What is the structure of a typical Protestant Church or Clergy?


I know the structure of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. I am curious how the Protestant Clergy or leadership is structured. I would like to see some compare the two.

So the question is, how are Protestant clergy structure?


depends on the type of protestant you are speaking about. Any specific group?


All of them. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyerterians, Lutherans, etc,


Go to www.wikipedia.com and search for Southern Baptist Convention (it is the largest Protestant denomination in America).

I was raised, loosely, in a Southern Baptist Convention church. My conversion to Catholicism 15 years ago was partly due to several things which I learned as I saw my father become active in the council of our neighborhood church. [And yes, my father argues with me about religion every time I see him.]

  1. The church council (very similar to a parish council) hires and fires their clergy. They interview several pastors and hire the one who satisfies the particular “flavor” of Baptist belief that the individual church favors. If the pastor preaches things that the people and/or the church council does not like, they will admonish him and eventually fire him if he does not change his ways. As you might expect, many pastors feel lead by God to preach what the people need to hear – consequently they are “frequently” let go and a pastor they are more comfortable with is hired as a replacement. Baptists are big on “the rapture” and there are several “flavors” of millenialism (the end of things) which are hotly debated.

  2. The typical pastor has about 2 years of Bible College, some years of experience as a youth minister when he was a younger man, maybe some time spent as a missionary or raising funds for missions, some years as a junior pastor, etc. But his actual education was only 2 years. And this is not really a requirement. Actually, anybody can rent some space and hang up a sign that says “Baptist Church” and just start preaching. Not surprisingly, there is a wide variety in the preaching at the various churches: in quality, substance, style, theology, biblical interpretation, etc.

  3. But more to the point, the various Baptist Conventions themselves do not have a solid teaching and they simply have some general guidelines that serve as tenets of the faith. As meager as these guidelines may be, churches which call themselves members of a particular Convention aren’t even obligated to adhere to them!

As an aside: In the Catholic Church, we typically hear the priest talk about the Diocesan Drive a couple of weeks each year. In addition, there may be some other important financial matters that he will briefly mention prior to the Dismissal. As my job requires that I move frequently, I have seen this done by MANY priests and it is always done very apologetically as if the priest is embarrassed to have to speak of such things. And yet I have heard Catholics complain bitterly as we leave the church about the priest “constantly badgering us for more money.” Well, you have heard NOTHING compared to the Baptist churches. Catholics used to tithe 4%, but following the recent pedophile scandals tithing is down to around 2.5%. Baptist tithing is around 8%. Why? Because the Baptist pastors preach about tithing and stewardship about once each month – and the typical Baptist sermon is 25 to 35 minutes long, whereas the typical Catholic homily is only 10 to 15 minutes long. What a pain it was to listen to those tithing sermons! Although, the Baptists also preach sin, hell, and damnation – which, actually, is something I greatly miss in the Catholic Church. But I will admit that I am somewhat glad not to be constantly beat over the head with it.


The Presbyterian Church is governed by a number of bodies called courts.

Each congregation has a Board of Elders called Kirk Session, kirk being the Scottish word for church. There are two types of elders or presbyters, ruling elders and teaching elders. The ruling elders are ordained after selection by the congregation. They undergo some training. The teaching elders are the Ministers of Word and Sacrament. They are graduates of a recognized theological school and are ordained as elders. The minister acts as the moderator of the Kirk Session which is responsible direction, Christian education and pastoral care of the congregation. Ministers are called by the congregation after a candidate is put forward by Session. Generally 80% of the members on the church roll must sign the call.

The second level of governance is the Presbytery which includes a number of congregations in a geographical area. It consist of the ministers from each congregation and representative elders from each congregarion. Each congregation sends as many elders as it has ministers. Presbytery oversees the congregations in its area and provides support to the ministers. Presbytery approves any calls made by a congregation as well as any minister leaving a congregation.

The third level consists of the Synod, which groups together a number of Presbyteries. The Synod is made up of representatives from the various Presbyteries. They operate camps, provide training and educational events and have varying degrees of supervision of congregations.

