Minister (Christianity)

Minister (Christianity)

In Christian churches, a minister is someone who is authorized by a church or religious organization to perform functions such as teaching of beliefs; leading services such as weddings, baptisms or funerals; or otherwise providing spiritual guidance to the community. The term is taken from Latin minister “servant, attendant”, which itself was derived from minus “less.”[1]

Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century Baptist minister [1].



Ministers may perform some or all of the following duties:

  • assist in co-ordinating volunteers and church community groups
  • assist in any general administrative service
  • conduct marriage ceremonies, funerals and memorial services, participate in the ordination of other clergy, and confirming young people as members of a local church
  • encourage local church endeavors
  • engage in welfare and community services activities of communities
  • establish new local churches
  • keep records as required by civil or church law
  • plan and conduct services of public worship
  • preach
  • pray and encourage others to be theocentric (that is, God-focused)
  • preside over sacraments (also called ordinances) of the church. Such as: (1) the Lord's Supper (a name derived from 1 Corinthians 11:20), also known as the Lord's Table (taken from 1 Corinthians 10:21), or Holy Communion, and (2) the Baptism of adults and/or children (depending on the denomination)
  • provide leadership to the congregation, parish or church community, this may be done as part of a team with lay people in roles such as elders
  • refer people to community support services, psychologists or doctors
  • research and study religion, Scripture and theology
  • supervise prayer and discussion groups, retreats and seminars, and provide religious instruction
  • teach on spiritual and theological subjects
  • train leaders for church, community and youth leadership
  • work on developing relationships and networks within the religious community
  • provide pastoral care in various contexts
  • provide personal support to people in crises, such as illness, bereavement and family breakdown
  • visit the sick and elderly to counsel and comfort them and their families
  • administer Last Rites when designated to do so [2]

Training and qualifications

Depending on the denomination the requirements for ministry vary. All denominations require that the minister has a sense of 'calling.' In regards to training, denominations vary in their requirements, from those that emphasize natural gifts to those that also require advanced tertiary education qualifications, for example, from a seminary, theological college or university.

References to leadership roles in the New Testament

There are a range of references to leadership in the New Testament.

Colossians 1:25 "I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness" (NIV-The Quest Study Bible, copyright 1994, p 1628).

One of the clearest references is found in 1 Timothy 3:1-16, which outlines the requirements of a minister or bishop (Episcopay Επισκωπη [Greek], interpreted as elder by some denominations):

1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. 14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (King James Version)

Related titles

Bishops, priests and deacons

The Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, United Methodist (USA) and some Lutheran churches have three orders of ordained clergy:

  • Bishops are the primary clergy, administering all sacraments and governing the church.
  • Priests administer the sacraments and lead local congregations; they cannot ordain other clergy, however, nor consecrate buildings.
  • Deacons play a non-sacramental and assisting role in the liturgy.

The term rector (from the Latin word for ruler) or vicar may be used for priests in certain settings, especially in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopal traditions.

In the Episcopal Church in the United States, a parish, which is responsible for its own finances, is overseen by a rector. A bishop is nominally in control of a financially-assisted parish but delegates authority to a vicar (related to the prefix "vice" meaning substitute or deputy).


The term "pastor" means "shepherd" and is used several times in the New Testament to refer to church workers. Many Protestants use the term as a title (e.g., Pastor Smith) or as a job title (like Senior Pastor or Worship Pastor).


The English word clergy derives from the same root as clerk and can be traced to the Latin clericus which derives from the Greek word kleros meaning a "lot" or "portion" or "office". The term Clerk in Holy Orders is still the technical title for certain Christian clergy, and its usage is prevalent in ecclesiastical and Canon Law. Holy Orders refer to any recipient of the Sacrament of Ordination, both the Major Orders (bishops, priests and deacons) and the now less known Minor Orders (Acolyte, Lector, Exorcist and Porter) who, save for certain reforms made at the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church, were called clerics or Clerk, which is simply a shorter form of Cleric. Clerics were distinguished from the laity by having received, in a formal rite of introduction into the clerical state, the tonsure or corona (crown) which involved cutting hair from the top and side of the head leaving a circlet of hair which symbolised the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ at His crucifixion.

Though Christian in origin, the term can be applied by analogy to functions in other religious traditions. For example, a rabbi can be referred to as being a clergy member.

Parson is a similar term often applied to ordained priests or ministers. The word is a variant on the English word person from the Latin persona used as a legal term for one having jurisdiction.

