Can you call your pastor by his or her first name only and feel comfortable doing so?

Oh Yes, He’s the Right Reverend Professor Doctor So-and-So!

Will the pastor feel equally comfortable with you? If not, why not? Are the answers to that question biblical or just traditional? More importantly, can you politely question their decisions and agree to disagree and still value each other or does somebody have to “win”?

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Susan R's picture


I have friends that I don't call by their first names. And in our culture, referring to someone in authority by their first name is considered disrespectful. There's not really a prohibition against addressing someone by their title- it's the love of being addressed by a title, or being intimidated by someone's position in society, that we are warned against. I really don't want to call my pastor by his first name.

The better question is whether or not the church leadership is approachable with questions and problems.

Dick Dayton's picture

We need to work hard to keep a proper balance here. The office of pastor needs to be respected, because it is a God ordained position of leadership and ministry in the church. Just as we choose to give respect to the office of President (whether we agree with the policies of the one holdiing the office or not), so we need to give respect to the position of pastor.

As a pastor, let me be quick to remind us that the pastor is not only a shepherd, he is also a sheep of God's pasture. He is to be a servant leader, not a CEO. He is to be an example to the flock. I believe pastors ought to be held to a high standard of conduct, as illustrated by the Biblical demands of their character. Having said that, we must also remember that pastors are not superhuman, and will show their humanity and limitations on a regular basis. That is not in any way to excuse sin in a man's life, but to remind us that only our Savior lived a perfect life upon this earth. The pastor does have a high responsibility to conduct his life in a manner that reflects well upon the office God has allowed him to hold.

Being of the "old school," I am accustomed to the name "Pastor," but many of my younger pastor friends prefer to be called by their first names. Many of our people see the term "Pastor" as my first name, and as a term of friendship.

I would tend to agree with Susan, that the key is not as much the particular name by which we address a person, but that whether or not that person shows the character qualities of shepherding. In our particular church culture also, we have a history of calling the shepherd by the title "Pastor." Also in agreement with Susan, the man holding that office must be available, not aloof.

Dick Dayton

Mike Durning's picture

At our church, the people generally call me "Pastor Mike" -- a little less formal than using my last name. A few call me "Mike". All seem to call me "the Pastor" or "Pastor Mike" rather than merely "Mike" when speaking of me publicly. Oddly, most introduce me as "Pastor Durning" to strangers, perhaps recognizing that this is expected by other believers.

But I have often responded to others that it is OK to call me "Mike". When one teenager asked if he could call me "Mike", and I affirmed it was OK, he said "Wow! I'm not used to being able to call a pastor by the first name. Aren't you worries that it means I'm disrespecting you?" My response was "I've been here 18 years. If I haven't earned respect yet, no title is going to create it for me.".

I suppose it has a lot to do with the atmosphere you are trying to create in the church. Our church has tended to hold pastors in very high regard, so I try to be "your humble servant." I suppose if they tended to hold them in low regard, I would be more concerned with lifting up the office again.

Joel Tetreau's picture

So like "Pastor Mike" here and our dear friends there at Mt. Pleasant Bible Church - I am called, "Pastor Joel" almost exclusively here at Southeast Valley Baptist - as well as just about everywhere I go. Even non-believers who I have a close relationship with here in Gilbert call me, "Pastor Joel." This is probably more a term of endearment than anything else. I try to reach out and shepherd those God places in my life and people recognize that shepherding function as what "Pastor Joel" does...and who he is. Now to the issue of calling a pastor by his first name - At least here in the Phx area - it's actually not a cultural violation to call one's boss by their first name. A few call me "Dr. Tetreau." A few call me "Pastor Tetreau." Most call me "Pastor Joel." However, especially when speaking "one to one," I am perfectly fine being called, "Joel." Here's the deal - Guess what they called Jesus? Yes - they called him "Jesus." He seemed to answer to that and didn't demand other salutations. The Apostle Paul - Oddly enough they just called him "Paul." I think this has much more to do with the attitude. God save us all from ministers who demand (in what we call them and how we treat them) a kind of Pope-like response. I like what Mike here has said - if a church had an attitude issue - you might address that in part by asking to be called something like " in so." Of course in a situation like that, you have bigger fish to fry than just the name leadership is called by. I almost don't care what you call me - For those who care, you might called me "Markos!" That was my Latin name in 8th grade Latin.

Straight Ahead!

