Minister: Educational Requirements and Career Profile

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a minister. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and training required to find out if this is the career for you.

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A minister is a clergy member who administers sacraments and generally provides spiritual guidance to members of the church. They may be a priest, deacon, bishop, or even an ordained layperson. Their placement and position depend on what denomination appoints them.

Essential Information

Ministers are Christian clergy involved in helping people with their spiritual well-being. Usually working for churches in specific denominations, they act as leaders and minister to those in need of spiritual guidance or comfort. A bachelor's is typically required; however, a master's may be preferred. Professional training is also usually necessary.

Required Education Bachelor's; graduate schooling sometimes preferred
Other Requirements Religious vocation, professional training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all clergy
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $48,150 for all clergy

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Educational Requirements for Ministers

The educational requirements for ministers vary among religious denominations, however a bachelor's degree is typically required for this profession. Some churches require the person to have a religious vocation and little else to be ordained as a minister, while others require extensive professional training at a seminary, theological college or university.

A single educational institution may support different Christian denominations. One school may even have different courses of study, providing professionally trained clergy to fit with the needs of the organizations they serve.

Divinity schools, sometimes known as seminaries and theological institutions, are commonly part of larger universities and generally offer graduate degrees. Degree programs can take between 2-4 years to complete, have minimum residency requirements and may require foreign language proficiency. The following list of graduate degrees represents possible paths ministers can take to fulfill the majority of their academic ordination requirements:

  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)
  • Doctor of Divinity (D.D.)

This list of degrees is only a representative sample. A future minister may benefit from research and discussion with denominational or church administrations early in the preparation process. These degree programs also have different requirements both in the course of study and the time necessary for completion. Because educational expenses may fall on the shoulders of the student, careful research and planning will benefit the prospective minister.

Courses that a ministerial student could take might include the following subjects:

  • Latin
  • Ministry leadership
  • New Testament studies
  • Pastoral care
  • Study of the Hebrew Bible
  • Study of the New Testament

Career Profile for Ministers

The requirements for church employment are determined by denominational bylaws. Decisions on employment may happen at the denominational level or they may happen at the congregational level. It is important for future ministers to understand these constraints before embarking on career preparation.

Job Description

Ministers often work in churches and lead congregations in worship. They are responsible for providing services for a religious group or following. For example, ministers conduct funerals and marriages, baptize, visit the sick and care for the spiritual needs of the group.

Salary Information and Job Growth

In addition to working directly for a religious organization as a minister, clergy may also seek employment in hospitals, home health care and nursing care facilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the mean annual salary of all U.S. clergy in 2015 as $48,150 (www.bls.gov). According to the same source, between 2014 and 2024, this occupation is expected to grow in line with other occupations, with 6% expansion.

To become a minister, one must have formal education and training from a seminary, biblical college, or divinity school. Some churches have fewer requirements, but holding at least a bachelor's degree is most common. A number of degrees can be earned, though a master's or higher may be preferred.

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