According to the BLS, U.S. clergy members have a median income of $49,450 a year. They are commonly employed by religious organizations and hospitals. If ministry work is something that you've considered, we've collected information on the best online master's in ministry programs in the country. Graduates can find employment throughout the country. Common job responsibilities include performing at religious ceremonies and providing guidance and assistance to followers.

Faith and religion are constantly evolving, much like the societies in which they exist. By earning an online master's in ministry studies, you can develop the skills to contribute your own unique voice to this larger conversation while continuing the work you're already doing.

What are the best ministry programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
2 Harding University Searcy, AR
3 Mercer University Macon, GA
4 Northwest Nazarene University Nampa, ID
5 Multnomah University Portland, OR
6 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
7 Clarks Summit University Clarks Summit, PA
8 North Park University Chicago, IL
9 Lancaster Bible College Lancaster, PA
10 Hope International University Fullerton, CA

2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Ministry Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

Columbia International University

Columbia, SC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 64%

CIU uses the Canvas platform to deliver over 45 remote certificates and degrees. Graduate students can enroll in an online master of arts in ministry studies program, earning their credentials in 18 months by taking one class at a time. Candidates gain the communication and leadership competencies needed to develop innovative strategies for missional renewal in church, parachurch, and lay ministry settings.

CIU offers two master's in ministry tracks, welcoming students with and without relevant academic or professional experience. The 36-credit curriculum contains classes like foundations of spiritual formation, theology and ethics, and transformational Bible teaching. Candidates gain hands-on skills by completing mentored field experiences.

Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also submit an 800-1,000-word essay and a reference from a church leader who has known them for at least two years.

2

Harding University

Searcy, AR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

Based in Searcy, Arkansas, Harding serves more than 5,000 students every year. The institution offers three graduate degrees through its SchoolofTheology, including an online master of arts in Christian ministry. After completing this 48-credit program, graduates are prepared to lead missions, campus ministries, and worship ministries.

Coursework covers topics like sermon development and delivery, multicultural ministry, and systematic theology. Master's in ministry candidates individualize their degree plans with three electives. They gain practical knowledge by completing two residencies and round out the program with a practicum.

Harding prefers applicants with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Candidates who do not meet this requirement may be able to enroll on a probationary basis. Distance learners typically earn their credentials in under two years.

3

Mercer University

Macon, GA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 66%

Mercer offers over 30 remote undergraduate and graduate degrees through anvas. Its catalog contains an online master of arts in Christian ministry that prepares candidates to occupy leadership roles with specialized ministries in their communities.

Candidates learn collaboratively in a 10-person cohort, earning their credentials in three years. Coursework covers topics like multicultural communication, biblical foundations of leadership, and pastoral counseling. For students who want to expand their graduate education, Mercer provides a dual-degree track that allows participants to earn an online master's degree in ministry and a master of science in nonprofit organizational leadership concurrently.

Application materials include a resume, three recommendations, an academic writing sample, and a letter of church support. Applicants also need to send in a 1,250-1,500-word autobiographical essay.

4

Northwest Nazarene University

Nampa, ID Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

NNU maintains its flagship campus in Nampa, Idaho, enrolling about 2,200 students annually. Distance learners pick fom over 25 degree options,including an online master of arts in pastoral ministry. Through a 40-credit curriculum, candidates gain the communication and counseling skills needed to pursue careers in church planting, marketplace chaplaincy, nonprofit leadership, and district church administration.

Master's in ministry students take one class at a time and graduate in 28 months. Courses include congregational education and formation, missiology and contextualization, and philosophical foundations of ministry. The program requires candidates to complete supervised practicum experiences.

Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree earned with a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also possess professional ministry experience. NNU's School of Theology maintains specialized accreditation from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.

5

Multnomah University

Portland, OR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

Located in Portland, Oregon, Multnomah powers distance education with Canvas. Te school's graduate catalog includes an online master of arts in Christian leadership that totals 48 credits. This two-year professional program helps students gain the advanced theological knowledge necessary to lead local churches and parachurch organizations.

Required courses cover topics like biblical interpretation and theology of cultural engagement. This program offers three emphasis areas in pastoral leadership, spiritual formation, and global development and justice. Candidates apply learned skills to solve practical challenges during a mentored ministry experience.

Multnomah offers fall and spring entry dates. Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must also submit an essay and three references. However, the program does not require standardized test scores.

6

Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

Liberty is a longtime leader in distance education, offering more than 500 remote certificates and degrees. Program options include an online master of arts in Christian ministry. Students take eight-week courses and can earn their credentials in 18 months. Participants may also fulfill up to half of their degree requirements with transfer credits.

The 36-credit curriculum contains classes like discipleship ministries, intercultural communication, and contemporary evangelism. Students also delve into the foundations of expository teaching and preaching. They personalize their degree plan by choosing two electives.

Liberty requires prospective learners to hold a minimum 2.0 GPA. Applicants must complete a questionnaire and provide contact information for a pastoral recommender. This online master's in ministry program is fully accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.

