Ministry jobs go beyond just working as a pastor in a conventional church setting, however. Many ministers work as chaplains in hospitals or long-term care facilities, tending to the spiritual needs of patients or their families. Others work in more exciting settings, with police or fire departments, counseling officers and firefighters through the traumatic events of their day and comforting victims right at the scene of an emergency.
Still others find themselves called overseas, extending the ministry to remote areas where God's word has not yet been heard. Traveling ministers have to adapt quickly and remain steadfast in the face of enormous challenges. But they also have tremendous opportunities to perform charitable works and to reach new believers who may not otherwise have ever been saved.
Christian ministry jobs are not a route to easy street. They are demanding roles that require both heart and preparation. The tolls can be both emotional and physical.
But if you are called to them, you’ll never want to do anything else. And you will shine like a light into the darkness, guiding the way for thousands to feel God's love and forgiveness.
What Christian Ministry Jobs Are Really Like
Christian ministry jobs can seem both mysterious and exotic. For many parishioners, what the minister does apart from a few hours each Sunday is out of sight and out of mind. If they think about it at all, they may have some vision of idle hours spent in silent prayer or contemplation, perhaps leavened with some intensive Bible readings.
Those are all things that ministers do, but not really how they spend the majority of their hours on the job.
The word minister is Latin, meaning servant or attendant.
That’s an important and accurate characterization of ministry jobs. Almost all that ministers do is for the benefit of others. The personal interests and ambitions in their hearts have to line up with the more important goals of God’s plan and mercy.
Ministers Help the Less Fortunate Find Hope and Resources
Although moral and ethical leadership and guidance is important, ministers are also expected to offer assistance more directly. They may be responsible for organizing community groups to run everything from homeless shelters to soup kitchens. They always keep tabs on their parish, and know when a church member needs help collecting a prescription or maybe even just getting a hot meal and some conversation.
Ministry jobs are about offering compassion and assistance to anyone in need.
It’s not just church members who are ministered to, either. Their responsibility is to God, not just the church. Any person in the community who needs assistance has a call on the attention and abilities of a righteous minister.
Ministers are also meant to be messengers, spreading the Word of God's salvation and glory. Equipped with in-depth knowledge of the Bible and of Church doctrine, ministers understand what a life guided by the Spirit looks like, and offer their testimony in support of the Scriptures.
The Many Ministries of God's Disciples Bring Hope and Fellowship to The World
There are many different types of ministries, embracing different audiences with different perspectives and needs. Working as a servant in any of these amounts to a specialty practice, with its own focus, language, and expertise. Ministers may serve all of these, or a few, or even just one depending on their community and job.
Addiction is an awful experience for addicts, their families, and the community at large. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2019, more than 8 million Americans abused illegal drugs. Nearly 15 million struggle with alcohol abuse. Yet Christians understand they are no less worthy of love and forgiveness as are any of God's creations.
Addiction ministries are often started up by churches in areas with high levels of addiction, or by faith-based organizations designed to reach out to and support addicts and families of addicts. By offering a forgiving, honest environment for recovery, addiction ministries can deliver more of those people to the light.
It takes a special touch to connect with children and to teach them the story of Jesus Christ and the life lessons that come from it. That’s what children’s ministry is about, building the foundation for a whole-hearted acceptance of Jesus and membership in the community of faith. Children’s ministers use Bible stories to offer moral instruction and guidance, working together with parents to shape the beliefs and behavior of the next generation of Christians. You can find children’s ministries in most large churches and in Christian schools and outreach organizations.
New churches do not emerge through a miracle of divine intervention. Instead, they are established and built by ministers. This process of church planting is exciting but also hard work, involving extensive evangelizing efforts, training new church leaders, and organizing and filling a congregation where none existed before.
Most church planting projects go hand-in-hand with missionary work, putting down new outposts for Christianity in areas of the world where God's Word may never have been heard before. But it’s also applicable in areas where a denomination is making new inroads, or even regions experiencing strong population growth. A church planting ministry takes the skills needed to build or revitalize energy and joy in worship and turns them into fresh supporters and new parishes to celebrate God's glory.
Community ministry work is all about outreach. Evangelism to those outside the church itself is tough, but loving thy neighbor is an integral part of the Christian ethos. Community ministers have to be skilled in cultural competence and strategic in their outreach efforts. A successful community ministry can mean starting up a free meal program for disadvantaged families or hosting a movie night for all-comers on warm summer evenings. There’s no playbook for community ministry, which means ministers with insight and creativity shine in this service. Most churches have some community ministry, although not always a dedicated position for the role.
