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What is a pastor emeritus?

pastor emeritus audio

Emeritus is an honorary title bestowed on someone who has retired from a distinguished office (such as pastor, professor, chancellor, or another professional or academic position). Granting such a title is a way of honoring the individual’s service.

Emeritus is a Latin participle that means “served one’s term” or “earned one’s discharge by service.” From its Latin root, we get the English word merit. Thus, the title emeritus expresses the idea that a person has earned a special place of respect and distinction through faithful service. In bestowing the title, an organization honors a person as worthy to continue holding the title of the office last held, even after retiring from active service.

By conferring the title pastor emeritus to a retiring minister, the church leadership recognizes his dedicated service to the church. Depending on the church or denomination, the title may include ongoing duties, such as serving in an advisory role to the leadership group or the current pastor. Based on the retired pastor’s desire to continue serving, it may also involve a teaching or preaching role. Benefits for the position, at least as far as monetary compensation, are up to the individual church or denomination.

There are no biblical guidelines or precedents for naming someone pastor emeritus other than those of the by-laws of the organization or church conferring the honor. It is, however, right and fitting for a church or congregation to recognize the faithful ministry of those who shepherd and serve them with dignity, integrity, and dedication.

The apostle Paul urged, “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance” (1 Thessalonians 5:12, NLT). He wrote to Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). The Greek word Paul used in both passages, translated as “work hard” and “labor,” emphasizes intense energy and toiling to the point of extreme fatigue.

Spiritual leadership is challenging and weighted with responsibility. Many long hours of study and difficult work of ministry are done without notice or thanks. Bestowing the title of pastor emeritus is an excellent way to demonstrate honor, respect, and gratitude for selfless pastoral service.

A few examples of prominent ministers who hold or have held the title of pastor emeritus include Charles Stanley, Adrian Rogers, John Stott (rector emeritus), Jack Hayford, W. A. Criswell, and John Piper.

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This page last updated: June 7, 2024