Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Clergy

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Looking for the perfect occupation for your character? Check out our Occupation Thesaurus, starting with this entry on Clergy Members.

Occupation: Clergy

Overview: Clergy is a general term referring to someone in a position as the head of an organized religious group. Pastor, bishop, priestess, rabbi, and imam are some of the titles used to indicate this leadership role in various religions.

The roles will differ depending on the tenets of the associated religion. Main duties of a clergy member may include interpreting sacred texts, educating followers, ministering to their followers and others within the community, and seeing to certain religious duties, such as offering sacrifices, intervening with the deity on behalf of the people, and overseeing sacraments specific to the religion, such as baptism, communion, prayer, and ordinances associated with holy days.

Some clergy are paid full time while others work on a part-time or voluntary basis. Depending on the structure, some make very good money while others make next to nothing.

Workspaces will also differ from one religion to another. Some work out of church offices while others work from home. Some lead services in an official church, synagogue, mosque, etc., while others hold services in rented facilities, homes, or in a natural setting.

Necessary Training: Some religions require their leaders to attend an affiliated religious institution for a certain period of time and receive a degree before starting work. Others might require their clergy to go through an apprentice-like situation where they work with an existing leader and learn as they go. Clergy members in remote locations may have no formal training beyond a passion for their religion and a basic knowledge of its tenets.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Charm, empathy, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, multitasking, reading people, writing

Helpful Character Traits: Bold, centered, charming, confident, cooperative, courteous, creative, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, empathetic, enthusiastic, extroverted, honest, honorable, hospitable, humble, idealistic, inspirational, intelligent, just, kind, loyal, merciful, nurturing, obedient, organized, passionate, persuasive, philosophical, spiritual, studious, supportive, unselfish, wholesome, wise

Sources of Friction: Not being paid enough to support oneself, bureaucratic red tape that keeps one from doing the important aspects one’s job, disagreements with parishioners or higher-ups about doctrine, politics within the religious organization, conflict with the public when the tenets of one’s beliefs go against cultural norms, clashes with traditional parishioners over modern ideas, knowing a follower needs a certain kind of help but they’re unwilling to listen, dealing with misperceptions and unfair stereotypes about one’s religion, facing persecution for one’s beliefs, risking one’s life to lead a group of people in a society where the religion is outlawed, struggling with forbidden temptations and addictions (alcohol abuse, sexual transgressions, etc.), being a leader for others but having no one to confide in or go to for advice

People They Might Interact With: Parishioners or followers, officials within the religious hierarchy, those that they serve outside of the “church” (the homeless, social pariahs, the poor, etc.), members of the media, other staff members, local clergy members, strangers seeking something the religion may be able to provide (peace, absolution, knowledge, community, physical care, etc.)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Spirituality and being true to oneself are big parts of being fully actualized. A clergy member who’s required to sacrifice their personal beliefs and priorities in the course of their job will find themselves lacking in the area of personal fulfillment.
  • Esteem and Recognition: Most people in this occupation are living a life somewhat characterized by self-sacrifice; they’re seeking to fulfill a purpose higher than themselves. But if they care very much about the opinions of others, and they find themselves being dismissed or criticized for their choice of occupation, it could impact their need for respect and esteem.
  • Love and Belonging: A clergy member who too-strictly interprets the religious laws and puts them above true love and caring for others—sacrificing love in the pursuit of justice—may find him or herself without loving relationships of their own.
  • Physiological Needs: In many cultures, both past and present, the practice of certain religions has been outlawed, and those breaking the law face jail time, physical abuse, banishment, or execution. In these cases, being a clergy member literally could put one’s life at risk.

Common Work-Related Settings: Church, community center, emergency room, forest, funeral home, graveyard, hospital (interior), hospital room, medieval castle (speculative), military base, police station, prison cell, wake, wedding reception

Twisting the Stereotype: While some clergy members adhere to their religious beliefs to the point of hateful and abusive behavior, this practice has decreased significantly and is much less prevalent than it used to be. Historically, this was common, but it isn’t so much anymore. Take this into account when writing your character.

Also, the hypocritical, two-faced sexual deviant has become a common trope for clergy members in literature. Make yours multi-dimensional and come up with a fresh portrayal.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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One Response to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Clergy

  1. Pingback: Writing Links…5/7/18 – Where Genres Collide

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