Long before the emergence of psychology as a field of study, the Word of God was pulling people through the challenges and tragedies of life. Ministers today still offer wise counsel based on Scripture and Jesus’ love. A counseling ministry focuses on this type of aid and assistance, offered both to congregations and to the general public, often free of charge. Addressing the issues of children, individuals, and couples, a counseling ministry today draws on both the ancient power of Scriptural healing and modern understandings of human mental health and psychology.
Evangelism is a part of every minister’s portfolio. Every pastor is called to share God's message of love and hope. But for some, reaching out to non-believers is the bread and butter of their ministry. Whether it’s pounding the pavement, live streaming over the internet, or broadcasting sermons by satellite, evangelists specialize in going where the Word has not yet reached, praising God's glory and offering salvation. Evangelism ministries specialize in reaching out with empathy and conviction, working tirelessly to save those who are lost.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
~ Mark 16:15
Family ministry connects church and home life in a holistic way that helps a congregation find harmony and meaning in their spiritual beliefs. Focusing on the family unit, including parents and children, means that ministers in family ministry need to have a wide range of skills in connecting to and communicating with people of all ages. They need to be well-versed in the Gospel of Family and God’s plan for marriage and children. In a world where the family unit is in upheaval, family ministers need cultural sensitivity, a strong command of Biblical teachings, and empathy and creativity in tending to the needs of family members. Many churches have family ministries focused on this aspect of Christ’s teaching.
Ministering to the unhoused is an unfortunately sizable job in America today. According to the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 530,000 Americans were homeless. Some 30 percent are families.
Many homeless are veterans. Many are minorities. All face discrimination and judgement. All are God's children and may be saved by God's grace.
The homeless ministry exists to reach out and assist and save as many of those individuals and families as possible. A homeless minister puts evangelizing in the backseat in favor of helping the homeless with their most immediate needs. Ministers may run housing assistance programs, provide referrals to addiction treatment facilities, and help find both permanent and emergency housing resources.
Faith-based organizations offering assistance to the homeless are some of the biggest players in dealing with the homelessness crisis in the country. A 2017 study by Baylor University found that in seven of eleven major cities experiencing homelessness crises, over half of all shelter beds were provided by religious organizations.
Ministers to the homeless have to have an endless well of compassion and empathy as well as strong organizational talent and good networking and communication skills.
There are few areas of ministry more difficult than tending to the dying and their families. But there are also few people on this earth who need God's comfort and salvation more than those who are not long for it. Many palliative care organizations are faith-based non-profits, offering not just spiritual care, but low-cost end-of-life care where needed. The hospice ministry may not save lives, but it does save souls, and offers assurance to the dying that there is a better place waiting for them.
Ministers are needed the most where suffering is the greatest and hope is at an ebb. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are critical places for ministers to offer comfort and buoy hope among both patients and their families. Hospitals, long-term care facilities, and home health services are often run by faith organizations. Ministers can take on roles that go beyond simply ministering to the afflicted by occupying genuine management and operational roles in this sort of ministry, working through the provinces of science and medicine as well as faith to support communities and cure the ill.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
~ James 5:15
Christianity is a religion that revels in the promise of humanity. Hospitality ministry places an emphasis on evangelism through the most human of qualities: personal warmth and acceptance. Just as accepting Jesus into their hearts is a key to salvation, accepting secular individuals into congregations is a key for Christian evangelism. The hospitality ministry cultivates a loving heart and friendships built on caring regardless of background or belief.
Working in a missionary job involves taking on a broad range of tasks and responsibilities. In part, these will be specific to the region and role where they are located. Becoming a minister in a small South American village will carry a very different set of day-to-day tasks than running a ministry in a major metropolis in Asia. For priests in the international ministry, the traditional trappings of ministerial work take a back seat to more practical works of charity and outreach. Everyone from any culture can appreciate a good turn. Ministers working in missionary programs have to start by establishing that trust.
That can mean daily activities as diverse as:
- Teaching in a missionary school
- Distributing medical or food aid
- Working in sanitation or crop cultivation projects
- Running orphanages
The heart of missionary work is to make disciples of every color and creed, in every corner of the world.
By building trust, evangelism comes along naturally in international missions.
While it’s important for families to see themselves as a unit, belonging to one another as well as the church, it’s also true that there are unique issues and questions that rise for individuals within a family. The men’s ministry seeks to engage men with their own unique needs and commandments within a Christian life. Men’s ministers help men better understand their calling and their responsibilities to Christ, community, and family.
Engaging men through Bible study groups and other activities allows ministers to build relationships and become a trusted counselor for men who may have no one else in their lives to truly open up to. Filling that role offers a way into hearts that would otherwise remain closed and hard. Just about every church can benefit from a men’s ministry.
