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.

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Do I Want to Be a Pastor?

Pastors promote spirituality in churches and other religious institutions through sermons and teachings. These religious leaders organize regular services and 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 will also 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.

Job Requirements

Job postings from October 2012 showed that pastors need at least a master's degree, which they can obtain in a seminary school. Experience is also an important part of obtaining a senior pastor position, and church boards will look for pastors who have experience as an associate pastor prior to employment. The table below includes the main qualifications that employers listed in October 2012 job postings for pastors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Name Religious studies, ministry, divinity, theology
Experience Experience in a pastoral role will be necessary before obtaining a senior pastor position
Key Skills Pastors must be leaders, good decision-makers and strong orators
Additional Skills In addition to religious faith, pastors also need to be service-oriented

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A career as a pastor begins with a 4-year degree. Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science programs are offered at several Bible colleges as well as other 4-year universities. 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: 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 3: 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.

Success Tip:

  • 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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