The mostly reverand, Dr. Markos jj ("just joel") Tetreau

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (; Regional Coordinator for IBL West (, Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Susan R's picture


A former pastor, now retired, is referred to as 'Doc' by those who know and love him. I often affectionately call my husband Mr. Raber. It's definitely all in the attitude of both parties involved, and it's important to remember the generation they grew up in. I believe it to be out of line to try to 'induce' humility by using a first name with an older person. They aren't "Mr." and "Mrs." because they are pompous, and they don't need a young and modern upstart 'taking them down a peg' by refusing to acknowledge the culture that shaped their perspective. True humility is evident, IMO, by the way people interact, and while how they wish to be addressed might provide a clue, it certainly is not the most valuable clue.

It's just polite to ask someone how they wish to be addressed. My name is "Susan"- the use of "Sue" will get you the evil eye. ][img ][/img ]

Mike Harding's picture


There are two men in my church that I play golf with during the summer. Usually at church they address me as "Pastor Harding". On the golf course, however, that really got old. So I suggested to them that they call me by the abbreviation "PH". It worked very well since one of my golf partners always went by the abbreviation "CT" (Curt Turner). One day a single joined our threesome for a round of golf. After the round was over the single went up to "CT" and asked, "Why do you guys keep calling that man 'PEACH' (PH said rapidly)?" So now you can only guess what my new nickname is on the golfcourse! Be careful what you ask for.

Pastor Mike Harding

Greg Long's picture

I read yesterday a pastor's blog where he stated that he has told his church body, "Just call me Mark. If you call me 'Pastor Mark,' then I'll call you 'Carpenter Bob!'"

I agree with Dick that there is a certain level of respect for the office of pastor that is involved, and culturally here in America that is how most people use the title Pastor (here at our church it is "Pastor [First name ]"). To demand a title beyond that (Dr., Rev., etc.) reminds me of the saying that you can't demand respect, you can only earn it.

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

dcbii's picture


I guess I'm old school enough (and raised by a military father), so I always consider respect for the office. Our current pastor is 15 years my junior, but I still call him Pastor Henson. Many use "Pastor Joe," but it's quite common here in the south to use titles with the first name. Even my children most often call adults by Mr., Mrs., or Miss with first name. I'm not quite as used to that since I wasn't raised in the south, but after living here a while, it sounds pretty normal to my ears.

When addressing our former assistant pastor who is also probably 10 years my junior, I also used Pastor, but now that he no longer holds that position, I just use his first name. If a current pastor asked me to use just his first name, I probably would, but it would still feel odd to me. Probably just showing my age, here.

In spite of all my "traditional" view, however, I would agree with those who say respect shouldn't (and really can't) be demanded. I would have a hard time having any real respect for any pastor who would demand a title.

Dave Barnhart

Rev Karl's picture

If I address a military officer, I will use his rank and his last name, until told to do otherwise.

If I address someone who has earned the title of Doctor, I will use that title.

Twice now it has been my honor to serve as interim pastor at a small church in town. When the regional director meets me now, he addresses me as "Pastor". I am always taken aback. I'm not worthy of the title.

My Pastor often refers to me as "Preacher". It's a title he holds in high regard, and I am honored when he uses it.

I will address my pastor as "Pastor" or "Pastor (Last Name)" until I am told not to. And then I'll probably call him "Pastor" just out of habit and long practice.

Kirk Mellen's picture

Here's the deal - Guess what they called Jesus? Yes - they called him "Jesus." He seemed to answer to that and didn't demand other salutations.

Not saying we as pastors should command the same respect, but it seems to me when I read the Gospels I find very few times that it is written that anyone called Jesus by His name. Typically it seems as if He is addressed as Master or Rabbi. Also, I'm not sure if we have much indication as to how church members addressed their Apostles. Paul may have referred to himself by his own name, but I'm not so sure we can say that the other people did. The writers of the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles give us names so that we can easily determine who is being spoken of, but can we then make the assumption that everyone was on a first name basis in their daily interaction?

I do not think it is necessarily wrong for pastors to allow their church members to address them by their first names only, but sometimes I think we go a little overboard in our efforts to appear to be just one of the guys. A title such as "pastor," if the one owning it is truly seeking to live up to it's meaning, can be just as much of a term of endearment and intimacy as the individual's first name, perhaps even more so.

Daniel's picture

We call ours a number of names. It just depends on the circumstances. Could be pastor bryan or bryan. Most refer to him as PB, which is funny because my wife (Jennifer) is his admin so it is PB&J.

Mike Durning's picture

Daniel wrote:
We call ours a number of names. It just depends on the circumstances.

I've been in some churches where the pastors were called lots of names.