Psalms is one of the most popular and most frequently quoted books in the Bible. That’s your first clue that worship and music have long gone hand in hand in Christian churches. The way to some parishioners' souls come through celebrating God's providence in song, and music ministry has a long history of bringing people together in and out of church. It’s part and parcel with fellowship, the sense of belonging to a group that is such an important tool for ministers forging strong bonds among their congregation. Music talent and an ability to entertain is important in this style of ministry.
Prison ministry involves bringing the Word of God into correctional centers through Bible studies, outreach activities, and meaningful conversation. But the work doesn’t end there. When someone goes to prison, children and families are affected too, and many lives need healing. Prison ministry is an opportunity to serve and save both the criminal offenders and the families affected by incarceration. It delivers a sense of hope and purpose and a chance to live out the love and forgiveness of Christ. Though its primary mission is salvation, prison ministry also serves to restore lives, rebuild trust, while at the same time reducing recidivism and the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.
The single’s ministry exists to support and inspire individuals in building a healthy relationship with God and the church. Ministering to individuals often requires a different approach than couples or families. The challenges of single life offer fertile ground for faith, but many singles lack the love and support in their daily lives that couples take for granted. The search for identity and meaning in life is something that single’s ministers can help with. Hosting and organizing events for singles and offering one-on-one counseling are important parts of the job. You’ll find single’s ministries prevalent in churches in urban areas with large unmarried populations, but many churches have small or informal single’s ministries within their congregations.
In the same way that men and children have their own unique roles and responsibilities in a Christian family, so do women. The women’s ministry exists to tend to the needs of women, in their roles as wives, mothers, and independent and strong Christians in their own right. Navigating the challenges of leading a life according to the Gospel in modern culture takes a lot of love and support. Women’s ministers are there to offer that support and answer some of the hard questions to reconcile Biblical strictures with the realities of modern life. Developing a safe space for discussing those questions without fear or judgment is a big part of the job of a women’s minister, usually happening in small groups and through activities and outreach efforts. Women’s ministries exist in most churches, large and small.
A step up from the children’s ministry are the youth and young adults of a community. Adolescence is often a time of rebellion, which can make this ministry particularly challenging. Youth ministers have to establish personal connections in order to lead young people toward a life of discipleship, cutting through the noise of modern culture to share the promise and reward of a Christian life. Youth ministers have a tough job, but it can also be a fun one, taking kids on field trips and coming up with fun activities that also build faith and give back to the community. Youth ministries are found in most churches and in schools and Christian community groups.
Building on the difficulty of youth ministry, reaching out to youth in crisis is even more challenging—but also more necessary. Reaching young adults and teens before their lives go too far down a dark path is a vital role in Christian outreach and crisis organizations. Ministers not only offer counseling, but also learn to evaluate at-risk teens and family situations. They coordinate with both government and faith-based resources to refer youth in need of support. They might also put evangelism in the back seat and develop after-school or athletic programs simply to help kids in crisis find safe, healthy, wholesome spaces to spend their time.
Christian Pastors Have Official Duties Ranging From the Holy to the Mundane
Of course, not everything pastors do from day to day is completely profound. There is a lot of basic, menial tasks to be done in the average ministry which also fall to their shoulders.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
~ James 4:10
You’ll have to be as cheerful and eager to perform those small works as any grand gestures of charity and salvation. But exactly what those tasks are will be different for different kinds of ministry.
Ministry Jobs in Churches Offer Blessings to Communities Large and Small
Ministry jobs in churches tend to have a more regular set of duties and responsibilities than foreign missions. These can be split amongst several priests or end up on the plate of a single parson depending on the size and organization of the church. The specifics can also vary with the size of the church, since handling bookkeeping and budgeting in a large parish can take on some of the same challenges as running a medium sized business.
But in general a church ministry job will involve duties such as:
Managing the church facilities and property - Although the most important parts of the church are the people, there is often a considerable investment made in buildings and property where worship services and other activities are conducted. The minister usually takes on some level of responsibility for maintaining and managing the physical plant of the church, whether it involves raking leaves or replacing shingles.
Delivering sermons and counseling - Ministers are expected to spread the Word and provide comfort and guidance. Most church-goers receive their education and guidance through weekly sermons, so many ministers put a great deal of effort into finding the right subjects, honing their message, and perfecting their delivery for regular services. But they also lead small study groups in discipleship and should always be available for individual consultation and counseling.
Officiating at religious ceremonies - Ministers lend the Lord’s blessing to any number of different formal ceremonies, ranging from baptisms to weddings to funerals. Although this doesn’t take up a lot of time, it does put them front and center in the minds of the people involved. Whether it’s making a joyous occasion more incredible or a tragic one more tolerable, ministers have an important job standing as representatives of the Lord in these moments.
