In the course of my research, I studied the staff listings of about 400 congregations. In the vast majority of churches studied it was very easy — indeed painfully easy — to tell who was ordained and who was not by their job titles. Most commonly the title pastor is reserved for the clergy. Lay staff are distinguished by the secular nature of their job titles. They are directors or coordinators or administrators. A clergy person responsible for administration is called executive pastor while a lay person with the same responsibilities is called the business administrator. A clergy person responsible youth leadership is called the youth pastor or youth minister while a lay person with the same role is called the youth director.
This approach raises the question, “why use secular titles for sacred work?” A small fraction of the churches studied have chosen to use the titles pastor and minister more inclusively – for a clergy person or a lay person – if that individual’s job is to pastor or minister. The title describes the person’s function rather than their status.
During my formative years as a Christian adult, the lead clergyperson in my church had a wonderful way of referring to himself. “I’m one of the ministers of the church,” he would always say as a group went around the table with introductions. His refusal to assert the title Senior Pastor was a deliberate effort to level the playing field, to elevate the rest of us, and to take our ministries seriously.
I invite congregations employing lay persons in ministry to communicate their openness to the ministry of all Christians by reexamining their system of job titles in a way that affirms the sacred work of their lay ministers and is precise about responsibilities and expectations. When it is necessary to specify the status of those who are licensed, commissioned, or ordained, it is probably more precise to use the words “clergy” or “ordained,” which have specific meanings in the discipline, than pastor or minister.