Titles for clergy tend to be shared across different denominations. You’ll find a priest in the Catholic church as well as the Anglican church and some Lutheran churches. Titles like reverend, minister, pastor and deacon, are also common among multiple denominations.
But there are some differences in who gets these titles and what their role is in the church. In this post, I focus specifically on the distinction between reverend vs. minister vs. pastor.
What You'll Learn Today
Reverend vs. Minister vs. Pastor: What’s The Difference?
Let’s start with what all three titles share: they are titles given to senior members of the clergy. In most churches, they are only given to ordained clergy.
Let’s look at each title individually.
‘Pastor’ is a common title in protestant churches. It refers to a person authorized or ordained to head up a church or congregation.
The word pastor means ‘shepherd’ in Latin. As the Bible makes clear, the pastor is in charge of the flock, which refers to the congregation.
Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Pastors are in charge of leading weekly services at a specific church, as well as other kinds of fellowships.
A pastor may also lead funerals, weddings and other ceremonies involving one of congregants.
Pastors are not just in protestant churches; even Catholic churches have a pastor. A pastor is the same as a parish priest.
Similar to a pastor, a parish priest is in charge of a particular parish. They lead mass as well as things like funerals and weddings.
Parish priests can perform most of the sacraments except the sacrament of Confirmation (unless given special permission) and Holy Orders.
A minister is the same as a pastor, and typically holds the same role in the church. Some denominations use the title ‘minister’ to refer to their pastors.
‘Minister’ is latin for servant or attendant, which perfectly describes the main role of a pastor according to the Bible. The work of a minister is to attend to the flock.
The term ‘reverend’ is primarily an adjective used to describe an honored member of the clergy, usually a pastor, minister or priest.
Reverend comes from the verb ‘revere’. So a reverend is a clergy who holds great honor and respect in the church.
You’ll find many pastors who are also referred to as reverend. Sometimes, the two titles will be used together. For example, Pastor Reverend Jane Smith.
However, some denominations reserve the term reverend for more senior pastors such as those in charge of multiple churches in an area.
To summarize, a pastor is a member of the clergy in charge of a church, a minister is the same as a pastor, and reverend is a title of respect given to some pastors or ministers.
Other Common Clergy Titles
Pastors, minister and reverend are not the only clergy titles that can be confusing. Here are other titles common across Christian denominations, including Catholic, Anglican and protestant churches.
A deacon is the lowest rank of clergy in most churches, including the Catholic church. The role of deacons is to assist the priest or pastor in carrying out certain duties.
In the Catholic church, a deacon can perform the sacrament of baptism, witness marriages, preside over funeral services, and distribute Holy Communion.
In many churches, a deacon can also be invited to preach.
Similar to the first deacons in the Bible (including Stephen) who were selected to help distribute food to the poor, today’s deacons are also expected to help out with church administration logistics.
They can help distribute bulletins, prepare for sacraments like communion and baptism, and arranging cleaning and maintenance of the church.
‘Father’ is another title for a priest. It is common in the Catholic and Anglican churches. This title, which has its origin in the word ‘abbot’, denotes the grave responsibility of a priest to take care of the flock.
They are spiritual fathers.
An elder is essentially another title for pastor. The New Testament uses the word elder or overseer many times to refer to people with spiritual authority to shepherd a church.
The New Testament suggests that each church should have multiple elders who work together to minister to the congregation.
An evangelist is someone who preaches or spreads the gospel. It’s a title that’s usually given to missionaries and preachers, especially those from a protestant church.
The word evangelist means ‘someone who proclaims good news’. In fact, the four authors of the Gospels are sometimes referred to as the four evangelists. They were the original spreads of the gospel.
Bishop & Archbishop
In the Catholic church and several other denominations, a bishop is a priest who is in charge of a diocese.A diocese is a group of churches forming a district.
A bishop can perform all sacraments including Confirmation and Holy Orders.
An archbishop is a bishop of a higher rank. An archbishop is usually in charge of the bishops and priests in a large area (called a metropolitan archdiocese). They can also be the head of all the bishops and priests in a country.
The diocese that an archbishop is in charge of is referred to as an archdiocese.
All these titles can be confusing. But most churches have a simple hierarchy that’s easy to understand.
At the bottom are the laity or the ordinary congregants. These are the flocks of Jesus over whom a pastor or priest is responsible.
Next is the lowest level of clergy – the deacons. These are the helpers of the church and assistants to the priest.
Next is the priest, pastor or minister. A pastor is in charge of a particular church. Elders and overseers also fall into their category.
Above a pastor or priest is a bishop, who is in charge of several pastors within an area, often called a district or diocese.
Some protestant churches end their hierarchy there. But Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches also have an archbishop.