For persons named Pastor, see Pastor (surname). For the Mexican dish, see Al pastor. For the bird genus, see Rosy starling.

A pastor (UK: /ˈpɑːstə/; US: /ˈpæstər/) is usually an ordained leader of a Christian congregation. When used as an ecclesiastical styling or title, the term may be abbreviated to "Pr" (singular) or "Ps" (plural). A pastor also gives advice and counsel to people from the community or congregation.


The word "pastor" derives from the Latin noun pastor which means "shepherd" and relates to the Latin verb pascere - "to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat".[1] The term "pastor" also relates to the role of elder within the New Testament, but is not synonymous with the biblical understanding of minister. Many Protestant churches call their ministers "pastors".

Present-day usage of the word is rooted in the Biblical image of shepherding. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) uses the Hebrew word רעה (roʿeh). It occurs 173 times and relates to the feeding of sheep, as in Genesis 29:7, or to the spiritual feeding of human beings, as in Jeremiah 3:15, "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding" (NASB).

Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael, 1515. In telling Peter to shepherd his sheep, Christ appointed him as a "pastor".

English-language translations of the New Testament usually render the Greek noun ποιμήν (poimēn) as "shepherd" and the Greek verb ποιμαίνω (poimaino) as "to shepherd". The two words occur a total of 29 times in the New Testament, most frequently referring to Jesus. For example, Jesus called himself the "Good Shepherd" in John 10:11. The same words in the familiar Christmas story (Luke 2) refer to literal shepherds.

In five New Testament passages though, the words relate to church workers:

  1. John 21:16 - Jesus told Peter: "Shepherd My sheep" (NASB)
  2. Acts 20:17 - the Apostle Paul summons the elders or presbyters of the church in Ephesus to give a last discourse to them; in the process, in Acts 20:28, he tells them that the Holy Spirit has made them bishops, and that their job is to shepherd the flock of God among them.
  3. 1 Corinthians 9:7 - Paul says, of himself and the apostles: "who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?" (NASB)
  4. Ephesians 4:11 - Paul wrote "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers" (NASB)
  5. 1 Peter 5:1-2 - Peter tells the elders among his readers that they are to, "shepherd the flock of God among you" (NASB)

Bishops in Western Christianity often bear a formal crosier in the form of a stylised shepherd's crook as a symbol of their pastoral/shepherding functions.

Historical usage

Around 400 AD, Saint Augustine, a prominent Roman bishop, described a pastor's job:

Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved.[2]

Current usage


In the United States, the term pastor is used by Catholics for what in other English-speaking countries is called a parish priest. The Latin term used in the Code of Canon Law is parochus.

The parish priest is the proper clergyman in charge of the congregation of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ's faithful, in accordance with the law.[3]


Pastor Dr. Arthur Schmidt (1866-1923), pastor in Bielsko-Biała (1894-1923)

Many Protestants use the term pastor as a title (e.g., Pastor Smith) or as a job title (like Senior Pastor or Worship Pastor). Some Protestants contend that utilizing the appellation of pastor to refer to an ordained minister contradicts the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers by elevating a single individual above the rest of the congregation and facilitating a clergy/laity divide. United Methodists, for example, ordain to the office of deacon and elder; each of whom can use the title of pastor depending upon their job description. United Methodists also use the title of pastor for non-ordained clergy who are licensed and appointed to serve a congregation as their pastor or associate pastor, often referred to as "licensed local pastors". These pastors may be lay people, seminary students, or seminary graduates in the ordination process, and cannot exercise any functions of clergy outside the charge where they are appointed.[4] The use of the term "pastor" can also be regional in some denominations, including some parts of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Seventh-day Adventist, American Churches of Christ, and Baptist traditions.

The use of the term pastor to refer to the common Protestant title of modern times dates to the days of John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. Both men, and other Reformers, seem to have revived the term to replace the Catholic priest in the minds of their followers. The pastor was considered to have a role separate from the board of presbyters. Some Protestant groups today view the pastor, bishop, and elder as synonymous terms or offices; many who do are descended from the Restoration Movement in America during the 19th century, such as the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ.

The term pastor is sometimes used for missionaries in developed countries to avoid offending those people in industrialized countries who may think that missionaries go only to less developed countries. In some Lutheran churches, ordained clergy are called priests, while in others the term pastor is preferred. Ordained clergy are called priests in the Episcopal Church, as in all other branches of the Anglican Communion.