Selecting and overseeing musical worship - Sometimes singing the praises of the Lord means literally singing. Ministers are often responsible for choosing and leading hymns and other music to bring joy and spread faith. In larger churches, worship ministers may take this job on as the greater part of their responsibilities, using both musical sensibility and technical mastery of audiovisual equipment to design and choreograph elaborate musical presentations.
Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
~ Psalms 105:2
Leading parishioners on field trips - Education is an important duty in the eyes of the Lord and of your flock. Just like in school, sometimes the most memorable teaching moments come when you get outside the classroom (or church, in this case) and see first-hand evidence of God's works and glory. From local trips to weeks-long journeys to the Holy Land, ministers are responsible for organizing and leading these trips.
Performing charitable works - Even ministers working in churches try to do as much charitable work as possible. From visiting the sick in hospitals to spearheading food drives, there is a remarkable amount of good that can be accomplished for the community when a spirited minister inspires their congregation to pull together and contribute.
Performing missionary work in their community and elsewhere - A minister is a preacher, spreading the Word wherever they go. Some ministers never leave their own parish, focusing their attention on a regular congregation of the faithful and recruiting to those ranks. Others may be called to spend their lives seeking out non-believers in the furthest corners of the world, testifying to the salvation He offers and the miracle of Christ.
Living a life in Christ is about more than saying great things about God; it’s also about reflecting God's love on those most in need of it. The sick, the poor, and the hungry are all among those groups who ministers have special need to watch out for and assist.
Meeting the Qualifications for Christian Ministry Jobs
While searching your soul for the peace and dedication necessary to minister to others is crucial, and building your knowledge and skills through college-level studies is important, at the end of the day your qualifications for a ministry job will be judged by the church or religious organization you apply to.
Those organizations will look for all the essential skills and qualifications you need for the job, but they also usually have a number of other steps you will need to fulfill to be considered for a full-time position as a minister.
To start with, most minister jobs require that you become ordained by your faith. Ordination itself can be a lengthy process with a number of important requirements, including:
- Earn an appropriate degree in divinity
- Belong to the church for a certain number of years before applying
- Receive the endorsement of a number of church elders, including undergoing interviews
- Pass written examinations of your knowledge of Bible verses and church doctrine
- Pass oral exams testing your theological reasoning and personal calling
Becoming ordained is a necessary step in receiving the blessing of your church to perform official ceremonies and conduct sermons and counseling with congregants. There are several levels to ordination in most Christian denominations, and depending on the ministry job you are called to, you may need to ascend through the ranks to achieve the right level of service.
Of course, ordination may only be an intermediate step along the way to a ministry job. You will likely also have to apply for and be interviewed for specific jobs themselves. That can involve demonstrating entirely different sets of skills, particularly for missionary work, as well as undergoing other interviews and sometimes interim periods as a candidate where you will be tested on the job.
Not all minister jobs require becoming ordained, but as you look for positions of higher responsibility or more independence, you’ll find that is a common requirement.
Ministers Have a Responsibility to Faith and Church
Of course, ministers ultimately are responsible to God and to their own conscience. But in many denominations, both church and missionary ministry jobs are part of a larger hierarchy. Ministers have a lot of latitude to preach and counsel in their own style and with their own initiative. But they are still accountable to certain mortal authorities as well.
Those can include larger regional or national branches of their denomination. In some cases, they may even be assigned to their position by those authorities rather than getting hired in the traditional manner. They may receive guidance on matters of worship and doctrine as well as the mundane bureaucratic issues that come up in any kind of human organization.
In other denominations, the primary people that ministers report to are members of their congregation. A group of elders or just a committee of church-goers may be responsible for providing oversight to the minister. And like any business executive, the minister has to be able to track and communicate important matters of budget, policy, and management that come up through the job.
The Skills and Qualifications for Ministry Jobs Come Through Both Inspiration and Formal Education
Modern ministers have to have all the traditional skills in preaching, counseling, and biblical hermeneutics that their predecessors have possessed for thousands of years. But they exist in an era where parishioners are as likely to turn to their cell phones for Bible verses as to a preacher, and who expect instant communication and the convenience of the internet for everything from tithing to accessing sermon transcripts.
Even ministers working in the most out-of-the way places will find that technology has a significant impact on their jobs. Communication back to sponsors and agencies are as likely to bounce through a satellite somewhere as happen through mail. Much of the benefits that they bring to the cultures where they work are probably in the form of advanced technology, from antibiotics to high-tech water purification systems.
