People who feel a divine call to serve others in need — particularly those in need of personal or social intervention — can pursue a career in ministry or theology. Life as a ministry and theology graduate usually centers around the mission of a single Christian community, such as a church, school, or nonprofit.
Earning a degree in Christian ministry can prepare learners to serve as a local church pastor, a Bible teacher at a Christian school, or the executive director of a nonprofit or parachurch ministry. Theology graduates typically hold advanced degrees and serve as researchers, writers, and teachers.
Students who begin thinking about their careers in advance can tailor their educations toward pastoral ministry, youth ministry, church administration, teaching, or theology. By concentrating their coursework in their intended area of ministry, students can position themselves to compete for the most interesting and meaningful job opportunities. Ultimately, a Christian ministry or theology degree prepares students to serve God and others by working at an established organization.
Skills Gained in Ministry and Theology Programs
Christian ministry touches many parts of the human experience. Consequently, ministry and theology graduates need skills in an array of areas to serve their communities, including counseling, education, communication, leadership, and conflict resolution skills. Most academic programs offer courses in these areas, along with internship opportunities that let students hone their skills. In some schools, ministry students preach in chapel services or teach in local churches as part of their training.
Whether a minister serves as a pastor, teacher, or chaplain, non-formal counseling will almost certainly form a key component of their work. Pastors may provide counseling to engaged couples, people considering divorce, and those going through grief. Chaplains may also offer crisis counseling to first responders, and teachers often counsel students.
- Education and Training
Many people attend church in order to learn more about their faith and how it applies to their daily lives. Pastors and other church leaders spend time teaching people what their denomination believes in and training those people to actualize that belief in their homes, friendships, and workplaces. Consequently, pastors need teaching skills in order to help people engage with and apply new material.
- Public Speaking
Successful Christian ministry requires effective communication. Pastors need outstanding communication skills to preach sermons in front of a congregation each week. Additionally, teachers speak in front of classes and executive directors give talks to their teams. Knowing how to craft and deliver a compelling and informative speech helps these professionals communicate their purpose and mission with clarity.
- Organizational Leadership
Formal ministry occurs within organizational structures. Typically, pastors, principals, presidents, and executive directors of Christian organizations need leadership skills. They must be able to articulate a compelling vision, urge people to get behind that vision, and oversee the activities and objects that help achieve an organization's mission.
- Conflict Negotiation
Many pastors work with congregations consisting of multiple factions. Staff members, volunteers, parents, denominational officials, and family members can experience conflict between each other in a church setting. A pastor often has to assume the role of lead negotiator and resolve problems.
Why Pursue a Career in Ministry and Theology?
A calling to serve God and others drives many ministers into this profession. Salaries and benefits are also important considerations for most workers. Not only do ministers enjoy a satisfying and rewarding career, they also benefit from many opportunities for personal growth. Conferences, books, podcasts, and continuing education opportunities provide formal and nonformal growth and development services for many people working in ministry. Additionally, many seminaries make graduate education accessible to people currently working in ministry settings.
Ministers can serve in a variety of different industries, from working as corporate chaplains or leading nonprofits, to pastoring churches or overseeing Christian schools. Ministry and theology graduates can also serve in the military or police force, teach at the college level, or lead international organizations that hold major social and economic influence.
How Much Do Ministry and Theology Majors Make?
Many factors can affect the potential salary of a ministry and theology graduate. For instance, ministers in large churches often earn considerably more than those pastoring small congregations. Additionally, individuals who minister in economically marginalized settings may bring in smaller salaries than their peers who serve parishioners in wealthier communities.
As with many careers, a worker's experience level and education influence their salary. An individual's vocational niche can also affect their wages significantly. The table below displays a small selection of possible careers for ministry and theology grads.
How to Succeed in Ministry and Theology
The educational level needed to work in ministry varies widely. For example, students pursuing an associate degree in ministry may receive consideration for youth or children's ministry positions, while a bachelor's degree in ministry can qualify graduates to serve as Bible teachers in Christian schools or as associate pastors in local churches.