The highest body is the General Assembly. It meets annually and is made up of an equal number of lay and ministerial representatives. It sets policy for the entire church and decides what actions to take on recommendations and reports by the church’s permanent agencies. It elects a Moderator who chairs the assemby and acts as the ceremonial representative of the church for the next year.

The above is based on the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the actual workings may vary somewhat from country to country.


Jesus Christ is the head and we are the members of the body.
Each member is assigned to do a specific work within the body. No one is considered “higher” than any other member. A pastor is not “higher” than the person on the worship team or the person greeting people at the door. We’re all just servants taking care of the master’s house while He’s gone.

Mar 13:34
[For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.


Define typical.

Each denomination is different.


You can’t just lump them as Protestant and expect an accurate answer to your question. It depends upon the denomination. Anglicans for the most part are very similar in clergy structure to the CC and in some facets identical. On the other hand, I would say Pentecostals for the most part are vastly different in all respects. These are two totally different churches that you would call both Protestant. You have to make the distinction.


The UMC is led by a General Conference (with both clergy and laypeople as delegates) which meets every four years. The authority of the GC is limited by a set of “Restrictive Rules” (for instance, it cannot change the official statements of faith of the denomination).

The UMC is divided into a number of “Annual Conferences” (which as their name implies meet every year, comprising all the clergy in the conference and lay delegates from each congregation). The Annual Conferences are each led by a bishop (though one bishop may preside over several Conferences, grouped in an “episcopal area”), assisted by a cabinet. The bishop and cabinet make decisions regarding the appointment and removal of clergy to/from local congregations (with input from the congregation), and these decisions are announced/confirmed at Annual Conference. The Conferences are themselves grouped into “jurisdictions,” and the jurisdictional conferences (composed equally of clergy and laity) elect bishops.

Becoming a UMC pastor is a lengthy process, usually involving seminary (though there is an alternative summer program called “Course of Study”) and involving several stages at which one is examined by a commission appointed by the annual conference. One anomaly from a Catholic point of view is that typically ordinands become “local pastors” (with authority to preach and celebrate the sacraments within one congregation) before actually being ordained as elders and made “members in full connection” of an annual conference. The UMC used to ordain everyone as a deacon first and then elder (as in Catholicism), but they have now instituted a new system (about 10 years ago) in which those who are going to be elders do not need to be ordained as deacons first.



That’s a really good question and I sometimes think about it myself. The easiest down-and-dirty answer to such a broad question is to say that all church structures outside the Catholic/Orthodox spectrum are a reformation/retooling of what was in the Catholic Church (in spite of protests to the contrary).

For instance, Luther orginally never intended to leave the Catholic Church and the strictest Lutheran synods to this day have many vestiges of Catholicism in their structure, though they have also undergone some changes. The Reformers badmouthed the hierarchical system of Catholicism, but if you look down through history all the way to the furthest removed of them–Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ–you will still find a one-man ruling system (more or less) where the pastor (and/or presbytery) calls the shots.

Even churches that teach the “priesthood of the believer” tend to have a pastor whom everyone looks to as the “leader” as they used to look to a priest. There are many who have tried to stem this tendency by forming house churches where everyone is equal, but almost invariably someone emerges as a “pastor”–either officially or functionally. People tend to revert to what they have always known. Even in the Presbyterian churches, they may all be equal, but they ain’t all equally powerful.

The voting churches have always amused me. Imagine–a congregation voting pastors in and out! Where is that in scripture? The last place you will find written that elders actually listened to the Holy Spirit to direct them regarding the placement of fellow servants is in Acts. Never comes up again–not even in the writings of the Church Fathers, to my knowledge. And so has the Church universal ever been–deciding for Herself what is right and what is wrong–by vote, by hierarchical rule–eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What must God think of all this?

I know people who have left all these systems, but it pains me that they often leave things that are good along with the bad. I have to believe that God has a purpose in the lives of even these men I might not think of as a real “priest” or “pastor”–many are real believers and how can we dismiss that fact and count them as worthless on account of a (maybe) misplaced title? I figure God will sort it all out in the end, and I don’t break my brains over it too much anymore. I listen for the spirit in the mouth of the servant and let it go at that.