Dominie, Dom, Don

  • Dominie is a specific Scottish word, equivalent to the Dutch Dominee, both from the Latin domine (vocative case of Dominus 'Lord, Master'), only used for Protestant clergy or for schoolmasters.
  • However in various Romance languages, shortened forms of Dominus (Dom, Don) are commonly used for Catholic priests (sometimes also for lay notables as well). Benedictine Monks are titled Dom, as in the style Dom Dan Brown.

Chaplains and padres

Chaplain as in English and/or almoner (preferred in many other languages) or their equivalents refer to a minister who has another type of pastoral 'target group' than a territorial parish congregation (or in addition to one), such as a military units, schools and hospitals.

The Spanish word Padre ('father') is often informally used to address military chaplains, also in English and Portuguese (Brazil)


Elders (in Greek, πρεσβυτερος [presbyteros]; see Presbyter) in Christianity are involved in the collective leadership of a local church or of a denomination.

  • In Presbyterianism they are ordained but not clergy, taking on no special pre-nominal, but functioning as the ruling elders of the Kirk Session or Church Session superintending the members of their parish or congregation.
  • In the Assemblies of God and the Metropolitan Community Church Elders are the most senior leaders serving, leading, and supervising the worldwide denomination. In the Metropolitan Community Church an Elder can be a lay person or clergy.

Leaders and pastoral agents

Lay people, volunteers, pastoral agents, community leaders are responsible to bring teaching the gospel in the forefront helping the clergy to evangelize people.Agents ramify in many ways to act and be in touch with the people in daily life and developing religious projects, socio-political and infrastructural.

  • Jehovah's Witnesses consider every baptized Witness to be a "minister"; the religion permits any qualified baptized adult male to perform a baptism, funeral, or wedding.[3] Typically, however, each such service is performed by an elder or a "ministerial servant" (that is, a deacon), one of the men appointed to "take the lead" in local congregations. Witnesses do not use "elder" or any other term as a title, and do not capitalize the term.[4] They do not accept payment and are not salaried employees or considered “paid clergy”, but they receive donations from members of the congregation to help them with their everyday expenses. The religion's Governing Body may appoint any adult baptized male as an elder, but more typically assigns certain other committees (typically, at branch offices) to make such appointments on its behalf; appointment is said to be "by holy spirit" because "the qualifications [are] recorded in God’s spirit-inspired Word" and because appointing committees 'pray for holy spirit'.[5]
  • In many evangelical churches a group (multiple elders as opposed to a single elder)[6] of (non-staff) elders serve as the spiritual "shepherds" or caretakers of the congregation,[7] usually giving spiritual direction to the pastoral staff, enforcing church discipline, etc. In some denominations these elders are called by other names, i.e.; traditionally "Deacons" in many Baptist churches function as spiritual leaders.[8] In some cases these elders are elected and serve fixed terms. In other cases they are not elected but rather they are "recognized by the congregation as those appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) and meeting the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7."[9]


Monsignor is an ecclesiastical title of honor bestowed on some priests.


  • A prelate is a member of the clergy having a special canonical jurisdiction over a territory or a group of people
  • Usually, a prelate is a bishop. Prelate sometimes refers to the clergy of a state church with a formal hierarchy, and suggests that the prelate enjoys legal privileges and power as a result of clerical status


  • "Father" is a term of address for priests in some churches, especially the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions
  • "Padre" (used Brazil too) from Spanish means father is frequently used in the military of English-speaking countries
  • A priest of the regular clergy
  • A pre-Scholastic Christian writer accepted by the church as an authoritative witness to its teaching and practice
  • "Mama" is the local native language term for English speaking Anglican priests in the Anglican Church of Melanesia. It means "father" in several local languages in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.


  • In Christianity, an archbishop is an elevated bishop, responsible for all churches belonging to a religious group of a particular district.
  • a bishop at the head of an ecclesiastical province or one of equivalent honorary rank


There are contrasting views on the level of compensation given to ministers relative to the religious community. There is often an expectation that they and their families will shun ostentation. However there are situations where they are well rewarded for success, whether measured through drawing people to their religious community or enhancing the status or power of the community.

The acceptance of women in ministry has increasingly become an established practice within many global religious faith groups, with some women now holding the most senior positions in these organizational hierarchies. There continues to remain disagreement between the more traditionally fundamental global church denominations and within their denominational church membership and fundamental church leadership as to whether women can be ministers.