A master's degree meets the fundamental academic requirement for ordination in most denominations — ministers with master's degrees can serve as senior pastors. Finally, earning a doctorate in theology can prepare students to teach at the Bible college or seminary level, while a doctorate in ministry can boost a practicing minister's career in a church or parachurch setting.
Personal character, interpersonal skills, and academics form the three major pillars of ministry careers. When interviewing prospective employees, Christian organizations usually want to see integrity and spiritual development, coupled with practical experience gained through internships or supervised training.
Prospective pastors should demonstrate service and leadership in a local church setting, and teachers need hands-on classroom experience. Chaplains often need a certain number of supervised hours in their field in order to achieve their designation. While experience serves as a critical component of a minister's background, each denomination or parachurch organization sets its own expectations for ministers seeking licensure or ordination.
Licensure and Certification
Specific church requirements determine certification for ministry and theology professionals. Each church and denomination sets its own standards, which can vary widely. Ministers may receive ordination from the church where they work or from a larger denomination, and some states require ministers to earn a license before they can perform official duties, such as marrying people.
Ministers in some denominations hold certification as a local church pastor. This designation permits the holder to provide pastoral care and service to a congregation. However, it does not permit the holder all of the responsibilities and privileges of ordination. Requirements for certification vary by denomination, but usually include certain levels of experience and education.
Ordination refers to the act of conferring holy orders upon a person as a minister. Ordination requirements in most denominations include a master of divinity, but some churches make exceptions or offer alternative paths to ordination. A combination of experience, regular interviews, and extensive education in theology and ministry typically meet the requirements for ordination.
In many denominations and churches a ministry license is an essential step toward ordination. Once licensed, the holder can perform certain tasks under the direction and supervision of an ordained minister. Licensure typically occurs after a person has completed some of the hands-on experiences, interviews, and education required for ordination.
Concentrations Available to Ministry and Theology Majors
Ministry majors can concentrate in various academic specialties to prepare themselves for service. A ministry program typically includes courses in the Bible, theology, and general education, as well as coursework to equip students for success in their desired Christian vocation.
Theology majors rarely emphasize practical concentrations, however, as these degrees often serve to prepare students for doctoral work. At the doctoral level, students tend to focus on their own research interests. While available concentrations vary depending upon the school, the list below describes some of the options ministry students can select at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral levels.
- Youth Ministry: Future youth pastors and student ministry leaders can take this concentration to prepare for a pastoral role with adolescents. Coursework might cover contemporary youth problems, spiritual foundations of youth ministry, and communicating in today's youth culture. Students usually complete a youth ministry internship, as well. Youth minister candidates may prepare to work in local churches, at Christian camps, or in national or international parachurch ministries.
- Pastoral Ministry: This concentration prepares students to lead churches as pastors or associate pastors. Students take courses such as Christian leadership, leadership of Christian education ministries, and developing the missional church. Upon completion of this concentration, students may meet the academic standards needed to qualify for ordination in their denomination.
- Sports Ministry: Created for students who are building careers at sports-related Christian ministries, this concentration draws from the disciplines of theology, ministry, and exercise science. Students learn how to meet the spiritual and physical needs of athletes at all levels. Most sports ministry learners already serve in a Christian vocational setting and wish to learn about the intersection between faith and physical fitness.
- Intercultural Ministry: Students who want to work in cross-cultural church settings or international development often choose this concentration. Learners may take classes that cover regional specializations, intercultural communication, and missional anthropology. Curricula may feature an international or cross-cultural internship.
What Can You Do With a Ministry and Theology Degree?
The careers available to ministry and theology majors depend largely on the degree a worker holds. An associate degree in theology, for instance, primarily serves as an introduction to the field and can lead to positions on a church staff. Earning a bachelor's degree in Christian ministry prepares graduates to teach Bible classes at a Christian school, serve on a church staff, or work in management at a parachurch organization.
