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?

Posted on January 30, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • HI Thom. Great work. What is the definition of “Brother” and what are some of the churches that use it? Is this job title used in churches that do not have seminary-trained pastors? I suspect it is an un-ordained or non-rostered pastor or preacher. I need this for a short story I am writing. Thanks!

  • Rev.Muhima Balaam says on

    To my brothers and sisters in Christ the lord, well done for the kingdom of God, you are doing the good job.
    What can i do to join your ministry? I will be glad if you put my request under your consideration.
    yours in Christ Jesus

    Rev. M.Balaam Fort-portal city ,mid western Uganda, Rwenzori area.

1 2 3 4