The Difference Between a Pastor and Staff Minister

St. Mark Ministries   -  

Written by St. Mark Staff Minister, Brandon Steenbock:

What is the difference between a Pastor and a Staff Minister?

We get this question a lot, with two Pastors and four Staff Ministers, not to mention our awesome support staff who do so much ministry. Our Pastors and Staff Ministers tend to do a lot of the same things – teaching, counseling, visitation ministry, and leading worship. In October, we celebrate “Pastor and Staff Minister Appreciation Month.” What is the difference, and why does it matter? Let me help.

At St. Mark, we use the definitions for Pastor and Staff Minister provided by our church body. St. Mark is a member of a church body called the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). The WELS leadership has defined a Pastor as someone who has graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary with a Master’s of Divinity and is called to oversee, or shepherd, a congregation. They have defined a Staff Minister as someone who has completed certification for ministry through Martin Luther College and is called to use Word and Sacrament to oversee ministry and shepherd people alongside a Pastor.

Difference in Training

Our Pastors have a four-year Bachelor’s Degree emphasizing study in Greek and Hebrew, and a four-year Master of Divinity from our seminary that focuses on systematic and historical theology, preaching, and practical theology. Staff Ministers often have a four-year Bachelor’s Degree that focuses on theological studies and practical ministry skills, with a one-year internship. Some have other degrees and get certified later on, and some pursue a Master’s in specific area of ministry.

See a visual diagram here.

Difference in Roles

Our Pastors are responsible for broad oversight of the congregation and for the regular preaching of God’s Word in worship. At a congregation like St. Mark, our Pastors divide up duties based on their gifts and strengths. For example, Pastor Ben Workentine oversees all our discipleship ministry and preaches and teaches God’s Word, while Pastor John Parlow oversees the ministry staff, casts the vision, and preaches and teaches God’s Word. Some churches only have one Pastor to do all the work.

Our Staff Ministers typically specialize. For example, Tim Babler plans our worship services and leads our worship teams. Sarah Broehm leads our women’s ministries. Sometimes duties shift based on personnel or education or changing needs. Sometimes Staff Ministers preach on occasion, as two of ours do at St. Mark. Pastors and Staff Ministers work together as a team to lead our ministries and shepherd God’s people with Word and Sacraments.

See a visual diagram here.

Different Roles, One Call

Even though Pastors and Staff Ministers have different training and differences in their roles, both exist to serve God’s people based on what we refer to as “the Call.” This is a biblical idea that is based in Romans 10:15 (as well as plenty of other passages) that says that for people to speak with the authority of God’s Word, they should be designated by God’s people to do so. In other words, no one should just stand up and say, “I’m going to preach to you today!” Instead, a church invites, or “calls,” people to serve on their behalf. St. Mark has invited our Pastors and Staff Ministers to serve by preaching and teaching God’s Word, baptizing and serving Communion, and overseeing our ministries. God’s Word encourages all church members to respond with thanks and willing cooperation. As it says in Hebrews 13:17, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

As one of your Staff Ministers, I feel so privileged to serve among you. The people of St. Mark truly make it a joy to serve. Thank you for giving all of us – Pastors, Staff Ministers, and other staff members – the chance to work with you for the growth of God’s Kingdom!