Thirteen Terms for “Pastor”

I guess “pastor” is the more common name used in congregations. You can say, “pastor,” and most people know what or whom you are referencing.

But the times are changing. And so is the name.

To be clear, there are some denominations and religious traditions that have never used “pastor” to describe the spiritual leader of the church. I know of more than one denomination and Christian fellowship where “minister” is the only term used.

But as local congregations across America continue to experience significant changes, we are seeing the more common term of “pastor” declining in favor of more expanded, or even totally different, terms. And I am not even speaking of all the others who serve on a church staff. The multiple terms for those different roles seem unlimited.

If you spent your entire life in one denomination or fellowship, you may think the names used for church staff are uniform. The evidence, though, points to much variety.

But let’s take a moment and look at the different names for the leader of a congregation. I found these examples in just a few minutes of searching:

  • Pastor – still the most common term, at least for now.
  • Senior pastor – typically is used when the church has more than one minister or pastor on staff. The senior pastor oversees the other staff members.
  • Lead pastor – most of the time this phrase is used synonymously with senior pastor.
  • Teaching pastor – in some churches, the name refers to someone who preaches or teaches in a primary worship service, but who is not the senior pastor. In other cases it is synonymous with senior pastor.
  • Preaching pastor – same as teaching pastor
  • Teaching elder – same as teaching pastor in the context of a plurality of leadership.
  • Preaching elder – pretty much the same as teaching elder.
  • Vision pastor – already located this term in several churches; in all cases it is synonymous with senior pastor.
  • Campus pastor – typically used in churches that have more than one location. This person has leadership over one of those locations.
  • Minister – see pastor.
  • Teaching minister – see teaching pastor.
  • Preaching minister – see preaching pastor.
  • Bishop – in some cases it is synonymous with senior pastor; in other cases it is used to describe a leader over pastors in multiple congregations.

I have no doubt I’ve missed several other names for pastor. What names can you add to this list? What do you think about the multiple terms that are being used?


  1. Andrew says

    Reverend. Even though I do not like to be called by this term it is a common term especially in older traditional churches

  2. says

    @Sally I have never liked the use of reverend to refer to myself as a Pastor. There is one place, and only one place where the word reverend is used and that is in reference to God. Some of the translations use the word “awesome.” It is a word that calls for fear, respect, and of course reverence. That isn’t me. I prefer Pastor, Preacher or even Brother.

  3. Leslie Fogleman says

    I am called Brother Les even by those outside the church. I have also been called “preacher” which I think is more of a derogatory term.

  4. John S says

    I am either called “Brother John” or “Preacher” in the very rural setting I minister to. I like it when they call me “Preacher” honestly. Haven’t heard it yet used as a derogatory term.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jeff –

      You’re right, but I have not heard those terms used as synonyms for the pastor or senior pastor.

  5. Thom Rainer says

    Great input! I should have included “preacher” since it is used synonymously with “pastor” as a colloquial expression in many rural churches. I see “brother” and “reverend” more as titles than replacements for “pastor,” such as “our pastor, Brother Smith.” I admit, though, I’ve heard on a few occasions “reverend” used as a synonym for “pastor”: “He is our reverend.” That usage is rare. I do like fried chicken though Scott : )

    • Hal says

      I really dislike being called “preacher.” A preacher is a thing, a characature, a cartoon. Movies like Pale Rider and novels like The Ox Bow Incident reflect this perception. And who can forget Hank Jr.’s opening line: “The preacher-man says it’s the end of time/The Mississippi River she’s a goin’ dry”? And I can’t begin to count the number of “preacher” jokes I’ve overheard in the coffee shop. I try to get people to call me by my first name, but only a handful will do it (most others call me “Brother”. So they become my favorites, the preacher’s pets.

      • Leslie Fogleman says

        I have only pastored small churches. They call you preacher until you are accepted by them as their pastor. For some, especially older men, they never accept you as their pastor and will always call you preacher.

  6. Keith Jones says

    Just plain “Elder” was synonymous with ‘pastor’ in the early days of Baptists in America, and still is in some areas and denominations, e.g. primitive Baptists, some National Baptists, and in pockets of Appalachia. In some other churches, ‘elder’ has become a synonym for ‘deacon’ or similar office (sometimes for ‘overseer’)

  7. Paul says

    Preacher. In typical smaller church I find this title is used to describe one the person will be taught by but doesn’t quite trust them enough to call Pastor. The term Leader has been used greatly in the last year. I am personally not a fan because it tends to allow ones holding a ministry position to remove the things they don’t they don’t like from their job description.