There are three basic forms of church government: episcopal, congregational, and presbyterian.

The episcopal system is governed from the top. The authority comes from God, down to the bishops, down to the local ministers. The word “episcopal” is related to the word “bishop.”

The congregational system is governed from the bottom. The authority resides in the congregation/assembly/church (these three words are almost synonymous). From the assembly, leaders and teachers are chosen according to their manifest abilities and the leading of the Spirit of God.

The episcopal system resembles monarchy; the congregational system resembles democracy.

The presbyterian system resembles republicanism. It is a mixed system where authority is distributed all up and down the line of government. SyCarl described it well in his earlier post. The word “presbyter” means “an elder” (one of the New Testament words for a minister). Generally speaking, I think the authority bubbles up and then trickles down. This makes the elders sort of like coffee grounds in a percolator. I mean that in a good way.


I reiterate what others have said: each Protestant denomination is different when it comes to organizational structure. And each non-denominational ecclesial community is different.

Since not a lot of people know about the Christian and Missionary Alliance, I’ll describe it.

The C&MA is an evangelical Protestant denomination. For the most part, C&MA churches in the U.S. are small (under 500 members or less), but overseas, there are C&MA churches that have thousands of members and attendees.

The Council is a group of men, all pastors and former missionaries, who run the denomination. There is a President, VP, Treasurer, and Secretary, and there are various committees that run the missions, the statements of faith, the youth programs, etc.

The pastors have a Bachelor’s Degree and I believe either two or four years of seminary. They are quite educated. Missionaries in the denomination have a Master’s Degree, two years of home service (usually in a church in the U.S. or whatever their home country is), and six months or more of foreign service in the field that they will be sent to.

The C&MA has the largest percentage per membership of missionaries of ANY of the Protestant denominations. In fact, the church was originally not a denomination, but a mission-sending organization started by A.B. Simpson.
To this day, many C&MA churches designate 50% or more of their church budget towards missions.

Each C&MA church has a Senior pastor. The pastor is called by the church after he campaigns. As of yet, there are no women pastors in the C&MA in the United States, but women do attend seminary and become teachers and professors.

Each C&MA church has elders and deacons who are elected by the congregation. The elders are responsible for the spiritual needs of the congregation, while the deacons are in charge of the physical needs. There are also deaconnesses, who work with the women and children in the church.

When my husband and I were part of the C&MA, a person had to be a member of the church before they were allowed to do a teaching ministry in the church. Sunday school, club leaders, choir directors–all had to be members.

Also, divorced people were not allowed to be pastors or teachers in this denomination. I don’t know if this has changed or not; I don’t think it has. We still receive the denominational magazine of the C&MA, and I don’t remember seeing any announcement.

The C&MA seems to be one of those denominations that is quite hostile toward Catholics overseas. We know a lot of C&MA missionaries who talk about the mix of Catholic and pagan that many people practice overseas. These missionaries feel that it is their calling to bring these people to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I have to admit that I myself am confused when I hear about Catholics who also practice ancestor worship or voodoo. Since I don’t actualy live in these nations, and the missionaries DO live there, I have to think that they know what they’re talking about.

Our C&MA pastor was a missionary to Viet Nam in the 1950s-1970s. He and his family (wife and four little children) got out two weeks before Saigon fell. He and his family lived in the thick of the fighting of the Viet Nam war. He did NOT like the Catholics, who apparently worked with the Communists during the war and were responsible for the murders of many of his Montignard friends and fellow missionaries. Again, I’m upset by this, but since he lived there and I didn’t, and since many of HIS friends lost their lives in Viet Nam because of their faith–I will have to say that I believe what he says, even though it is dreadfully condemning of Catholics. Sorry, Catholic friends. Perhaps this kind of thing is one of the reasons why Vatican II happened. ??


Actually, any Catholic sympathies with the Communists would be a result of liberation theology, a decidedly post-Vatican-II development. I am surprised by this, because after all Catholicism in Vietnam was linked to the French colonizers. The leader of South Vietnam during the early stages of the war was a Catholic. I suspect that the same thing may be true here as in Latin America–Catholicism was historically linked to colonialism, and in the 60s and 70s there was a reaction against this among some priests and laity which took the form of sympathies with Communism. However, this is just a guess.