7

Clarks Summit University

Clarks Summit, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 57%

CSU enrolls about 1,000 students in over 40 academic programs each year. The school offers a variety of online degrees through the Moodle platform,including an online master's degree in ministry. Distance learners can complete a fully remote curriculum or create a hybrid experience by taking some classes on campus in northeast Pennsylvania.

Totaling 30 credits, this online master's in ministry program is designed for candidates with relevant career or volunteer experience. Courses include pastoral ministry skills, theology and practice of worship, and church counseling. Through accelerated, eight-week classes, full-time students can graduate in just one year.

CSU prefers candidates with a bachelor's degree from a Bible college and at least one year of ministry experience. Application materials include a personal statement and three references. The university offers tuition discounts to active military personnel, international students, and individuals affiliated with the Word of Life Fellowship.

8

North Park University

Chicago, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 60%

NPU delivers over 120 academic programs across its seven schools and colleges. Offerings include n online master of arts in Christian ministry that helps students strengthen their theological and biblical knowledge, while also developing a personal model for community engagement. Distance learners can enroll in the three-year track.

The 36-credit curriculum covers topics like Christian history, intercultural spirituality, and leading and teaching in ministry. Students use 15 elective credits to pursue advanced topics relevant to their research interests and professional goals. This online master's in ministry program requires candidates to complete field experiences.

In addition to two essays, applicants must provide recommendations from a pastor, a church committee member, and a faculty member or colleague. Distance learners may access a variety of merit scholarships and need-based grants.

9

Lancaster Bible College

Lancaster, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 60%

Founded in 1933, LBC currently supports approximately 2,000 students annually. Graduate candidates can enroll in an online master of arts in ministry program, gaining the communication and management skills needed to act as ethical servant leaders in their communities. Through accelerated six-week courses, full-time students can earn their degrees in 12 months.

This 48-credit master's in ministry program operates a blended course format that requires distance learners to attend campus residencies. The curriculum differs based on which of the five concentrations a student chooses; options include church planting, leadership studies, pastoral studies, formational children and family ministry, and youth and young adult ministry.

Application materials include a 1,000-word autobiographical statement and two references. LBC also requires prospective students to complete an interview.

Hope International University
10

Hope International University

Fullerton, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 44%

Based in Fullerton, California, HIU powers distance education with Canvas. Degree options include an online master of arts in ministry that prepares candidates for leadership positions within their local church or para-church organization. Students can complete a fully remote curriculum or a hybrid learning experience that integrates campus residencies and networking events.

The curriculum totals 36 credits and contains required classes like dynamics of servant leadership and personal evangelism. Master's in ministry candidates take advanced coursework in one of seven concentrations. Options include church planting; pastoral care; intercultural studies (missions); and children, youth, and family ministry.

HIU prefers candidates with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants who do not meet this requirement are still eligible for enrollment but must submit an explanation letter.

Choosing a Program

DO I NEED PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE TO GET IN?

Some graduate programs have specific previous requirements, while others only require a bachelor's degree. If you do not have experience in ministry or a related undergraduate degree, you may have to prove to the school that you would be a good fit for the program by showing how your interests and experience have prepared you for it.

HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT ONLINE PROGRAM FOR ME?

This list ranks the best online master's in ministry programs based on several factors, but they cannot account for your personal situation. Consider factors such as cost and schedule, but don't forget to think about what you want from the degree. Programs will have different teaching styles. Some programs will require you to log on at certain times and require you to complete on-campus sessions, other can be completed entirely online at your convenience. Some programs are also taught through a cohort format, which has students move through the curriculum together and provides a more traditional feel.

CAN I WORK WHILE I COMPLETE MY ONLINE MASTER'S IN MINISTRY?

Online programs are often designed with working professionals in mind and allow you to complete coursework based on your schedule. Some programs are more demanding than other and might require full-time enrollment. If you plan to continue working while earning your degree, prioritize programs that allow part-time enrollment.

What else can I expect from an online Master's in Ministry program?

Every school is different, though all online master's in ministry programs share some commonalities. Some programs will have a more narrow focus on certain aspects of ministry, preparing you for specific roles, while others have a broad curriculum that will prepare you for many roles.

CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN MINISTRY

Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Ministry Leadership This concentration is focused on leadership and the skills required to successfully lead within the context of a given ministry. Student learns problem solving skills within an organizational, ministerial context. Prepares people for roles as senior pastors and nonprofit directors.
Pastoral Ministry Pastoral ministry is focused on teaching and attending to the spiritual needs of the faithful. This concentration focuses on ecclesiastical traditions. Graduates are prepared for careers as pastors, deacons, and youth ministers.
Strategic Ministry It's important for ministries and churches to plan for the future. Strategic ministry focuses on the administrative and "business" side of ministry, developing the skills to help religious organizations deal with challenges while remaining true to their mission and beliefs. Administrative positions within ministry.

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN MINISTRY

Master's in ministry degrees online will have some commonalities between their curriculums, but how the content is delivered and what is focuses on may vary. Below, you'll find several sample courses which could be found at a variety of schools.

