Reverend or pastor? What’s in a name?

"Shepherdess Tending Sheep" by Winslow Homer
“Shepherdess Tending Sheep” by Winslow Homer

I once had a pastor who asked people not to refer to him as “Reverend.” When asked to explain this request he stated it was because “God is to be revered, not people.” I’d never thought of “Reverend” as anything more than a title like “Doctor” or “Mister” but when I thought about the term, I began to understand why my pastor rejected it.

According to dictionary.com to revere someone is “to regard with respect tinged with awe; venerate.” Synonyms for “revere” include “worship” and “deify.” Reading the definition and synonyms for the title made me stop and think whether it’s really appropriate.

I mean no disrespect to clergy who use the title and know many who are truly servant leaders, but considering how respect for clergy is on a steady downward trend – a December 2013 Gallup poll reported that less than half of Americans polled considered clergy to be honest and ethical – it might be time for a little humble pie.

How about sticking with the term “pastor” which is derived from the word “shepherd”? The lay folks might be more willing to see their spiritual leader defined as someone who is there to tend, feed, guard, and protect as opposed to someone who is there to be revered.

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5 thoughts on “Reverend or pastor? What’s in a name?

  1. Reverend is a title. Pastor is a role. I am Not my title and I am not my role. But I am called as a minister. I am, indeed, “set apart” by virtue of my calling. My ordination is a recognition of that calling. My education is a byproduct of my calling. Pas tiring is what I choose to do as part of my ministry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting…the UMC refers to all members as ministers. This is from the UMC’s Discipleship Ministries site.

      “In many churches in many areas of the country, church members still refer to their appointed pastor as “the minister.” However, United Methodists are discouraged from using the term “minister” to describe clergy, since all members are ministers by virtue of their calling in baptism to share in “Christ’s royal priesthood.” To refer to the appointed clergy as “the minister” tends to reduce everyone else to the role of “listener,” “consumer,” or “recipient.”

      Any thoughts?

      BTW, do you think “Pas tiring” might be a Freudian slip — “past tiring”?

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  2. You also say the pastor should “tend, feed, guard and protect” ~ but I would include “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The prophetic role/office of the minister (another word in addition to pastor and reverend) is equally important. A prophetic leader will be cautious of guarding and protecting people against political, economic and social realities so that they can retain their insularity and withdrawal from society. Additionally, what is “revered” (your word) is not, in my opinion, the person as much as the office. I often see churches that do the opposite ~ they lack decency and reverence for the person willing to venture into ministry. They and their message are, as Jesus said, treated “reverentially” everywhere except “in their own town [read: church].” And then all that is heard is the slamming of the door as one after another pastor/reverend/prophet/minister comes and goes as the congregations get older, smaller, poorer and more irrelevant until they are heard no more.

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  3. Yes, I definitely agree that the pastor should also be a prophetic leader, although lay people may be in this role as well. In my work I see pastors who are not respected by church members as well as the opposite, but ideally a pastor should be encouraging the sheep not to wander off the path and spend all their time sleeping in the pastures and the sheep should be looking toward the shepherd to be challenged.

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