Leaving the ministry

Observers, such as clergy counselor Rowland Croucher, suggest that the numbers of "ex-pastors" roughly equals that of serving clergy throughout the Western world.[5] This would mean people who have left the ministry number in the six-figures. More pastors and priests may be leaving parish ministry than are lost to most other professions.[6] Until the early 1990s, there were few cross-denominational ministries serving this group. Croucher collected data-based questionnaires of ministers of Protestant denominations.[7][8][9]

The first writers to explore this research area used questionnaire surveys to look at factors such as age, education and family relationships as contributing factors to decisions to leave the ministry.[10] Other writers have explored ex-pastors within particular denominations[11][12][13] and/or focused on particular related issues such as burnout,[14][15] stress,[16][17] marital stress,[18] sexual abuse,[19] celibacy,[20] loneliness,[21] organisational factors,[22][23] and conflict.[24] One common cause of conflict occurs when differing approaches to ministry compete in the minds of clergy, congregation and community, as Norman Blaikie found in Australian clergy from six Protestant denominations.[25]

For some of the estimated 10,000 ex-pastors from Australian Protestant churches, their transition was a normal mid-career move, voluntarily entered into like many of the role exits described in the classic study by sociologist (and ex-nun) Helen Ebaugh.[26] Yet for many the transition out of parish ministry was premature. Clergy, churches and training bodies need a solid basis for understanding and action in order to reduce the attrition rate and enhance clergy, congregational and community health. Some denominations experience particularly high rates of attrition.[27]

Key recommendations to help alleviate stress in clergy exit situations may revolve around the development of professional supervision and continuing education. Professional supervision for ministry is a method of reflecting critically on ministry as a way of growing in self-awareness, cultural and social awareness, ministry competence and theological reflection skills.[28][29] Supervision that includes an element of peer group work has the potential to facilitate collaborative learning, enhanced group dynamic skills and ongoing supportive networks.[30] Some denominations are encouraging their clergy to engage in professional supervision, as part of their mandatory requirement of professional standards, but the requirements and standards of clergy supervision are often haphazard or absent.

See also


  1. Harper, Douglas. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-11-15.
  2. Sermon CCIX, cited in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, John Wiley & Sons, Dec 27, 2011, p.271
  3. Code of Canon Law, canon 519
  4. United Methodist Church, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. "Ministry of Local Pastors" (PDF). Higher Education and Ministry. General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the United Methodist Church. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  5., How Many Ex-Pastors?
  6., Ex-pastors
  7. Croucher, R. (1991). 'Ex-Pastors: What Happens When Clergy Leave Parish Ministry?' Unpublished manuscript. Melbourne: Monash University.
  8. Croucher, R. (1991b). Questionnaire for Ex Pastors. Accessible at
  9. Croucher, R. and S. Allgate (1994). ‘Why Australian Pastors Quit Parish Ministry.’ Pointers: Bulletin of the Christian Research Association, 4(1, March).
  10. Jud, G. J., E. W. Mills and G. W. Burch (1970). Ex-Pastors: Why Men Leave the Parish Ministry, Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press.
  11. Parer, M. S. and A. Peterson (1971). Prophets and Losses in the Priesthood: In Quest of the Future Ministry, Sydney: Alella Books.
  12. Rice, D. (1992). Shattered Vows: Priests Who Leave, New York: Triumph Books. Schon, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, New York: Basic.
  13. Ballis, P. H. (1999). Leaving the Adventist Ministry: A Study of the Process of Exiting, Westport, CT: Praeger.
  14. Kaldor, P. and R. Bullpitt (2001). Burnout in Church Leaders, Adelaide: Openbook Publishers.
  15. Evers, W. and W. Tomic (2003). "Burnout among Dutch Reformed Pastors", Journal of Psychology and Theology 31: 329-338.
  16. Pryor, R. J. (1982). High Calling, High Stress: The Vocational Needs of Ministers, an Overview & Bibliography, Bedford Park, SA: AASR.
  17. Pryor, R.J. (1986). At Cross Purposes: Stress and Support in the Ministry of the Wounded Healer, Newtown, VIC: Neptune Press.
  18. Merrill, D. (1985). Clergy Couples in Crisis: The Impact of Stress on Pastoral Marriages, Carol Stream, IL: Word.
  19. Ormerod, N. (1995). When Ministers Sin: Sexual Abuse in the Churches, Alexandria, NSW: Millennium Books.
  20. Della Cava, F. A. (1975). "Becoming an Ex-Priest: The Process of Leaving a High Commitment Status", Sociological Inquiry 45: 41-49.
  21. Whetham, P. and L. (2000). Hard to Be Holy: Unravelling the Roles and Relationships of Church Leaders, Adelaide, SA: Openbook Publishers.
  22. Seidler, J. (1979). "Priest Resignations in a Lazy Monopoly", American Sociological Review 44: 763-783.
  23. Knust, J. L. (1993). "A System Malfunction: Role Conflict and the Minister", Journal of Psychology and Christianity 12(3): 205-213.
  24. Dempsey, K. (1983). Conflict and Decline: Ministers and Laymen in an Australian Country Town, North Ryde: Methuen.
  25. Blaikie, N. W. H. (1979). The Plight of the Australian Clergy: To Convert, Care or Challenge?, St Lucia: University of Queensland.
  26. Ebaugh, H. R. F. (1988). Becoming an Ex: The Process of Role Exit, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  27. Kaldor and Bullpitt (2001), p. 13
  28. Pohly, K. (2001). The Ministry of Supervision: Transforming the Rough Places, Franklin, TN: Providence House, pp. 107-108.
  29. Paver, J. E. (2006). Theological Reflection and Education for Ministry: The Search for Integration in Theology, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, pp. 81-100.
  30. Skaggs, B. (1989). "Group Supervision", in The Supervision of Pastoral Care, ed. D. A. Steere. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, pp. 172-182.


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