By Requiring a College Education, Ministry Jobs Cultivate Discipline and Knowledge
So, ministers today need to develop strong skills in both the spiritual and secular worlds. That generally happens by pursuing and earning at least a bachelor’s degree, and more commonly a master’s degree, in divinity, ministry, theology, or similar majors.
Most minister jobs will require such a degree, and for good reason: earning one will give you important knowledge and skills in diverse areas such as:
- History and social studies
- Philosophy and hermeneutics
- Bible study
- Counseling and social work
Degrees also offer specialized tracks to boost your knowledge in areas that might be a particular help in the type of ministry you wish to pursue. For example, you can find divinity degrees offering concentrations in:
- Youth ministry
- Missionary work
- Bible study
- Pastoral studies
Your college experience studying Christian ministry or divinity will help shape your skills, practice, and approach to a ministry job. With the knowledge and confidence a degree will give you, you’ll find that ministry jobs are much easier to find in any denomination.
Church Leaders Are Both Students of God's Word and Educators for God's Message
As a minister, people will turn to you for all kinds of knowledge and wisdom. No matter how strong your calling, if you aren’t prepared with the information and training, you’re not going to be able to give them what they need.
That’s why most minister jobs today require that you earn at least a bachelor’s degree in divinity, Christian studies, or a related field. More and more of those positions require an even more intensive education, a master’s degree or higher in divinity (MDiv) or similar.
Although there are many paths to the ministry, all of them require study.
Your college training will elevate your understanding of God's Word and Grace as well as the context in which you will preach of them. A course of studies in Christian ministry or divinity will include classes in areas such as:
Bible Studies - A complete study of the Bible is critical for anyone who hopes to preach the messages it contains. People expect ministers to have a full understanding of both established doctrine and the remaining mysteries of Christianity. You'll learn about those by intensive study of the Book itself as well as comparative religious studies that look at various interpretations to help you better understand how every denomination comes to its conclusions.
Theology and the philosophy of religion - Understanding Christianity also means comparing it to the alternatives, and exploring its relationship with the spiritual impulse that seems to underlie all cultures in all periods of time. Theology unlocks some of the traditional and scientific ways of understanding how faith fits into our world and how Christianity meets that we all feel for purpose and fulfillment.
History of Christianity and Culture - Old and New Testament passages will be read and explored in depth with knowledgeable instructors who will help you understand how the teachings of Christ have been understood over the course of the past 2,000 years. The history of the early Church as well as developments through the ages shape how religion is practiced today, and religion in turn has been an important influence on culture as it has evolved over time.
Preaching and counseling - Most Christian studies programs will offer plenty of practical preparation towards one of the areas where ministers will spend the bulk of their service: actual preaching and ministering to people. Just like any professional public speaker or counselor, ministers benefit from training in how to evaluate people in distress, how to reach out to them, and how to find the right words in situations where no words seem helpful. Composing and delivering sermons also takes training, and these courses are where you will find it.
Religious studies courses might also come with a wide variety of electives to help explore various parts of the ministry you are interested in. Those can include classes in:
- Multicultural ministry
- Pastoral leadership
- Biblical languages
- Bible hermeneutics
Secular Studies Are Part of Your Education When Preparing for a Career in Ministry
Ministers do not usually have the luxury of surrounding themselves with other persons of the cloth and only engaging with deep matters of theological significance. The work of a minister is by its nature all wrapped up with matters of the secular world as well as the spiritual.
So you need to study more than just the Bible to become a minister today.
You will need a broad-based education that informs you both in religious and temporal knowledge in order to be an effective minister.
Your degree will also include important general knowledge and scientific studies to help you understand the secular world your congregation lives in. At the same time, there are many temporal teachings that a minister can profit by in their religious functions. So you’ll want to make sure your degree includes courses in subjects such as:
English literature and writing - Communication may be the most important part of a minister’s job. While you will get the Word of God directly from the writings of the prophets, learning how to present those concepts in ways that resonate with your audience can use a little secular polish. If the Bible is the best-selling written work in history, the plays of Shakespeare are not far behind. The Bard and his successors knew a thing or two about pitching important human truths to a large audience, and you can learn from both historical and modern works how to craft your own language to hit its mark.
Speech and rhetoric - Writing a sermon is one thing, but getting up in front of an audience and delivering it with the fire and tenderness to hold their attention is something else entirely. Ministers can benefit from courses in public speaking and the arts of rhetoric to assist both in speech to groups and to boost their communication skills in one-on-one conversations.
