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.

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Do I Want to Be 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.

Job Requirements

Many denominations require ordained clergy to hold a Master of Divinity degree, though some are more flexible when it comes to education credentials. The following table includes many of the common requirements for becoming an ordained minister, though it's important to note that each denomination has its own policies:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree is a common requirement***, though some denominations only require a 4-year degree** and a few have even lower educational standards****
Degree Field Divinity, ministry***
Licensure and Certification Ordination credentials are issued by either a congregation or a denomination***
Key Skills Good judgment, strong speaking skills, good listening skills*

Sources: *O*Net OnLine, **Assemblies of God: Northern California and Nevada District, ***Union Theological Seminary, ****South Texas District of the United Pentecostal Church International

Step 1: Research Denominational Requirements

There is no one set of rules for ordination, so it's important that aspiring ministers research their own church or denomination's requirements for ordination. Usually the best way to get started is to talk to the minister who serves one's own church. He or she can explain the ordination process, requirements and assist the inquirer in beginning the process of candidacy.

Success Tip:

  • 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 ordained minister often begins with the candidate meeting with a committee from his or her own church. The committee and candidate work together to determine whether the candidate has the spiritual and personal qualities necessary for ordained ministry. In some denominations, the candidate will meet with 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 Divinty 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.

Success Tips:

  • 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 the student's own career plans, ministry students typically serve as interns or student ministers in churches while completing their degree program. Those who wish 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, an aspiring minister may be asked to complete several interviews and evaluations. In addition to undergoing a background check, aspiring ministers may be required to undergo a psychological evaluation and even be required to provide the denomination with a credit report. Aspiring clergy may also be expected to meet with one or more committees to discuss his or her theology, faith journey, doctrine and plans for future ministry.

Step 5: Become Ordained

If the aspiring minister meets the qualifications necessary to become ordained, he or she will be able to schedule an ordination ceremony. These ceremonies vary significantly according to 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 the newly-ordained minister is not already serving in a ministry role, he or she should begin looking for a job. In some denominations, a bishop or denominational official will place the minister 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.

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