Schools that offer online education options in pastoral Christian studies or related areas are mainly private religious-affiliated institutions. Students wishing to explore this field via distance learning can work toward a number of academic certificates and degrees from the comfort of home. There are online associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees offered in this field, as well as both undergraduate and graduate certificates. They may be offered under different titles, such as Christian Ministry or Biblical and Pastoral Studies. Many of these programs are offered in hybrid format, so they require that students complete some on-campus courses or stays of residency at churches.
Applicants to undergraduate programs in pastoral Christian studies must have a high school diploma or GED, while those interested in graduate-level options must have a bachelor's degree. Due to the nature of this field, it is common for schools to also require prospective students to submit recommendation letters from pastors or other church leaders.
Undergraduate certificate programs are geared toward students who hope to enter the pastoral ministry on a part-time basis. Online programs at this level usually allow students to choose from a large pool of Christian studies electives, in addition to completing introductory courses on theology, leadership, and the Bible. Distance learners can usually earn a certificate in under a year.
Two-year associate degree programs in pastoral Christian studies are aimed toward people who want to work with church leadership as laypersons or who plan to join the Christian ministry later in life. Online associate degree students generally study the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as Christian theology. General education coursework in areas like English, history, math, and the sciences is also required.
Pastoral Christian studies bachelor's degree programs are designed for those willing to commit their lives to worship and serving others through Christianity. Courses in an online bachelor's degree program might include Bible study, church history, and the history of civilization as well as general education classes. The curriculum typically takes about four years to complete.
Graduate certificate programs can help existing ministers become experts in specific areas of ministry study or Christian history. As with undergraduate certificate programs, most schools allow online graduate certificate students to choose from a variety of graduate-level Christian studies courses. Recipients of certificates in pastoral Christian studies can often apply their credits toward the pursuit of a master's degree.
Earning a master's degree is a further expression of one's commitment to the ministry. Master's degree programs in Christian studies typically include advanced study of the Old and New Testaments, in addition to the study of Christian philosophy and ethics. A student can usually earn this graduate degree in around two years.
Distance learners completing online coursework typically have the flexibility to study or work on assignments when it fits their schedules, as long as they meet scheduled due dates. Schools set up virtual classroom environments that feature lectures, assignments, learning supplements and tools for interaction. Online students may get the chance to interact with their instructors and fellow classmates using e-mail, message boards, chat rooms and web conferencing.
The main goal of online Christian education programs is to prepare students to join the ministry. However, many pastoral Christian studies students go on to pursue such varied careers as theology teachers, youth counselors, church historians or missionaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of clergy and religious directors is expected to increase 6% and 4%, respectively, in the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). BLS data from 2015 shows that the average annual wage for members of the clergy was $48,150, while religious directors earned an average annual salary of $45,160.
There are online undergraduate and graduate programs in pastoral Christian studies that provide religious training for students with a wide range of spiritual and career goals. Most include some in-person training, but students can generally expect to work at their own pace and communicate with instructors and classmates online.