  • Introduction to the Old Testament: Explore the early, foundational portion of the Bible and develop a better understanding of the meanings of many contentious passages. This is essential to understanding the development and history of Christianity and and how the New Testament builds upon what came before.
  • The Church in Historical Context: Explores the lives and teachings of Christians from the first century to the modern day. Such courses are often split into several sections and cover a specific time period. Coursework helps students understand the context in which certain aspects of faith are developed.
  • Preaching Theory and Methods: Focuses on the art of delivering messages to the faithful through sermons, writings, and other venues. The course explores the construction of sermons and the development of the skills needed to create engaging, thoughtful discussions and teachings. It's important for anyone who wishes to work as a pastor and guide people on their spiritual journeys.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN MINISTRY?

Most master's in ministry programs can be completed in one to two years. The amount of time you have to dedicate to your studies and how many courses you can take per semester or term can affect program length. Some schools set a very specific program, requiring students to take courses synchronously. Such institutions often group students into cohorts, which has them move through the program at the same pace, requiring more peer interaction than other formats. Others expect students to complete their courses on their own, and sometimes they allow students to take a large course load to finish the program earlier.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MASTER'S DEGREE IN MINISTRY, THEOLOGY, AND DIVINITY?

Ministry, theology, and divinity have different meanings, but they are closely related; degrees in these subjects are related as well. While all are valuable to those wishing to do religious work, they offer different opportunities and focus on different skills.

  • Master's in Ministry: This degree focuses on guiding the faithful and expanding the church. Such programs focus on applying the Bible to daily life and working with others to ensure that the church can work towards its mission. This degree is intended for pastors and others who wish to take a leading role in discussions about faith and in steering the development of the church.
  • Master's in Theology: This degree is focused on studying Scripture through historical, linguistic, or social contexts. Students in this program tend to be more interested in understanding the language of the Bible, how it was developed and how it impacted the lives of historical groups. They do not focus on applying biblical knowledge to daily life. It is a program devoted to “book learning” and often involves some kind of research project.
  • Master's in Divinity: This degree is often seen as a "first step" for seminary students. It grants students a wide selection of skills which can be applied in pastoral roles and secular or academic roles. It opens up a number of career opportunities, such as chaplaincy, teaching, and counseling, as well as non-profit, academic, and pastoral work.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Ministry Programs

Accredited schools have been verified by one or more organizations, such as the Department of Education (DOE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This shows that the schools meet certain standards for higher education. An accredited school is trusted by other institutions and organizations to teach students the skills to succeed in their chosen fields. The most common forms of accreditation are regional and national. Regional accreditation is usually more valuable, and credits transfer easily between other regionally accredited school. National accreditation is most common for vocation and technical institutions.

The DOE oversees educational standards for the entire United States and at all educational levels. While each state sets its own specific educational policy, the department sets minimum standards and organizes national campaigns in favor of those standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is a professional organization with members from over 3,000 colleges and universities who work to improve standards of self-regulation and accreditation. They are a body which allows universities and colleges to keep themselves and each other in line with educational standards. You can find complete lists of accredited schools through the DOE's and CHEA's websites.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Ministry Graduates

MASTER'S IN MINISTRY CAREERS

People earning master's in ministry degrees online have a variety of career paths to choose from. An obvious choice is to become a pastor, but some may choose to work within an administrative role at a church. Other options include working in education, counseling, and the nonprofit field. A master's degree in ministry can also be applied to academia, especially for those who study religious history, sociology, or linguistics and wish to research and write.

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Pastor $45,740 6%
Christian Education Director $38,610 4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pastors lead prayer and other spiritual activities and tend to the faithful. They often serve as counselors and advisors to people seeking help. They are frequently associated with nonprofit efforts. The requirements for such roles vary across denominations, but a master's degree is common.

Christian education directors manage schools, youth groups, and other educational activities maintained by churches. This might involve Sunday School, primary or secondary schools maintained by the church, or other church-based programs. A master's degree can give people in such a role a significant increase in earning power.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

There are a variety of organizations that bring together pastors and other religious workers, many of which are organized denomination specific, though there are also a number of non-denominational groups as well. These organizations often hold conferences and offer other professional development opportunities which can help ministers and others to improve themselves and their church. Membership may be considered automatic upon ordination or require application.

  • National Association for Lay Ministry: This group works to provide vision and leadership to lay ministers of the Catholic Faith. They bring together laypeople, clergy, and the vowed religious to share their thoughts and experiences.
  • Unitarian Universalist Association: This group organizes over 1,000 congregations within the Unitarian Universalist movement. They work to help congregations develop and to pursue the social goals of that movement.
  • Association of Professional Chaplains: This organization brings together over 5,000 chaplains to promote their work and improve their practice. They are an interfaith group that's dedicated to chaplaincy care in a variety of facilities, institutions, and organizations.

Financing Your Online Master's in Ministry Program

Paying for an online master's in ministry studies can be difficult. Anyone considering such a program should explore the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can help locate student loans to pay for college. There are also scholarship opportunities provided by individual schools and by professional organizations like those listed above. A good place to begin is by talking to an established pastor to find out how they paid for their education.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE COLLEGE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.