A minister is, literally, a “servant,” but the word has taken on a broader meaning in religious circles. Today, a Christian minister is seen as someone authorized to conduct religious services. A person who leads worship services, administrates a church, or conducts weddings and funerals is considered a Christian minister. Synonyms of minister are clergy and pastor.
In the Bible, the role of minister is not linked to licensing or being an “official” wielding some kind of authority. In Romans 15:16 Paul says that he was called to be “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. [God] gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Following in Paul’s footsteps, any person who desires to serve God by “proclaiming the gospel so that . . . others might become sanctified by the Holy Spirit” is a Christian minister. Broadly speaking, being a servant of Christ makes one a Christian minister.
Individual churches can define more specific roles for that church’s ministers or pastors. Although Scripture indicates that the spiritual authority of a local body should be a man (1 Timothy 2:12), other ministering roles are available to both men and women. In most non-Catholic churches, a senior minister is responsible for the majority of the preaching and for overseeing church government. In the New Testament, such men are referred to as “overseers,” “elders,” or “shepherds” (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7; 1 Timothy 3:1–2). These terms are referencing “ministers” in an official capacity—those having been called by God to lead a church.
There are strict guidelines for those aspiring to the office of overseer. An elder or minister must be “blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient . . . not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:6–9)
First Timothy 3:1–7 adds that the role of overseer is “a noble task.” Also, a minister should not be a recent convert and must “have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
Even in the first-century church, there were some who infiltrated the church, posing as ministers but motivated only by greed and lust (2 Peter 2:1–2, 19; Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29). Not everyone who calls himself a Christian minister is worthy of that title. God takes such imposters seriously (Jude 1:12–13). A true Christian minister is someone gifted by God for church leadership (1 Corinthians 12:28–29). He has been ordained by a like-minded governing body (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 2 Timothy 1:6). And he lives in accordance with the Scriptures defining his role.