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Be a Licensed Minister: Licensure and Education Information

Learn how to become a licensed minister. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information, and experience you will need to start a career as a licensed minister. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Licensed Minister?

Licensed ministers are responsible for conducting the worship ceremonies in Christian congregations. Such individuals are typically recognized by the state as being qualified to carry out marriages, baptisms, funerals, and other rituals that may have legal implications as well as religious significance. They also provide pastoral care to the people in their congregations. Being depended upon by church members for faith-related guidance may be emotionally draining, but ministers might also reap the rewards of seeing their congregants blossoming spiritually. PayScale.com reported clergy in the 10th-90th percentiles earn an annual salary of $29,434 -$77,204 in January 2016.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Will vary by denomination, but often requires completion of a master's degree
Degree Field(s) Divinity
Licensure and/or Certification Each denomination has a different procedure for ordaining licensed ministers; candidates must also comply with state licensing procedures to perform weddings and other legally binding functions
Key Skills Service orientated, active listening skills, good at instructing, social perceptiveness, good judgment and decision-making skills; skills in speaking, reading comprehension, negotiation, and persuasion

Sources: ONet Online, Dallas Theological Seminary, The State of Tennessee, Survey of ordination requirements for a variety of denominations in October 2012, Survey of job postings in October 2012, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Steps to Become A Licensed Minister

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most congregations require their ministers to have at least a bachelor's degree; others require a master's of divinity, for which a bachelor's is a prerequisite. You may earn a bachelor's in any field, but a bachelor's degree in ministry or divinity may be particularly effective in preparing for the ordination process. A bachelor's program in divinity will typically offer courses in the Bible, theology, biblical geography, rhetoric, Greek, Latin, church history, and ecclesiology.

Success Tip

Participate in lay ministry activities. Persons wishing to become licensed ministers will typically belong to a particular congregation and participate in church activities, such as prayer groups, missionary work, Bible studies, and charity events. Some churches invite lay members to serve on boards that oversee stewardship, evangelism, or Christian education. Many denominations that ordain licensed ministers will examine the life and activities of a candidate in order to evaluate his or her dedication to the church; whether or not an individual is allowed to begin the ordination process may depend upon his or her history of lay ministry activity.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Program at a Seminary

While different denominations vary in the amount of education preparation they require from their licensed ministers, many congregations ask that prospective candidates complete a master's degree in divinity at a seminary. Some seminaries offer training that is applicable to many denominations, while other schools are much more focused on the demands of a particular denomination. The choice of which seminary to attend is particularly important; many congregations do not accept the academic training offered by a school dedicated to a denomination other than their own. In a master's degree program in divinity you will typically take multiple in-depth courses on various aspects of the Bible in addition to classes in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Other courses may provide in-depth discussion of theological principles or provide instruction on effective pastoral counseling methods.

Success Tip:

Complete the additional academic training required to be licensed for a particular area of pastoral counseling. Licensed ministers often serve as advisors to troubled individuals; for this reason, states frequently require that ministers receive specialized training in the pastoral field that is to be their primary concentration. This specialized training may involve completion of courses in mental health issues, psychology, or counseling. Additional coursework may also prepare pastors to work with a particular age group or in a particular church activity requiring technical skill, such as music. Requirements will differ by denomination and by state; local governing bodies can provide additional information. You should also research the state licenses required to perform legally binding weddings and other essential functions of church ministry that have legal ramifications.

Step 3: Complete the Ordination Process of a Particular Denomination

It's common to choose to complete your ordination process in the tradition of a particular denomination because such licensing procedures are often not transferable from one denomination to another. The ordination process of each denomination will be different, but will often include a year of ministry at a subordinate level under the supervision of a licensed pastor. You may also be asked to offer up declarations of faith, discuss the spiritual journey that led you to the ministry, or explain your philosophical positions on pressing church issues that affect church policy. For some denominations, the your participation in the ordination process is essentially taking part in an internship that is expected to end with placement in a full-time position.

Success Tip:

Consider a doctorate. If you are interested in a career that involves intense scholarly research or teaching at the collegiate level, you may be interested in seeking a doctoral degree in divinity. Such programs typically require coursework in comparative religions, anthropology, and theology as well as a working knowledge of at least two foreign languages. Doctoral candidates will pass a series of qualifying exams and complete a dissertation on a preferred field of theological research.

To become a licensed minister, you will need to follow the path laid out by your specific denomination, which will usually involve completing a master's degree program and ordination process, along with obtaining state licensing.

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