A ministry is a specialised organisation responsible for a sector of government public administration, sometimes led by a minister, but usually a senior public servant, that can have responsibility for one or more departments, agencies, bureaus, commissions or other smaller executive, advisory, managerial or administrative organisations.
Ministries are usually subordinate to the cabinet, and prime minister, president or chancellor. A government will usually have numerous ministries, each with a specialised field of providing public service. National ministries vary greatly between countries, but some common ones include Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Health.
In the United Kingdom, all government organizations which consist of civil servants (and which may or may not be headed by a government minister or secretary of state) are considered as departments; although the term "ministry" has been retained for the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Justice.
In Canada, some provincial-level government departments are called "ministries" (such as in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta) but most, along with their federal analogues, are termed "departments." Their heads are referred to as "ministers" in both levels of government, however. The specific tasks assigned to a minister is referred to as his or her "portfolio".
Some countries such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Philippines and the United States do not use the term "ministry" for their government departments, and instead simply call them departments. In Hong Kong, the term "bureau" is used, while in Mexico, ministries are referred to as secretariats. The government departments of the Soviet Union before 1946 were named "People's Commissariats". In the European Union, departments are termed Directorate(s)-General with the civil servant in charge called a Director-General (in the European Commission, the political head of the department is one of the European Commissioners).
The term "ministry" has also been widely used in satire and parody to describe fictional departments.