Psychology - Understanding the mysteries of God can sometimes seem simple compared to understanding the mysteries of humankind. Many ministers find their parishioners more complicated than the Scriptures, so studies of individual and social psychology can pay off quickly as you wrestle with the hard problems of human emotions and mental issues. While God's grace can help anyone in trouble, as a minister you are the conduit, and you will be a better servant as one who can apply some understanding of basic human psychology.
Social studies and culture - Your ministry may take place in familiar settings, or in lands where you are a stranger. Either way, it’s a good idea to enter into your mission with a good grasp of the culture and history of the people who you are among. Just as you’ll learn in Christian studies how your religion has grown and evolved over time, you’ll see in studies of secular history how important Christianity has been to culture.
With a Master of Divinity, Jobs in Ministry Are Much Easier To Find
Today, almost all ministry jobs are actually college ministry jobs. And most churches and Christian organizations far prefer to hire candidates with not just a bachelor’s degree, but a full-fledged master of divinity or similar advanced degree.
Master’s programs are only available after you have earned a bachelor’s degree, but that lets them cut out the basic liberal arts and sciences training given to undergraduates in favor of more advanced and concentrated study of some of the deepest mysteries of Christian philosophy and evangelism. Your preparation from an advanced degree in divinity will equip you to handle anything that your ministry throws at you from a theological standpoint.
Because a master’s program demands more of you intellectually and puts you through more in-depth studies of ethical, moral, and philosophical expressions of Christianity, most churches will have a lot more faith in a master’s graduate. You will have proven your knowledge in religious subjects, but, more importantly, demonstrated the kind of logic and reason required to handle thorny problems of faith in the real world.
The Qualities of a Church Leader Start with What is Inside - Working in Ministry Requires Passion, Dedication and Training
Ministers have to feel the call to service, but just experiencing that inspiration doesn’t get the job done. Devotion is critical, but it’s only a way to drive your dedication and propel you to the actions you’ll need to take to preach the Word and make a difference in people’s lives.
Ministers require a special set of skills on top of their faith and spirituality. Some of those skills may be innate—you might be the kind of person who is easy to talk to, who is full of compassion and understanding. But there are also many aspects of a minister’s service that come from knowledge and skills you must learn along the way.
Not surprisingly, the Bible lays out the first and last word on the personal qualities required of ministers. According to 1 Timothy 3, a bishop or deacon must be:
- Vigilant, sober, and of good behavior
- Given to hospitality
- Able to teach
- Not given to wine nor greedy of filthy lucre
- Not covetous nor given to brawling
From doing good in both word and deed to living a life of humbleness and piety, a minister is expected to show leadership in what it means to be a good Christian. Moral rectitude and the righteous acts of a minister are meant to inspire and offer a model for everyone around them.
Living the gospel is a non-negotiable set of qualities every minister must possess. Your personal and spiritual integrity will serve as the solid foundation that all your other responsibilities will build on. A minister is a leader and example to others of a dutiful, moral Christian. Your respect and effectiveness in any ministry job will rest on that.
Your ability to empathize with others and to teach them is also a matter of personality as much as training. What is in your heart connects you to your duties and your flock.
They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
~ 1 Timothy 3:10
Learn How To Become a Minister in Just Five Steps
Knowing you need an education is just one piece of fulfilling your calling to become a minister. The practical process required can take years, but there are really only five steps that you will need to fulfill to get there. Each of them can be a challenge; all of them will serve to make you a more competent and trustworthy messenger and pastor in the end.
1. Volunteer in a Ministry Project To See How It Feels To Become a Minister
Many ministers begin their path to service close to home: by volunteering in their own parish or community.
While this service can be strictly of a religious character, it may also take the shape of purely secular community service.
Helping out at a food bank, building tiny homes for the unhoused, or organizing a toy collection drive for impoverished kids are all activities that are right in line with God's teachings, even if they are organized under secular associations.
And they will all help you build skills that you can further use in God's service later on in your career.
Volunteering also gives you the chance to test your mettle. A life in the ministry brings many challenges, and it’s best for you to face them early and to pray on them before you are in a position where a lack of faith may let others down. Learning how to become a minister is not a solo pursuit—discussing your calling and finding guidance in the words of others is a critical part you can fill by exploring it as a volunteer first.
2. Complete Your Degree in the Ministry To Learn How To Become a Minister
Once you have searched your soul and confirmed your commitment to becoming a minister, it’s time to get the education for the job. A master’s degree is the surest path to prepare, but getting there means first earning a four-year bachelor’s degree. With another two years dedicated to a master’s program, you are looking at this step taking six years or more to complete.