  8. liz says

    I miss when pastors were shepherds. Now pastors are CEO of businesses, authors & their musicians record worship albums. Pastors are celebrities. Visionaries….but rarely shepherds. I may be in the miniority but I think if pastors returned to shepherding, people would stop leaving church daily by the thousands.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Liz. I have not heard the term “shepherd” used to replace “pastor.” I certainly know that the pastor functions as a shepherd. though. Though we can all point to examples of pastors who have used the office for personal gain, I truly believe that the vast majority of pastors act as shepherds who truly love and care for the sheep.

      • says

        Thanks Liz, I prefer ‘shepherd’ also.
        When someone from another church or fellowship calls me pastor I almost kinda cringe. It seems too out of place for someone I don’t regularly have contact with to call me that.
        But for where I am and with whom I serve; I am their shepherd. In the trenches with them, struggling just like they are against the elements.

        • Phil says

          I tell folks I’m not the shepherd, I’m the head sheep. He’s the shepherd. But I’ve heard the phrase “undershepherd” used, and I’ve used it myself.

  9. Mary says

    My preacher/pastor husband has been called a few other words too in his 34 yrs of ministry but I can’t print them. Fortunately these were few.

  10. says

    The comments here are very interesting – entertaining (in a good way). A lot of folks have difficulty with having a special title attached to their name, they just want to serve as a Christian and happen to deliver messages/sermons/preach/teach/etc. So they use a word to describe the function. and not office. Great conversation – thanks for starting it.

  11. says

    I have a senior adult in our church that calls me “Parson.” He does it to be funny, but I think I’ll change my business cards to say this and maybe buy a horse to ride to church. Maybe even have Sunday lunch at Charles Ingall’s home.

  12. Dayton Mix says

    In Methodism, DEACON and ELDER are the two primary ‘clergy’ possibilities. Elder lines up with pastor. Deacon is more service oriented (usually) without the preaching and sacramental roles. One other term comes to mind, from a Christmas carol even: PARSON. I know of no one who still uses it, but we DO still talk about the home of the pastor being a PARSONAGE.

  13. James Forbis says

    Reverend, Brother, and Pastor are the three I like the most. My “home” church in Longview, Texas pastor goes by Brother Wayne, even on his business cards and on the church sign outside. The DOM for my local association goes by Reverend Lomax just as our SBC President goes by Reverend Luter. Personally I also like to call pastors who have a doctorate using that title, like my current pastor in Fayetteville, Ar is Dr. Falknor, it shows respect for the time spent in attaining the higher level of education. I think though when I attain my MDiv ill want people to call me Master Bro. Forbis. 😉 Hahaha

  14. David Oregon says

    I have been called the following titles:
    His Grace
    The Rev.
    The Rev. Dr. (Oh, and I have not yet earned that doctorate)
    Deacon (When I was serving in an Associate Role)
    A few you would have to delte from your web site, and my all time favorite

  15. says

    Interesting. No Bible references were given for this list, but isn’t that where we should go for any “name” we give to those who preach the word or lead the church?

    In the Bible elders (always plural in the church) were appointed in the churches. Other names are shepherds, overseers, bishops, pastors – but always plural – never for one person. These men were over the individual congregation, then also appointed deacons to help see to the needs of the people so that the elders could focus on the spiritual needs.

    As for the one who preaches the word to the church, there are three words that are used in scripture: preacher, minister and evangelist.Diakonos, meaning one who serves, a servant.

    A preacher is a minister or servant of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 4:6). His work is to serve the Lord’s Word, the Gospel to all men (Acts 6:4; Rom. 15:16). A “good minister of Jesus Christ” must also “put the brethren in remembrance of these things…” (1 Tim. 4:6). A preacher is to “take heed to the ministry which (he) hast received in the Lord, that (he) fulfill(s) it” (Col. 4:17).

    Kerux which means a herald, a public proclaimer from the king who authoritatively declares the king’s law to the people which must be obeyed. The Lord authorized (1 Tim. 2:7) and sent out His preachers or “heralds” into all the world (Rom. 10:14-18). Their sole work is to proclaim His message, the gospel (2 Tim. 2:1-7; 4:1-5).

    The word “evangelist” is from the Greek word euangelistes and simply means a messenger of good. Christ gave evangelists (Eph. 4:11-12) to bear His good message, the “gospel” which means “good news.” Paul warned preachers to “do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (1 Tim. 4:5). Paul charged “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

  16. J.R. says

    Rob, or while in chuch Pastor Rob. I like to make the distinction between while out of church and in church. Outside we are are friends, we need that fellowship for each other…while in the four walls or being more formal I give him the respect for his knowlge and title. But if were fishing ,hunting or just being buds…..Rob.

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