A master's degree is the traditional requirement for a job as a lead pastor or executive director, although many senior leaders go on to earn doctorates in ministry. Students who envision a future in teaching at the college level — or serving as a college administrator or headmaster at a Christian school — should plan on earning a doctorate in ministry, theology, or Christian education. Earning a master's degree or a doctorate typically meets the minimum requirements for the most financially rewarding careers in ministry and theology.
Associate Degree in Ministry and Theology
An associate degree in ministry or theology can open opportunities to serve in a local church as an administrator or as a children's or youth minister. These degrees introduce students to the field of theology and ministry through a shorter and more affordable program than a bachelor's track. Associate programs in theology and ministry usually include courses in general education, biblical studies, theology, and practical ministry. They may also include an internship component.
- Youth Minister
Church youth ministers lead programs for students in grades 6-12. Youth ministers plan activities such as retreats, camps, overnights, and rallies. These professionals also oversee volunteers, ensure youth and volunteer safety, and promote the overall mission of the church. In some churches, youth ministers provide pastoral care and counseling to families with teenagers at home.
- Church Administrator
A church administrator takes responsibility for church business operations, including the day-to-day business of running the church. Depending on the size of the congregation, a church administrator may also manage finance assistants, communications directors, custodial staff, and/or volunteer managers.
- Children's Ministry Director
A children's ministry director typically oversees a church's programs for children in fifth grade and younger. These programs may include children's church, age-appropriate groups, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and special events such as back-to-school parties. Many children's ministry directors also provide pastoral care to families with young children.
Bachelor's Degree in Ministry and Theology
Most bachelor of theology careers involve either teaching or mid-level church management. Earning a bachelor's degree from one of the top online ministry programs can equip students to serve in a parish setting, at a Christian school, or in a parachurch ministry. Graduates can work in Christian ministry settings in the U.S. and abroad.
Some ministry degrees prepare students to move directly into their intended career, such as teaching the Bible. Alternatively, other programs provide the academic foundation needed to pursue a master's in divinity or a graduate degree in theology or biblical studies. Doctoral degrees can prepare individuals to work as professors or researchers.
- Elementary and Secondary School Teacher, Private
Christian schools typically offer Bible classes at the primary and secondary levels. Teachers may manage classrooms, serve on committees, conduct lessons, evaluate student learning, and communicate with parents. A bachelor's degree in Bible teaching or a ministry degree with an emphasis in Christian education can prepare professionals to teach.
- Director of Music Ministry
A music minister leads church musical groups such as orchestras and choirs. These workers also conduct congregational singing and may take responsibility for audio, visual, lighting, and other arts ministries of the church. Additionally, special musical events, such as cantatas or concerts, are typically organized by directors of music ministry.
- Associate Pastor
An associate pastor serves as a secondary leader of a congregation under a senior pastor's direction. The role of an associate pastor can differ widely between congregations. In some settings, they serve as an executive pastor, while in others they focus more on pastoral care and counseling.
- Church Media Manager
Large churches often hire a full-time media manager to oversee the visual, audio, social media, and digital ministry of the congregation. At some churches, this role faces inward and primarily focuses on church worship services. At other churches, the role faces outward through web-based ministry to the community.
- Nonprofit Program Manager
A program manager at a faith-based nonprofit oversees the organization's service programs. This role requires skills in planning, administration, management, team building, and program analysis and evaluation. A program manager may lead a team or work alone. At large organizations, they may serve as part of a team under a vice president for programs.
Master's Degree in Ministry and Theology
Earning a master's degree in ministry or theology can give students the opportunity to pursue lead positions in churches, nonprofits, and counseling centers. A master's can also prepare a student to enroll in a doctoral program. A master's in theology provides the academic background in biblical studies and theology that precede a doctorate, while a master's in ministry prepares students for more practical ministry careers.