You can take full advantage of your studies by choosing a concentration or specialty that lines up with your overall goals for how to become a minister. Different programs can offer customized courses of study to prepare you specifically for special kinds of ministries, including:
- Marriage and family ministry
- Educational ministry
- Christian missions
- Youth ministry
These each build on the core subjects of a ministry degree to give you greater expertise in your chosen field before you even graduate. Many offer internships or other experiential learning opportunities to give you a hands-on taste of what it is really like to be a minister.
Ministry Degrees Should Be Fully Accredited to Prepare You to Become a Minister
Ensuring the quality of a religious education is a tricky business considering the history and wide range of different teachings and denominations of the Faith that exist today.
Fortunately, you have a secular crutch to lean on as you are evaluating different schools and degree options. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) each maintain lists of accreditation agencies that you can rely on to evaluate and approve schools that offer degrees in divinity.
Those agencies don’t dive down into deep matters of theological philosophy or make any judgements about issues of doctrine. That leaves schools free to teach exactly the kinds of subjects they think are most important for future ministers to learn.
What the agencies do look at are the things that ensure you get what you are paying for in an American college degree, and that future employers can trust that you have received a complete education according to community standards.
That includes things like:
- Instructor credentials and hiring standards
- Consistent grading and academic standards
- Administrative efficiency
- Truth in advertising
Your path to a minister job will be a lot smoother with a degree from a legitimately accredited university.
How Much Should You Expect To Pay For The Degree You Need To Become a Minister?
Ministers aren’t paid on the same scale as lawyers or economists, even though they may spend just as long in school to get their qualifications. But that doesn’t mean you get a discount on your education. In fact, you may end up paying more for a degree in divinity than in a more profitable field.
That’s because most Christian studies degrees, at both the bachelor and master’s degree level, are offered by private universities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that brings the price tag up over what a public university with state subsidies would cost.
For graduate-level programs, the price of tuition and fees at private universities rises above $26,500 per year.
At the bachelor’s level, private universities cost an average of $32,417 annually, versus the overall average of $13,360. Those costs don’t include room and board, which will vary depending on where in the country your choose to attend school.
Residency Programs for Ministers Chip Away at Tuition While Offering On-the-Job Training
One thing to look at that can alleviate both high college costs and bridging the gap between theoretical training in the ministry and real-world applications is a ministry residency program.
These are programs run by schools or by individual churches that place you in a local ministry job for some fixed period during your schooling. You may either be paid a nominal wage for the work or receive a deduction on your tuition costs.
Beyond that good fortune, you also get the chance to actually practice your preaching on real congregations or in non-profit ministerial roles in the community. You have the opportunity to observe how ministers and pastors operate on the ground, and will be mentored by them as you feel your way into your own style and techniques.
Some residencies are post-graduate experiences, offering the same kind of transitional training but not necessarily directly applying to your tuition or college costs. Nonetheless, they can be valuable ways to build experience in a sheltered environment before taking the plunge as a minister entirely on your own.
3. Obtain a Minister License or Become Ordained by Your Denomination
Ordination is the biggest formal step you’ll have to take in how to become a licensed minister. Very few states actually require that you proactively obtain a license to perform ministerial work. On the flip side, most denominations do not recognize any secular organization as qualified to authorize clergy to perform services on their behalf.
While some denominations refer to their clergy as licensed ministers, for most the process of getting the right approval involves becoming ordained.
Ordination is a sacred process that will vary from denomination to denomination. You’ll have to determine exactly what requirements you’ll need to meet and the process you will have to go through to become recognized as a minister by your religion. In general, however, most denominations require at least the following:
- Being a member of a congregation of that denomination for a set period of time before applying
- Getting endorsed by one or more church elders
- Going through an interview with a committee or other authority in the church
- Earning a relevant degree in theology or ministry
Those just get you in the door, however. Taking the Sacrament of Holy Orders, or rites required in your faith to signify full ordination, is the next big step.
Ordination itself is an important recognition of your status as minister, however. It has implications for how secular authority will view your employment status and tax obligations. It also offers the consecration of your denomination to perform the rituals and services of a minister, including function such as:
- Leading ceremonies of worship
- Teaching religious texts
- Offering communion
- Delivering spiritual counseling
- Conducting weddings, funerals, or baptisms
4. Pass Ordination Exams
Many denominations require that you take and pass rigorous examinations in order to become ordained. In some ways, these will resemble the kind of tests you take in school, so earning a degree also offers a good way to prepare for them. But in other ways, they involve much more in-depth and personal probing.
The typical ordination exam series will include written essays on religious subjects or passages from scripture.
You can also expect to face oral examination, in some cases for 10 hours or more, facing a committee of elders. You’re expected to have attained mastery in common theological questions and to demonstrate both familiarity with and understanding of scripture.
