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Dr. Pastor Sam V. Toplid
Why Do Pastors with Doctorate Degrees Do This?
By Barrington H. Brennen, January 2023

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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 announcements.

In 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 "doctor" title.”
 

Is 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.

It 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 Baptist Association Convention (2010)

“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 Ed.D.

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 changed.”

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 matter.

  • 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 degree.

  • 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.
     

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