These programs offer students the opportunity to engage deeply with theological ideas, concepts of ministry, and the personal and spiritual characteristics that make a good minister. Students who hold a master's degree can move from associate-level positions into senior-level ministry.
- Senior Pastor
A senior pastor serves as the highest spiritual and organizational leader in a local church. They preach sermons, lead staff, conduct services, meet with parishioners, and work cooperatively with lay leadership. The exact role of a senior pastor depends on a church's denomination, size, and expectations.
- Professional Counselor
Many seminaries and Christian graduate schools offer degrees that lead to state licensure as a professional counselor. These mental health therapists may work in a church setting or as Christian counselors serving in a private practice or healthcare environment. Licensure requires extensive practice after earning a master's degree.
A chaplain oversees pastoral responsibilities in a non-church setting. Chaplains may serve in the military, with a fire department, or on the police force. Others work for corporate offices, in hospitals, or with organizations such as professional or collegiate athletic teams. Most chaplains need a master's degree and ordination.
- Executive Director at a Nonprofit
At a nonprofit organization, the executive director assumes the chief executive officer's role. They may establish an organization's vision, oversee staff members, make decisions about programs, serve as a fundraiser, and assume a role as an organization's face and voice. A ministry education can prepare professionals for executive leadership at faith-based organizations.
- Executive Pastor
An executive pastor is the ecclesial equivalent of a chief operating officer. They manage the operations of a church, including finance and budgets, human resources, communication and social media, and policies and procedures. An executive pastor usually serves in a large congregation or at a megachurch.
Doctoral Degree in Ministry and Theology
Ministers who want to assume executive leadership positions in faith-based academic settings, as well as those who plan to undertake theology careers by serving in the college classroom, must possess a doctorate. In general, a master's degree meets the standard for executive roles in a church, parish ministry, or nonprofit setting. To lead in an academic setting, however, one must earn a Ph.D. or Th.D.
Many seminaries also offer a doctor of ministry degree (D.Min.), which is an applied doctorate similar to the Ed.D. in education or the JD in law. A D.Min. requires 3-5 years of study while working in a formal ministry setting and typically concludes with a doctoral project instead of a dissertation. However, a D.Min. rarely serves as academic preparation for school leadership or higher education instruction. For those roles, prospective professionals should pursue a traditional doctorate in theology, religion, or a related field.
- Postsecondary Religion Teacher
After earning a doctorate in theology, ministers may qualify to serve as college or seminary professors in their field. These professionals may teach courses, counsel students, serve on committees, conduct research, and publish their findings. They may also speak at conferences and events, helping to promote their school.
- Christian College President
Christian college presidents can lead a Bible college, liberal arts college, or seminary. These ministry leaders determine an organization's overall vision and ethos and serve as a major fundraiser and marketer for their college. A president also leads a cabinet of department heads from each major division of the institution.
- Christian School Headmaster
The research, communication, and leadership skills earned in a doctoral program can equip a ministry leader to take the senior executive role at a Christian school. These professionals set organizational strategies, provide accountability to each department, and serve as the face and voice of the institution to its stakeholders and community.
What Industries Can You Work in With a Ministry and Theology Degree?
Ministry and theology graduates can explore career options in a wide variety of industries. While serving as paid clergy in a church or parish may be the core occupation associated with a ministry degree, many graduates work as hospital or workplace chaplains, Bible teachers, faith-based business leaders, and nonprofit executives. Some of these positions require ordination as a pastor or priest, while others simply need skilled people with the appropriate personalities and academic backgrounds to succeed in a ministry role.
- Religious Organizations
Churches, parishes, and faith-based nonprofit organizations employ ministry graduates to lead and staff programs, serve their communities, and manage volunteers. Employees may serve in a ministry environment or as ministers in neighborhood settings.