Questions can range from those testing your basic Biblical knowledge, such as identifying the reason that Miriam was afflicted by leprosy, to more thorny subjects, such as an interpretation in your faith of the concept of universal salvation.
While you have to demonstrate basic knowledge and theological reasoning skills, ordination exams will also weigh you as a person and a leader. You can expect to answer very personal questions about your life, your faith, and your commitment.
5. Find a Place to Make a Career Out of Ministering
For the most part, ministers will work directly for churches. You can also find minister jobs working for non-profit or government agencies such as:
Fire and police departments, as chaplains - Fire and police department chaplains minister to both members of those agencies and to traumatized or bereaved members of the public who have come under the care of those departments through an emergency incident. These ministers are expected to offer comfort and counsel to people of all denominations and through any sort of crisis, making it one of the most demanding jobs a minister can face.
Hospitals and nursing homes - Other organizations who deal wholesale in mental and physical crises that call for spiritual counsel sometimes also employ ministers on staff. In hospitals, ministers can work with either patients or their families going through troubling healthcare issues. They may serve as much as social workers as priests, using a knowledge of resources as well as wise words to help people through crises. In nursing homes, ministers can develop a community and congregation of mutual support for people who are experiencing similar difficulties.
Charities and community outreach organizations - Ministers are employed throughout America and around the world for non-profit organizations performing God’s work in a wide variety of causes:
- Overseas missionary work - Ministers are frequently sent to underdeveloped and struggling nations not only to spread the Word but to put in some work. Ministers may be part of efforts to do good by offering medical services, upgrading water systems, building churches or houses, or delivering tools and advice for farm modernization.
- International outreach - In more developed nations, ministers may be sent to develop church organization and preach to populations that have not yet converted to Christianity. This is both preaching and organizational work, requiring cultural aptitude and strong team-building skills.
- Community resource centers - In both the United States and overseas, some ministers are tapped to run faith-based non-profit organizations that exist primarily to deal with various difficulties in the temporal world. Those can be hunger, addiction, homelessness, or any other issue that has a negative impact. Through the combination of knowledge and faith, ministers chip away at the hardships faced in these communities, and often win converts along the way.
Some denominations appoint ordained ministers to their posts through a regional organization or committee rather than hiring them. In other cases, looking for minister jobs isn’t necessarily much different from looking for any kind of job. You’ll have to search for openings, fill out job applications, apply, and interview with a senior minister or committee.
Ministry Positions Pay Reasonable Wages for Hard Work and Commitment
No one enters the ministry to get rich. You become a minister because you are called to it, and your faith and commitment to the gospel are bound with iron. You know you will work harder than any stockbroker or doctor and make far less. But the work itself is your reward.
You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.
~ 2 Corinthians 8:9
All the same, ministers are paid a living wage for their labors. You wouldn’t be able to fully pursue God’s plan for your life if you had to take on another job just to put a roof over your head and food on the table. Churches and other ministries do their best to make sure that ministers have a comfortable life, free from want, and in line with their station as pillars of the community.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of wages for a wide range of different professions in the United States. For ministers, there are two categories that may apply:
- Directors of Religious Activities and Education
They are more likely to fall into the directors of religious activities and education category when performing missionary or outreach work for nonprofits or aid organizations. Ministers working as church pastors, on the other hand, will generally be counted as clergy for salary purposes.
Each category has a slightly different average salary. For 2020, the average salary for clergy was $51,940 per year; for directors of religious activities and education, it was $45,110.
Locations and Organizations Have a Lot To Do With Salary Standards for Ministry Jobs
Because different parts of the country and different communities have different costs associated with housing, food, and other necessities, that means that minister salaries can vary from place to place. You’re likely to see higher salaries in dense, coastal urban areas, and lower rates in more affordable rural places.
According to BLS, the median salary for clergy in several representative states around the nation for 2020 was:
- New York : $57,120
- California : $72,760
- Illinois : $57,560
- Texas : $56,900
- Florida : $54,730
- Missouri : $52,880
- Georgia : $51,100
- Washington : $64,910
You will also find that positions for ministers from industry to industry are not necessarily equivalent. There are different kinds of demands on your time, expertise, and experience in different kinds of ministries. It’s only natural that the going rates for these services are also somewhat different.
- Religious organizations - $54,100
- Medical and surgical hospitals - $57,580
- Home health care services - $59,570
- Elementary and secondary schools - $55,680
- Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals - $61,290
In general, the more specialized or technical knowledge your ministry job requires, the higher you can expect the salary to be.
Only your own faith can tell you what the right combination of compensation and satisfaction will be to answer your calling.
No matter what path you pursue in ministry jobs, you can be sure that you are making the world a richer place through your efforts.