How to Become an Ordained Minister: Education and Career Roadmap
Find out how to become an ordained minister. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in ordained ministry.
Should I Become an Ordained Minister?
Ordained ministers provide spiritual leadership to religious congregations as pastors and within institutions as chaplains. Typical duties for clergy include providing spiritual counseling, preaching for and leading worship services and officiating at community rituals such as weddings and funerals. The responsibilities of guiding parishioners in both their spiritual and personal lives may be stressful for some individuals. In addition, ministers must sometimes deal with difficult or demanding church members who may hold positions of high esteem within the church.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $44,250 for all clergy in 2015.
It's common for an ordained minister to have a master's degree in divinity or ministry, but an undergraduate degree may be accepted. You will have to meet ordination credentials issued by either a congregation or denomination. You also need to have good judgement, strong speaking skills, and good listening skills.
Steps to Become an Ordained Minister
Let's see what steps you'll need to take if you want to become an ordained minister.
Step 1: Research Denominational Requirements
There is no one set of rules for ordination, so it's important that you research your own church or denomination's requirements for ordination. Usually the best way to get started is to talk to the minister who serves the church. He or she can explain the ordination process, requirements, and assist the inquirer in beginning the process of candidacy.
- Visit the official denominational website. Denominational websites usually include information on the ordination process. Large denominations may direct inquirers to a regional website, as some regional governing bodies may have different processes than others.
Step 2: Begin Candidacy Process
The process of candidacy for an ordained minister often begins with meeting a committee from the church. The committee and you will work together to determine whether you have the spiritual and personal qualities necessary for ordained ministry. In some denominations, you will meet the denominational officials and may begin a formal application process to be acknowledged as a ministerial candidate.
Step 3: Choose a School and Complete a Degree Program
Most, though not all, denominations require clergy to complete an educational program as a condition of ordination. Many people get their ministry education by enrolling in a Master of Divinity degree program at a theological seminary, though some denominations also recognize bachelor's degrees or other types of educational credentials earned at undergraduate schools or Bible institutes.
- Consider a school sponsored by one's own denomination. Many denominations require ministry candidates to complete coursework in denominational policy and it is usually easiest to find these courses at an affiliated school.
- Complete internships, field education or clinical pastoral education (CPE). Depending on school and denominational policy as well as your own career plans, you may serve as an intern or student minister in a church while completing your degree program. Those wishing to specialize in pastoral counseling or work as chaplains often complete CPE by working in a chaplaincy department at a local hospital.
Step 4: Attend Necessary Interviews and Evaluations
During the candidacy process, you may be asked to complete several interviews and evaluations. In addition to undergoing a background check, you may be required to undergo a psychological evaluation and even be required to provide the denomination with a credit report. You may also be expected to meet with one or more committees to discuss your theology, faith journey, doctrine and plans for future ministry.
Step 5: Become Ordained
If you meet the qualifications necessary to become ordained, you will be able to schedule an ordination ceremony. These ceremonies vary significantly according to the denominational or church policies. Typically a senior clergy person, bishop or denominational official conducts the ceremony, which affirms the ministerial call and gifts of the person being ordained.
Step 6: Seek Call or Placement
If you are not already serving in a ministry role, you should begin looking for a job. In some denominations, a bishop or denominational official will place you in a church or ministry setting while other denominations require clergy to find their own jobs by making contact with congregations or institutions who are seeking a minister.
To become an ordained minister you must meet the requirements set forth by your church, which may include attending interviews and evaluations and earning a college degree before you can become ordained through the church.