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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. The minister may serve a congregation or participate in a role in a parachurch ministry. A person ministering to a particular congregation or religious group is generally designated as a Pastor. Ministers performing in other roles may be referred to as a preacher, chaplain, deacon, elder, or bishop. 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, "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 a Bishop, but this is usually a hierarchical designation, for management or coordination of the church organization.

Professional ministers in many religious affiliations 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.

Issues[edit | edit source]

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, and/or people who are homosexual can be ministers to their churches.

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.

Roles[edit | edit source]

Ministers may perform some or all of the following duties:

  • research and study religion, Scripture and theology
  • plan and conduct services of public worship
  • teach on spiritual and theological subjects
  • preach
  • 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)
  • Conduct marriage ceremonies, funerals and memorial services, participate in the ordination of other clergy, and confirming young people as members of a local church
  • 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
  • encourage local church endeavors
  • work on developing relationships and networks within the religious community
  • supervise prayer and discussion groups, retreats and seminars, and provide religious instruction
  • assist in co-ordinating volunteers and church community groups
  • train leaders for church, community and youth leadership
  • 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
  • engage in welfare and community services activities of communities
  • refer people to community support services, psychologists or doctors
  • pray and encourage others to be theocentric (that is, God-focused)
  • keep records as required by civil or church law
  • establish new local churches

Training and qualifications[edit | edit source]

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 from those that emphasise gifts and abilities and place little emphasis on book learning 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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

Priests/Vicars[edit | edit source]

The Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican/Episcopal churches refer to their ordained clergy as deacons, priests, and bishops.

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/deputy).

Pastor[edit | edit source]

Main article: Pastor

The term Pastor tends to be used in many Protestant churches. Pastor comes from the Latin word 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.

Clergy[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

  • 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 Romanesque 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[edit | edit source]

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.

Elder[edit | edit source]

Elders 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 world-wide denomination. In the Metropolitan Community Church an Elder can be a lay person or clergy.
  • Among Jehovah's Witnesses an Elder is selected by the Governing Body of the Faithful and Discreet Slave class under the direction of the holy spirit. Elders among Jehovah's Witnesses are given more responsibility like overseeing the congregation and giving advanced parts.

Forms of address[edit | edit source]

In the majority of churches ordained ministers are titled Reverend, however as above some use the term pastor and others do not use any specific form of address, in which case it would be Mr, Ms, Miss or Mrs as the case may be.

Anglican Churches[edit | edit source]

In Anglican Churches the form address depends on the office the person holds:

  • A priest is referred to as Reverend (as in the Reverend Mr Smith, or the Reverend John Brown, but not as Reverend Smith) or in High Church or Anglo-Catholic circles as Father; female priests often go by the title Mother or Pastor.
  • Bishops and archbishops are addressed as Your Grace or My Lord.

Roman Catholic Church[edit | edit source]

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 referred to as Your Reverence, Reverend Father, or less formally as Father;
  • A bishop is addressed as My Lord;
  • An archbishop is 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, a secular priest (i.e. Diocesan priest) is addressed "Monsieur l'Abbé" or, if he is Parish Priest, "Monsieur le Curé", in Germany and Austria he is addressed "Hochwurden" (meaning "very worthy"), in Italy he is addressed "Don" followed by his name (e.g. "Don Luigi Perrone").

Religious priests (i.e. 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 addressed as "Mr" (which was, in those days, a title reserved for gentleman, those outside the gentry being called by name and surname only) and only religious priests were 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 e.g. 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 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 addressed by first name. Greek-Catholic Patriarchs are addressed Your Beatitude. Never are Eastern clergy called by their last name; the Christian name or ordinational name is used instead.

Orthodox Churches[edit | edit source]

An Orthodox Church metropolitan or patriarch is addressed as Your Beatitude.

See also[edit | edit source]

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