up somebody.

19) Tolerating no dissent or differences of opinion to yours.

20) Try saying as a joke, “That’s my opinion and you’re entitled to yours; you can be wrong if you want to.”  Or any version of that, such as: “I could agree with you and then we would both be wrong.”  Or “I was wrong once. I thought I had made a mistake and I hadn’t.”  Anyone who thinks there is a remote chance you are conceited will latch onto such statements as Freudian admissions that you are. Avoid them.

21) Associating with the wealthy and neglecting the others.

22) Buying more house than you can afford.

23) Buying a far more expensive car than anyone else in the church.

24) Joining the country club and thus becoming the only member of your church to do so.

25) Playing Lacrosse.  (lol.  Thought that would be a good one to end on.)

And finally, just in case anyone thinks we’re being silly and majoring on something trivial, let us remind ourselves that this snobbish thing has been with us from the beginning.

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren, has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?….. If you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1-9).

16 thoughts on “Things pastors do to make themselves look–and seem–snobbish

  1. Wow! I sure wish you had written this about, say, the year 1975. I shudder to think how many of these I violated when I was younger. Thank the Lord for very patient and loving–and forgiving– people!

    • Rocky, how do you think I know them now? I violated most of them. (Some longtime friends read my blog and probably think, “Hey, that’s not how you did it when you were our pastor!” ha.

  2. Loved the comment about “what the Greek actually says” or if you read this in Hebrew.” It is irritating but more importantly it is discouraging to those of us who read the Scriptures and try hard to understand them. Whole list could apply to many leaders in many fields. Stay focused and stay humble.

  3. One of the problems with saying “the original Greek says thus-and-so,” Bob, is that (as you imply) it says that the Bible in your hand is untrustworthy. We pastors should do this very carefully.

  4. Re: the Greek or Hebrew — If you do your “homework” and present the biblical message properly the people will hear what the biblical language means without having to be told it came from Greek or Hebrew.

  5. We once had a pastor (all our pastors had to be Dr.s) who was told by one of the ladies that he was preaching over the heads of many in the congregation (many lived in Central City and many were families of our Deaf members). He replied to her, “Maybe you need to raise your heads”. He actually was quite snobby, but his wife and children were nice.

  6. #25 is really funny, especially since I work at a university that recently replaced the men’s varsity soccer program with varsity Lacrosse. The son of a wealthy donor was coming in as a freshman and wanted to play Lacrosse. That was not a popular decision with a lot of students and alumni.

    • Mary Beth works at a certain Baptist university in Richmond, VA that shall go unnamed but which has wanted to appear Ivy League-ish for some time now. I think lacrosse is long overdue there, dear cousin!

  7. Wish my pastors would read this, but some of them are down to earth and mix with anyone. There seems to be such a heirachy though for the ‘annointed’ ones in leadership like they are better than everyone else. My take away from this is to ask my pastor what it is like to be a pastor. We don’t realise what it is like until we have walked in someone else’s shoes.

  8. Sometimes introverted people get labeled as snobs unjustly. I have to battle this myself. I work hard to be approachable but sometimes it feels like a losing battle.

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