Ask Difference

Clergy vs. Laity — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Maham Liaqat — Updated on April 8, 2024
Clergy refers to individuals ordained for religious duties in Christian contexts, focusing on spiritual leadership, while laity encompasses non-ordained members of a religious community, emphasizing the general believers' role.
Clergy vs. Laity — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Clergy and Laity


Key Differences

Clergy are ordained individuals within various religious traditions, especially in Christianity, who perform spiritual leadership roles, such as conducting worship services and providing pastoral care. On the other hand, laity refers to the congregation or community members who are not ordained ministers, playing vital roles in supporting the church's mission but not leading rituals or sacraments.
The clergy is typically characterized by a formal process of ordination, which sets them apart for specific religious duties and roles within the church. This contrasts with the laity, who, while often actively involved in religious and community activities, do not undergo ordination and therefore do not hold the same religious authority or responsibilities as clergy.
Clergy members are responsible for interpreting religious texts, providing spiritual guidance, and administering sacraments, such as baptisms and marriages. Whereas, members of the laity might participate in religious education, volunteer activities, or lay ministries, but they do not perform sacraments or offer authoritative religious teachings.
The distinction between clergy and laity highlights the diversity of roles within a religious community, with clergy serving in a leadership capacity and laity contributing through participation and support. While clergy dedicate their careers to religious service, laity often balance their religious activities with secular professions.
Training and education for clergy typically involve formal theological education, which can range from several years in seminary to advanced degrees in religious studies. In contrast, the laity might engage in religious education through church programs or personal study but do not require formal theological training to fulfill their roles within the community.

Comparison Chart


Ordained individuals in religious traditions for leadership.
Non-ordained members of a religious community.


Conducting worship, providing pastoral care, interpreting texts.
Supporting church mission, participating in community activities.


Religious authority to perform sacraments and offer teachings.
Participate without authority to perform sacraments.


Formal theological education and ordination.
May engage in religious education, no formal ordination.


Dedicated to religious service and leadership.
Often balance religious activities with secular professions.

Compare with Definitions


Ordained religious leaders.
The clergy member officiated the wedding ceremony.


Support and participate in church missions.
Laity members lead community outreach programs.


Dedicated to religious service.
Clergy often have theological degrees and are committed to their faith's teachings.


Engage in religious education.
The laity attends Bible study and religious classes.


Perform sacraments and rituals.
Clergy are responsible for baptisms and communion services.


Contribute to the church community.
Laity are involved in singing in the choir and helping in events.


Provide spiritual guidance.
The clergy offer counseling and pastoral care.


Non-ordained church members.
The laity volunteers for various church activities.


Interpret religious doctrines.
Clergy preach and explain scriptures during services.


Balance religious and secular lives.
Laity members manage their careers alongside their church involvement.


The body of people ordained or recognized by a religious community as ritual or spiritual leaders. See Usage Note at collective noun.


In religious organizations, the laity consists of all members who are not part of the clergy, usually including any non-ordained members of religious orders, e.g. a nun or lay brother.A layperson (also layman or laywoman) is a person who is not qualified in a given profession or does not have specific knowledge of a certain subject.In Christian cultures, the term lay priest was sometimes used in the past to refer to a secular priest, a diocesan priest who is not a member of a religious order.


Body of persons, such as priests, who are trained and ordained for religious service.
Today we brought together clergy from the Wiccan, Christian, New Age and Islamic traditions for an interfaith dialogue.


Laypeople considered as a group.


The body of men set apart, by due ordination, to the service of God, in the Christian church, in distinction from the laity; in England, usually restricted to the ministers of the Established Church.


All those persons who are not members of a given profession or other specialized field.


Learning; also, a learned profession.
Sophictry . . . rhetoric, and other cleargy.
Put their second sons to learn some clergy.


People of a church who are not ordained clergy or clerics.


The privilege or benefit of clergy.
If convicted of a clergyable felony, he is entitled equally to his clergy after as before conviction.


The common man or woman.


Clergymen collectively (as distinguished from the laity)


The unlearned, untrained or ignorant.


The people, as distinguished from the clergy; the body of the people not in orders.
A rising up of the laity against the sacerdotal caste.


The state of a layman.


Those who are not of a certain profession, as law or medicine, in distinction from those belonging to it.


Everyone except the clergy

Common Curiosities

Can laity become clergy?

Yes, laypersons can become clergy through a formal process of education and ordination specific to their religious tradition.

What is the clergy?

The clergy consists of ordained individuals within religious traditions, tasked with spiritual leadership and sacramental roles.

How do clergy and laity roles differ?

Clergy are responsible for leading worship, sacraments, and providing guidance, while the laity supports the church's mission through participation and volunteer activities.

Who are the laity?

The laity includes non-ordained members of a religious community who participate and support the church's mission without performing sacraments.

Can members of the laity preach or teach in the church?

While laity may engage in teaching roles, such as Sunday school or small groups, they typically do not preach or perform sacraments unless specifically authorized within their church's practices.

How do clergy support the religious community?

Clergy support the community by providing spiritual leadership, pastoral care, and guidance in religious education and moral matters.

How does one become a member of the clergy?

Becoming clergy involves a call to religious service, followed by theological education, mentorship, and a formal ordination process.

Is the role of clergy the same in all religions?

While the concept of clergy is common across many religions, specific roles and responsibilities vary according to each tradition's beliefs and practices.

What is the significance of ordination for clergy?

Ordination signifies the clergy's formal authorization to perform religious rites, lead worship, and offer pastoral care within their community.

Can laity lead worship services?

In some traditions, laity may lead certain aspects of worship or services in the absence of clergy or within specific lay ministry roles.

What education is required for clergy?

Clergy typically undergo formal theological education, which may include seminary training and advanced religious studies.

Do the laity have any authority in the church?

The laity do not hold sacramental authority but may have leadership roles within the church's administrative and volunteer activities.

Why is the distinction between clergy and laity important?

The distinction emphasizes the complementary roles each group plays in the religious community, with clergy leading spiritually and laity supporting the church's broader mission.

What roles do laity play in the church?

Laity participate in church life through volunteer work, community outreach, religious education, and administrative roles.

How does the involvement of laity impact a religious community?

The active involvement of laity enriches the religious community, providing diverse talents, supporting the church's mission, and fostering a sense of belonging and participation among members.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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