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Pastors and the word "my"

Recently a fellow pastor closed a conversation by saying, "I'll get my secretary to send you that document from my Christian Education committee."

I bit my tongue. I wanted to say, "Wow, I didn't know it was legal in Minnesota to own even one person, let alone a whole committee!"

Ownership language employed by pastors is a pet peeve of mine. Using the pronoun "my" to refer to employees, committees, pulpits, choirs, communion tables--really anything other than actual personal property-- sets my teeth on edge. Whatever the speaker's intent, I hear misplaced priorities and dangerous assumptions.

Overuse of the pastoral "my" identifies the church as overly pastor-centered. If the pastor owns the committees and sanctuary and other employees, the implicit message to others is one of arrogance, control and a lack of welcome. Such language also undercuts the empowerment of the congregation to take ownership of its ministry. If church members hear the pastor referring to things as his or hers, they have less incentive to take responsibility themselves.

Most of all, using such language is just plain bad theology. No person is owned by another, and no committee or choir is the pastor's alone. Instead, the whole church shares the work of the whole church. Using "my" language is theologically lazy and totally misleading. When the pastor leaves, the work will go on--it's not for or owned by the pastor. It's to the glory of God.

With this in mind, I tend to avoid even the phrase "my congregation" in favor of "our congregation." I hope this communicates that the church is owned by no one person, and certainly not by me. Yes, many people refer to a church as "my church," and I know what they mean. That's okay--especially for folks who aren't the pastor.

Ultimately, however, it's important to remember that the church and everything and everyone in it belong to God.

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Comments

Really?

If I introduce someone to "my family" then am I declaring ownership of them, or am I simply saying that that's the family I am a part of?

I wonder what my wife, my son or my daughter would think of me using "ownership language" to describe their relationship to me.

Better not tell the Dan Rooney or the University of Iowa that I say "my Hawkeyes" or "my Steelers."

Don't let the General Assembly know that I sometimes talk about "my denomination" either. And I apologize to all other Gen Xers for claiming ownership of them when I talk about "my generation."

And I sometimes refer to where I live as "my town."

All sorts of people in my church say "my church," but none of them are claiming ownership (well maybe one or two). People use "my" all the time to describe something they identify with or belong to.

My thoughts exactly! Er...I mean, a thought associated with me!

Well. he did say it was a PET PEEVE "of mine" (equivalent to "my pet peeve"). I am certain that in most cases when the word "my" is used by pastors, it is the idea of BELONGING TO rather than POSSESSED BY; plus it is a more convenient and economic use of words, and certainly NOT incorrect when the speaker means that of which she or he is a part, partner or leader.

Ownershio

At its root to say, "the congregation I serve" rather than "my congregation" reminds us of our calling in proper focus and hints at the sovereignty of God-

McCormick

McCormick is my seminary.

different for interim

As an interim pastor, I sometimes have to correct myself even saying 'our' in some situations; instead, using 'your'. I am not the settled pastor and my language needs to reflect that.

But I proudly refer to the church where I am a member, not the pastor, as 'my' church.

outsider or brother?

I have this problem too. I do pulpit fill and I want to distinguish activities of the congregation that I'm not part of, but I want to be a part of the church for the brief time I'm filling the pulpit. I try to balance 'your' and 'our' whenever I can. 'You are having a dinner next week' versus 'We are having coffee fellowship today'. Bad example I know, but it is challenging sometimes.

"MY"

It is so true. While I try to avoid sounding possessive, it does creep into our language. Thanks for this great reminder of whose we are.

Thanks for this Adam. You've

Thanks for this Adam. You've articulated very well a frustration that I have had for some time now. "Our," not "my." Amen.

My

I think even non-pastors have to be careful with the use of that word. Anyone at any level within the church can come to see the church as "theirs" rather than Christ's and it's not too long before that ownership mentality manifests itself in the complaints that get lodged and the decisions that are made. Pretty soon you have a church full of people who think the church exists to meet it's particular fancy.

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