Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” Mark 8:27-29

Jesus posed this question to disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Well, I pose this same question today, particularly, as it relates to titles in the church and academic setting. Who do you say that I am? Well, it all depends on who you ask…

If you grew up in “my hood,” you certainly call me, “LL!” Very few use my first name, “Carol.” In high school, my Latin teacher called me, “Helen of Troy.” The Campbell Divinity School community has given me the following names—“D-Brinks, Binky, Condi, Sunshine, Mama, LynnaBeth, and yes…Olivia Pope!” My pastor calls me, “The Closer.” My cousin, “JK,” has called me “Vera” (from the TV show Alice) most of my life. Finally, (I will be brave and put it out there) my dad has always called me, “Little House Kitten” (DO NOT repeat that)!

Since earning my D.Min., I have adjusted to being called “Dr. Brinkley” by students accustomed to calling me, “Lynn.” Nevertheless, I am trying to embrace this title and proper protocol in the academic setting, which brings me to this month’s Ministry Manners topic, “Titles in the Church and Academia.”

Recently, I had a conversation with a student who referred to two of our professors as “Barry and Larry” (Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my)! It is just bad manners for a student to refer to a professor on a first-name basis. Even if you know a professor personally outside the classroom, unless permission is granted to ALL students to use a professor’s first name, it is best practice to address your professor as “Dr.” or “Professor” in an academic setting.

I extend this conversation to proper use of titles in the church. Through my experience preaching cross-culturally, I have come to recognize most black and white churches view the use of titles in the church differently. In white churches, it is common for a pastor to be called by his or her first name. In most African-American churches, the pastor is called “pastor,” “Rev.,” or “Dr.” Why the difference?

Historically, black churches were the one place in which people of color could have status, position, and respect. Black congregants celebrated the academic and leadership achievements of its members that were often invisible or ignored in larger society.

Whether I preach in a black or white church, I strive to honor what they honor. But at the end of the day, in both church and academia, we strive to honor the one whose title is above all, Jesus Christ, Lord of All!”

So, who do you say that I am? . . . I am who I am. #C.LynnBrinkley
C. Lynn Brinkley serves as the director of student services and alumni relations at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Lynn is also an adjunct professor at Campbell and an ordained minister at First Baptist Church in Clinton.