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Question: What are the various religious credentials and what do they mean?
Answer: While some titles are interchangable, the words surrounding a church leader's name signify her or his duties in their house of worship. However, the nuances in meaning for a title such as "bishop" or "deacon" changes depending on the denomination.
The Baptist Church relies on the Latin meaning of the word pastor, which is to shepherd, said Michael Haykin, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor of church history.
"The whole idea there is the shepherding of people the way sheep are shepherded, they need to be guided and taken care of, so the idea is that the pastor will be a shepherd," Haykin said. "That's probably the most common term for leaders in Baptist churches."
The titles "the reverend" and "minister" are older ways of signifying someone's job, though they are rarely used now, he said. In general, someone with the title of minister would be more focused on preaching than looking out for the health of the congregation, he said.
While the Baptist denomination does not have bishops, they are used in the Episcopal Church for people who oversee multiple churches in a geographic diocese. Bishops can ordain new members of clergy and are involved in caring for the various pastors in local churches, said Michael Thompson, a member of Christ Church Episcopal in Chattanooga. For example, the Rt. Rev. Brian Lee Cole is the bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee. In the Episcopal Church, priests and bishops can marry.
In the Pentecostal tradition, pastors have the same mission as in the Baptist Church, though the term "elder" is sometimes used interchangeably with pastor, said Daniel Tomberlin, Pentecostal Theological Seminary instructor in pastoral ministries. Deacons are church leaders who are not ordained, and some churches have a group of deacons who act as a board of directors, Tomberlin said.
While not always, the title "Doctor" usually applies to church leaders in the Pentecostal movement with a doctorate in philosophy or ministry, he said.
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