Be a Pastor: Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn how to become a pastor. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a pastor.

Should I Become a Pastor?

Pastors promote spirituality in churches and other religious institutions through sermons and teachings. They organize regular services and may lead congregations who believe in a specific faith or who seek non-denominational worship. Pastors also counsel members, provide emotional support to other leaders and parishioners, visit sick people in hospitals, and assist the poor through outreach programs. Pastors may confer weddings, baptisms and funerals. Stress is inherent in this profession due to the serious nature of many situations and to the somewhat political aspects of the job.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree is generally preferred for some positions
Experience Many job openings for pastors require five years of experience
Licensing/Certification Pastors may need to be ordained in their faith
Key Skills Speaking, active listening, service orientation, social perceptiveness
Salary (2014) $43,950 (median salary for all clergy)

Sources: O*Net, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A career as a pastor begins with a 4-year degree. Popular majors for students who wish to pursue a career in religious leadership include Bible or pastoral studies, theology and ministry. Some programs offer bachelor's degrees in specific ministerial areas, such as pastoral studies. Courses in the program cover topics in the Old and New Testament, theology, ethics, pastoral studies and sociology.

Success Tip:

  • Be active in campus ministry. Colleges and universities may feature a campus ministry where students can worship and express their faith. Leading Bible study groups or helping within the community may be beneficial both spiritually and for graduate programs.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Pastors may begin their career as associate pastors. They'll work under the supervision of a senior pastor at the church. While associate pastors may lead spiritual groups and be available for counseling during the week, they may conduct readings during services and perform sermons periodically.

Step 3: Complete a Master's Degree Program

After the completion of a bachelor's degree, pastoral students typically begin their graduate coursework at a seminary or School of Divinity. Aspiring pastors may follow a degree plan for a Master of Divinity (M.Div.), but other options may be available. The M.Div. program lasts 3-4 years depending on the amount of courses taken each semester. Courses are strictly focused on religious practices, Bible study and congregational leadership.

While all pastors study the Christian faith, additional courses based on the denomination of study may be offered. Most seminaries offer an apprenticeship-like program included in the master's program that allows pastoral students to observe and practice their developing skills with an ordained pastor.

Step 4: Look for Senior Pastor Opportunities

Depending on pastors' goals or the needs of a denomination, pastors may spend only a short time serving one congregation or serve one for many years. Typically, pastors are notified of job openings through postings from the denominational governing organization.

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