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In Christian churches, a minister is someone who is authorized by a church or religious organization to perform clergy functions such as teaching of beliefs; performing services such as weddings, baptisms or funerals; or otherwise providing spiritual guidance to the community.



A minister may serve a congregation or participate in a role in a parachurch ministry. A person ministering to a particular congregation or religious group may be designated as a pastor. Ministers in other roles may be referred to as preachers, chaplains, deacons, elders, or bishops. An increasing number of charismatic Christians recognize the offices of the five-fold ministry, which they consider a revival of original Christian practice.

In Protestant churches, the word "minister" generally refers to a member of the ordained clergy who leads a congregation as its pastor. A minister may also participate in a leadership role in a parachurch or allied ministry such as a street ministry, reaching out to those in the community who do not attend or regularly participate in church services or activities. Such a person may also be referred to as a preacher, chaplain or elder (although in some cases, an elder may be a layperson, not fully-ordained as a minister). A minister may also be designated as a bishop, but this is usually a hierarchical designation, for management or coordination of the church organization.

Ministers in many church traditions are seen as set apart from the community to which they minister through ordination. They may be provided a stipend, a wage or a salary.

All denominations make some claim to finding their model of leadership (or church governance) in the New Testament. However the variety of relationships is large, ranging from the view of a minister as one of the people, to that of the minister as a priest or church leader, set apart with special qualifications or authority.

Ecclesiology is the area of theology that relates to church structures and ministry.

British Methodist ministers

In the Methodist Church of Great Britain, a minister is a clergyman who is appointed to a circuit of churches. He or she is ordained to a unified ministry as bishop, priest and deacon. In many cases a single minister may be in charge of several congregations within a circuit, but it is usual for larger churches to have a minister of their own.

A larger grouping of the church is called a district. The chairman of the district is a minister who has been appointed to that district, as if it were a congregation. Part of their role is to minister to the ministers. However, this is not equivalent to ordination as a bishop. After serving a term as a chairman, they may transfer back to a circuit or a single church in a usual ministerial role.

Candidate for ministry are appointed to a circuit before being ordained. They are licenced to perform all the duties of an ordained minister by authority of the Methodist Church. Ministers are not ordained as temporary deacons.

The Methodist Church of Great Britain also ordains permanent deacons who are simultaneously members of a religious order of regular clerics called the Methodist Diaconal Order.

Within a circuit all the ministers, deacons, and lay preachers take turns to lead worship at the various churches.


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.


Ministers may perform some or all of the following duties:

  • assist in co-ordinating volunteers and church community groups
  • 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 [1]

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.

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.

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 tends to be used in many Protestant churches. Pastor comes from the Greek word poimen meaning shepherd and is a reference to Jesus' use of the title the Good Shepherd for himself. A person serving as a pastor will be assigned to a local church or congregation who may be referred to as his or her flock.


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 Francis Brown.

Chaplain and Almoner, Padre

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 unit, school population, patients, etc.

The Spanish Padre ('father') is informally used to address them, also in English.


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.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses consider every baptized Witness to be a "minister"; the religion permits any baptized adult male to perform a baptism, funeral, or wedding. Typically, however, each such service is performed by an elder (or a "ministerial servant"), one of the men appointed to "take the lead" in the local congregation. Witnesses do not use "elder" or any other term as a title, and do not capitalize the term.[2] 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'.[3]
  • In many evangelical churches a group (multiple elders as aopposed to a single elder)[4]of (non-staff) elders serve as the spiritual "shepherds" or caretakers of the congregation,[5] 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.[6] 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 congreation as those appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) and meeting the qualifications of 1 Timiothy 3:1-7."[7]


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" 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


  • 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

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 form style and form of address depends on the office the person holds:

  • Priests and deacons are styled The Reverend (as in The Reverend John Brown, but not as Reverend Smith). More High Church or Anglo-Catholic priests are usually addressed Father. Female priests sometimes use the title Mother. Low Church clergy often go by Mr, Ms, Miss, or Mrs (The Reverend Jane Smith in writing, Miss Smith in personal address).
  • Bishops and archbishops are sometimes also addressed as My Lord (bishops) and Your Grace (archbishops).

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 "Hochwurden" (meaning "very worthy"). 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.[8]

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 [9]:

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 [10]) is almost the same.

Addressee's Title Form of Address Salutation
Catholicos of All Armenians[11] His Holiness, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians [12] Your Holiness
Catholicos of Cilicia[13] His Holiness, Catholicos of Cilicia[14] Your Holiness
Patriarch[15] 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: աբեղա) The Very Reverend Father Very Reverend Father
Archpriest (Armenian: ավագ քանահա) Archpriest Father Dear Father
Priest (Married) (Armenian: քանահա) Reverend Father Dear Father
Deacon Reverend Father Dear Father
Monk Brother Dear Brother
Nun Sister Dear Sister

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "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."
  3. ^ "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."
  4. ^ See Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1 for examples of a plurality of elders in a church
  5. ^ See Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2
  6. ^ Though this is changing as many churches desire to become increasingly "influenced by a more biblically informed hermeneutic", see pg. 6
  7. ^ Biblical Eldership, A.Strauch, Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth, 1995.
  8. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Minister". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  
  9. ^ Greetings & Salutations to Orthodox Clergy
  10. ^ See Orthodox Churches (Oriental) and A List of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox WCC Member Churches.
  11. ^ See Catholicos of All Armenians.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ See Catholicos of Cilicia.
  14. ^ See Biographical sketch of H. H. Aram I Keshishian, Catholicos of Cilicia.
  15. ^ There are two patriarchal sees in the [Armenian Apostolic Church] - the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Simple English

Ministry, in Christianity, is the activity that is done by members of the church to serve the purposes of the church.

It can mean this activity as a whole, or specific activities, or organizations in a church that perform specific activities.

Age-specific Ministry

As churches attempt to meet the needs of their congregations, they often separate their members into groups according to age categories. Age-specific groups meet for religious study including Sunday school programs, fellowship, and other activities. These age divisions may include:

  • Nursery
  • Pre-school
  • Children, generally elementary age students
  • Youth, generally middle and high school students
  • College and career, designed for university-age students
  • Adults, which is often broken up into single adults, couples ministry, men's and women's ministries, and senior adults.

Nearly all churches have some form of worship music, whether from a choir, orchestra, or worship band.

Service and outreach

Many churches sponsor ministries designed to reach out others on a local and global scale, usually grouped under the heading of missions. There are many organizations which perform missions on a fully-funded and organized level, such as North American Mission Board, operated by the Southern Baptist Convention.

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