Dr. Pastor Sam V. Toplid
Why Do Pastors with Doctorate Degrees Do This?
By Barrington H.
Brennen, January 2023
I have been observing for years the gradual use
of two words or “titles” by some pastors who
have doctoral degrees. Why do they do that? Why do people use the two titles together orally
or have it printed in church bulletins--“Dr Pastor Sam V. Toplid?”
Is it appropriate?
For some pastors, they have not really thought
about it. For some, it is really by
those who publish the bulletins and make the
my research I learned that it is usually not
appropriate to use “Dr. Pastor Sam Toplid” in
printed or oral form. Instead, use title that
speaks to the function and position of the
pastor. For example: “Pastor Sam Toplid”
Why? Well, it is important to understand the
word “pastor” is a “function,” role”, “calling”,
and “position” It speaks to his/her substantive
duties and calling. “Dr” is an academic
achievement. It is the pastor having achieved
advance training to enhance his role as a
pastor. When both are combined for a pastor, it
takes away from his/her most important function—pastoring--and
it pushes the pastor’s “great achievement”
academically as more important.
Here’s what writer Daelyn Fortney states in the
article “The Proper Way to Address a Minister
with a Doctorate Degree”
“When addressing a minister who has a
doctorate degree verbally, the titles
reverend or pastor should be used in
front of the name. This standard
protocol is considered a respectful way
to address a person who has dedicated
his life to the Church and should,
therefore, be recognized in place of the
there a time “doctor” can or should be used ?
Here is what Fortney states: When sending
written correspondence to a minister, the
envelope should be addressed to "Reverend Smith"
or "Pastor Smith." The letter’s salutation
should read, “Dear Dr. Smith.”
In other words, it is not recommended to use
both terms together.
is my view there should be a standard policy
regarding how to officially address pastors and
those with doctorate degrees. In my research
there are a few denominations who do have such a
policy. Here is a policy from the Southern
“One thing that bothers me is the number
of pastors who complete D.Min. degrees
and then refer to themselves (or allow
others to refer to them as) "Dr." As a
practitioner's degree, the preface of
Dr. for a D.Min. grad is not
appropriate, as it is with an academic's
degree, such as a Ph.D., Th.D., or even
It's appropriate, if one sees a need,
for a D.Min. to follow their name with
their "letters", just as a lawyer can
follow their name with J.D. (Doctor of
Jurisprudence). But one should not more
call a D.Min. grad "Dr." than one would
call a lawyer "Dr." This is because the
purpose of both degrees serves as
terminal degrees in the practice of
one's "craft"; the degrees are not
intended as scholarly qualifications.
In fact, a pastor with a Ph.D. should
not be called "Dr." in reference to his
position as pastor, only in his work as
a professor or theologian. Even someone
with an M.D., a profession notorious for
insisting on being called Dr., would be
out of line to think his mechanic should
call him "Dr." when he gets his oil
Here is an important question: Why did the
pastor study for and obtained the doctoral level
degree? Was it for prestige? Was it to have an
increase in salary? Or was it simply to have
more knowledge and skills to assist him/her in
ministry. If it is the later, then the priority
title is that related to ministry.
Here are my points of view:
One should not use both Dr and Pastor
together, orally nor in printed form.
Use only one.
The public use of both words together
(Dr Pastor) is changing the dynamics of
ministry, both in the church and
community. It is subtly causing people
to focus on the wrong things and pastors
are losing their grip on their real
purpose and function.
A pastor with a doctorate degree, when
functioning in the
pulpit/meetings/groups, should be
referred to as “Pastor”, leaving the Dr
for academic circles or when doing
professional duties where the additional
qualification is relevant.
Many members really do not know better.
They may feel that not using the title
of the higher degree is to not show
respect. For this reason, it is
important for the pastor to speak to the
topic publicly. The pastor should take
the time to educate the members on this
Some pastors using the double titles may
be reflecting an ego or pride problem.
He/she may also not understand that the
calling and function as pastor stands
paramount to achieving a doctorate
Avoiding the use of the term “doctorate”
in the pastoral settings, keeps things
in perspective for the members and the
pastor. There is too much emphasis on
titles and degrees.
The Conference or leading organization
should create a policy or guidelines
regarding the use of title and the
policy should be made public.
Are we making the gospel attractive
or a pain in the neck?