He is not lumping them all together. He is asking people to explain the different branches of Protestant church structure. So what denomination are you and how does your particular church function?


Hey as just about any gardener will tell you coffee grounds are considered to be “black gold” in the gardening world! :thumbsup:


Here is another quick guide to church government-- Generally, church government reflects the style of the secular government during which it was formed.


Church of England (Anglican)

Sometimes have a Curate - who is an assistant/trainee. They are usually ordained Deacon and then after a year ordained Priest. They often move around to experience different parishes at different stages of their training.

A Vicar or Priest - the boss - with overall oversight and responsibility. A clergyman can be Vicar of several parishes at once

Team ministries (these are not the norm but occur)
A Team Rector - who has overall oversight and responsibility.
Team Vicars - normally having oversight and responsibilty for one or more churches in the team.
Team Curates - like parish Curates, but within a Team

Non-stipendiary ministers (NSMs) - these are ordained Priest but do not get paid for it as such…they just help out.
Some act as Vicars, Team Vicars etc.
Others are assistants in a parish.
Others may see their main area of ministry in their workplace.

These are collections of parishes.
Each has a Rural or Area Dean who is usually a Vicar (or whatever) with some responsibilities within the Deanery.

There are 44 Dioceses in the Church of England which includes Europe, Sodor and Man and within Winchester Diocese the Channel Islands. There are probably some other anomalies such as the Falkland Islands.

Each Diocese has a Diocesan Bishop.
A Bishop is set apart (consecrated) for a particular role which includes ordaining other clergy, discipline, oversight and so on. Evangelicals see a Bishop as a Priest given a wider area of ministry. Anglo-Catholics tend to see the Bishop as the real business and the Priests in his Diocese as his assistants.

Every Diocese consists of one or more Archdeaconry.
An Archdeacon is, contrary to the name, a Priest who takes on certain roles, more practical than pastoral, to keep the Diocese ticking over.

Every Diocese has a Cathedral, which is like a big parish church but with certain wider responsibilities.
There are usually a few clergy serving at a Cathedral. The chief clergyman is usually the Dean, and others tend to be called Residentiary Canons but there are some variations.

Just occasionally a Bishop may be in charge of a parish - the last Archbishop of York retired to look after a parish in the Yorkshire Dales and some Bishops come back to this country from abroad and take a parish post.

There are two provinces in England (Canterbury and York) each with an Archbishop who has some legal responsibilities over t he Diocese within his province and a role in the appointment of other Bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the chief Bishop, but remains a Diocesan Bishop. He has various legal and state functions. He also has responsibility within the wider Anglican Communion of churches.



Well I am Anglican as you know and ours is very similar to yours. We have the Baptismal font near the altar with the Paschal candle near it. We have a Sacristy and a Tabernacle same as you where our chalices are kept. We have pretty much the same vestments as you, the same colors on the same days as you. Red-Pentecost, White-Easter, Christmas, Trinity Sunday. Green-Epiphany season , ordinary time/weeks after Pentecost Purple-Lent,Advent and we have the Advent wreath same as you.The Advent wreath was actually started by the Lutherans. We have acolytes which are altar servers and we call our priest Father same as you. Our readings are the same exact readings you have every Sunday because we follow the same Gregorian kalender. We have the Eucharist EVERY Sunday and believe that it is the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Chrsit. We have Rosaries and annointing of the sick all can be used during our mass or Holy Eucharist as most commonly called. We say the Our Father but with the doxology (For thine is the kingdom etc.) He have the peace same as you during mass. Our priests incense the altar usually at ever Holy Eucharist with the big swinging incense burner. Our clergy prepares their incense during Holy Week, same as yours. We have stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent, same as you and we use the version designed by Pope John Paul ll. We also do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. There are many more that I am leaving out but do you get the drift? Structurally, you would feel pretty comfortable at an Anglican Holy Eucharist. We aren’t much like the Protestants that come to your mind are we?

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