- General Medical and Surgical Hospital
Hospitals maintain a corps of chaplains from a variety of faiths who provide pastoral care and counseling to patients, family members, and hospital staff. These professionals may also conduct on-site religious services.
- Home Healthcare Services
Ministry graduates who also hold credentials in occupational therapy, physical therapy, or nursing can take roles as faith-based providers of home healthcare services. Some may also serve as home healthcare managers.
- Elementary and Secondary Schools
Christian organizations and churches often launch private K-12 schools that require administrators, teachers, and staff members. Ministry graduates may serve as Bible teachers, school chaplains, or student life directors.
- Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)
Ministry and theology graduates can serve as chaplains at nursing care facilities. In this role, they may provide spiritual support, counseling, and religious services to patients, their families, and staff members.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How Do You Find a Job as a Ministry and Theology Graduate?
Pursuing a job in ministry or theology can mean working for a local church, at a nonprofit organization, as a chaplain, or in education. Each of these industries requires different academic and professional backgrounds. In general, however, candidates who hold licensure or ordination with a recognized denomination maintain an edge during their job search.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that community and social service occupations will grow by 14% between 2016 and 2026 — about double the rate of growth for all occupations in the U.S. Students with technology skills, public speaking talent, knowledge of counseling principles, and strong written communication abilities can expect to succeed in this career field.
While personal networking typically offers the most fruitful results when it comes to finding a job, sites such as the Christian Career Center, ChristianJobs, and ChurchStaffing provide up-to-date jobs in ministry settings and make it easy for applicants to submit a resume or letter of interest.
Professional Resources for Ministry and Theology Majors
An independent, non-partisan organization committed to civic education and policy research, CPJ hosts events and publishes books and journals to help leaders and citizens understand God's call to do justice. Besides the research that CPJ makes available, the organization also offers opportunities to invest in training and advocacy work.
An organization that represents 45,000 local churches in 40 different denominations, NAE serves as the flagship member association of the Evangelical movement. The organization produces a podcast, publishes a magazine, and hosts regular events. NAE also puts on the Christian Student Leadership Conference for college students of faith interested in public policy.
This organization provides space for experts and professors from universities to help college students and faculty members think deeply about issues of faith, justice, brokenness, and the good life. Students can attend live events or watch recordings online. Students may also help host forums on campuses.
An interdenominational campus ministry with a 75-year history, Intervarsity engages with young people on college campuses. The organization participates in evangelism, discipleship, and missions — both on and off campus. Intervarsity supports a book publisher, a video production arm, and three retreat centers across the country.
Sponsored by Intervarsity, this conference is hosted annually in Illinois. The event includes worship, speakers, breakout sessions, networking opportunities, and a chance to participate in fundraising. Topics focus on business, justice, leadership, and global students. Students can find videos of past Urbana speakers online.
Founded in 1970, SPS consists of scholars committed to studying, publicizing, encouraging, and supporting Pentecostal and Charismatic theology. The organization publishes Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies and hosts an annual meeting for members and friends. Members can also access student conferences, newsletters, and past research projects conducted by society members.
Teachers, scholars, pastors, students, and others interested in theological research and thought form the membership of this organization. ETS hosts an annual meeting and publishes a quarterly journal. Students and other professionals can also take advantage of the organization's career connections service.
SARTS members work together to develop the arts in religion and society. The organization publishes ARTS Journal, which contains academic, practical, and pedagogical articles. It also hosts an annual conference where members can present papers. Student members gain access to the organization's fellowships, digital libraries, and other resources.
More than 8,000 scholars compose the membership of this organization, which is dedicated to critical scholarship of the Bible. SBL publishes books and journals on biblical studies, along with extensive resources for teaching the Bible. Members can attend regional, national, and international conferences and take advantage of an online career center.
An academic coalition of religion scholars, AAR offers extensive publications, including journals and books. It also offers employment listings, regional meetings, and an annual meeting. AAR provides research and travel grants to scholars and bestows awards to teachers, journalists, and artists.