Notable contention over the issue of ordination of practicing homosexuals, however, occurred in the 1980s within the United Church of Canada, and in the 1990s and early 21st century within the Presbyterian Church USA. Likewise, The Episcopal Church, the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is also divided over the issue of ordination of practicing homosexuals. This conflict has severely damaged relationships between American Anglicans, and their brothers and sisters in the third world, especially Africa and southeast Asia.

Styles and forms of address

In the majority of churches, ordained ministers are styled 'The Reverend'. However, as above, some are styled 'Pastor' and others do not use any specific style or form of address, in which case it would be Mr, Ms, Miss or Mrs as the case may be.


In Anglican churches the formal form of address of ordained ministers varies according to their office, as below.[10][11]

  • Deacons and Priests, from ordination onwards - The Reverend
  • Deacons and Priests appointed as Canons - The Reverend Canon
  • The Dean (or Provost) of a cathedral church - The Very Reverend
  • The Archdeacon of a diocese or region - The Venerable
  • Bishops (diocesan, suffragan, or coadjutor) - The Right Reverend
  • Archbishops (and other Primate Bishops) - The Most Reverend

In all cases, the formal title should be followed by a Christian name or initial, e.g. The Reverend John Smith, or The Reverend J Smith, but never just The Reverend Smith.

These are formal titles. In normal speech (either addressing the clergy or referring to them) other forms of address are often used. For all clergy this may include the titles "Father" (male) or "Mother" (female), particularly in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, or simply the appropriate secular title (Mister, Doctor, etc.) for that person, particularly in the evangelical tradition. Bishops may be addressed as "My Lord", though less formally simply as "Bishop". Similarly, Archbishops may be addressed as "Your Grace", though less formally simply as "Archbishop". The titles "My Lord" and "Your Grace" refer to the places held by these prelates in the Church of England within the order of precedence of the state; however, the same titles are also extended to Bishops and Archbishops of other Anglican churches, outside England.

Roman Catholic

In the Roman Catholic Church the form of address depends on the office the person holds, and the country in which he is being addressed as they are usually identical to the titles used by their feudal or governmental equals. In most English-speaking countries the forms of address are:

  • A priest is usually referred to as Father; sometimes he is addressed as Your Reverence or Reverend Father.
  • A bishop is addressed as Your Excellency or, less formally, Excellency. In Britain and some other countries they are formally addressed as My Lord or My Lord Bishop.
  • An archbishop is also addressed as Your Excellency or, less formally, Excellency. In Britain and some other countries they are formally addressed as Your Grace.
  • A cardinal is addressed as Your Eminence.
  • The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church can be addressed as Holy Father or Your Holiness.

In France, secular priests (diocesan priests) are addressed "Monsieur l'Abbé" or, if a parish priest, as "Monsieur le Curé". In Germany and Austria priests are addressed as "Hochwürden" (meaning "very worthy") and/or with their title of office (Herr Pfarrer, i. e. Mr. Parson). in Italy as "Don" followed by his name (e.g. "Don Luigi Perrone").

Religious priests (members of religious orders) are addressed "Father" in all countries (Père, Pater, Padre etc.).

Up until the 19th century, secular clergy in English-speaking countries were usually addressed as "Mister" (which was, in those days, a title reserved for gentleman, those outside the gentry being called by name and surname only) and only priests in religious orders were formally called "Father". In the early 19th century the English-speaking custom of calling all priests "Father" came into being.

In the Middle Ages, before the Reformation, secular priests were entitled as knights, with the prefix "Sir". See examples in Shakespeare's plays like Sir Christopher Urswick in Richard III. This is closer to the Italian and Spanish "Don" which derives from the Latin "Dominus" meaning "Lord". The French "Monsieur" (like the German "Mein Herr", the Italian "Signor" and the Spanish "Señor") also signifies "My Lord", a title commonly used in times past for any person of rank, clerical or lay.

In some particular circumnstances the term "minister" itself is used by the Catholic Church, such as the head of the Franciscans being the Minister General.[12]

In the Greek-Catholic Church, all clergy are called "Father" including deacons, who are titled "Father Deacon," "Deacon Father," or simply "Father". Depending on the ethnicity and institution, seminarians may be titled "Brother", "Brother Seminarian", "Father Seminarian" or simply "Father". Their wives are never titled "Mother" or anything of that sort, and usually titled "presvytera", "matrushka" or "khourriyye" as in the Orthodox world and also by their first names. Greek-Catholic Patriarchs are addressed Your Beatitude. Eastern clergy are not usually called by their last name; the Christian name or ordination name is used instead.


Greek and other Orthodox churches

The form of address for Orthodox clergy varies according to order, rank and level of education. The most common forms are the following [13]:

Addressee's Title Form of Address Salutation
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Your All Holiness
Other Patriarchs His Beatitude, the Patriarch of ... Your Beatitude
Archbishops of independent Churches, Greece, Cyprus, etc. His Beatitude, the Archbishop of ... Your Beatitude
Archbishops of Crete, America, Australia, England (under Ecumenical Patriarchate) His Eminence Your Eminence
Metropolitans His Eminence Your Eminence
Titular Metropolitans His Excellency Your Excellency
Bishop / Titular Bishop The Right Reverend Bishop of ... Your Grace
Archimandrite The Very Reverend Father Dear Father
Priest (Married and Celibate) Reverend Father Dear Father
Deacon Reverend Father Dear Father
Abbot The Right Reverend Abbot Dear Reverend Father
Abbess The Right Mother Superior Reverend Mother
Monk Brother Dear Brother
Nun Sister Dear Sister

Armenian Apostolic

The form of address to the clergy of the Armenian Apostolic Church (belongs to the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches [14]) is almost the same.

Addressee's Title Form of Address Salutation
Catholicos of All Armenians[15] His Holiness, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians [16] Your Holiness
Catholicos of Cilicia[17] His Holiness, Catholicos of Cilicia[18] Your Holiness
Patriarch[19] His Beatitude, the Armenian Patriarch of ... Your Beatitude
Archbishop His Eminence Your Eminence
Bishop His Grace Your Grace
Supreme Doctor Monk (Tsayraguyn Vardapet) (Armenian: ծայրագույն վարդապետ) The Right Reverend Father Right Reverend Father
Doctor Monk (Vardapet) (Armenian: վարդապետ) The Right Reverend Father Right Reverend Father
Celibate priest (Armenian: աբեղայ) The Very Reverend Father Very Reverend Father
Archpriest (Armenian: ավագ քահանայ) Archpriest Father Dear Father
Priest (Married) (Armenian: քահանայ) Reverend Father Dear Father
Deacon Reverend Father Dear Father
Monk Brother Dear Brother
Nun Sister Dear Sister

See also


  1. ^ "Etymologically, a minister is a person of ‘lower’ status, a ‘servant’. The word goes back via Old French ministre to Latin minister ‘servant, attendant’, which was derived from minus ‘less’."
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Applying the General Priesthood Principle", The Watchtower, February 1, 1964, page 86, "Among the witnesses of Jehovah any adult, dedicated and baptized male Christian who is qualified may serve in such ministerial capacities as giving public Bible discourses and funeral talks, performing marriages and presiding at the Lord’s evening meal or supper. There is no clergy class."
  4. ^ "Jehovah’s Sheep Need Tender Care", The Watchtower, January 15, 1996, page 15, "Christian elders are appointed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and care is exercised not to use such terms as “pastor,” “elder,” or “teacher” as titles."
  5. ^ "Chapter 4: Why Respect Authority?", “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love”, ©2008 Watch Tower, page 43, "Elders are appointed by holy spirit. (Acts 20:28) How so? In that such men must first meet the qualifications recorded in God’s spirit-inspired Word. (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 12; Titus 1:5-9) Further, the elders who evaluate a brother’s qualifications pray earnestly for the guidance of Jehovah’s holy spirit."
  6. ^ See Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1 for examples of a plurality of elders in a church
  7. ^ See Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2
  8. ^ Though this is changing as many churches desire to become increasingly "influenced by a more biblically informed hermeneutic", see pg. 6
  9. ^ Biblical Eldership, A.Strauch, Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth, 1995.
  10. ^ See "How to address the Clergy" in Crockford Clerical Directory, including the on-line version.
  11. ^ Forms of clerical address outlined at Debretts etiquette guide.
  12. ^  "Minister". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  13. ^ Greetings & Salutations to Orthodox Clergy
  14. ^ See Orthodox Churches (Oriental) and A List of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox WCC Member Churches.
  15. ^ See Catholicos of All Armenians.
  16. ^ For official documents such as Encyclicals, the lengthened title is as follows: ..., Servant of Jesus Christ, By the Mercy of God and the Will of the Nation, Chief Bishop and Catholicos of All Armenians, Supreme Patriarch of the Pan-National Pre-Eminent Araratian See, the Apostolic Mother Church of Universal Holy Etchmiadzin. See Catholicos of All Armenians
  17. ^ See Catholicos of Cilicia.
  18. ^ See Biographical sketch of H. H. Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of Cilicia.
  19. ^ There are two patriarchal sees in the [Armenian Apostolic Church] - the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

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