What Is the Best Degree for Becoming a Church Pastor?

If you are feeling a call to ministry and are looking to prepare for a career as a church pastor, you desire a noble task. Church pastors are responsible for the care of the people in their church. Your career will require you to shepherd your people’s social and emotional needs, as well as sometimes position you to care for physical needs. You would be right to wonder what degree would best prepare you for this career.

Do I Need a Degree At All?

Well, there are many pastors who got their start without a degree. In extreme cases, there are stories of life-long pastors who never finished high school. It is possible to start your own church, working as a church planter. There are several networks that help individuals with vision for this responsibility to get started. You can investigate the Acts 29 Network at  or the Converge International church planting page.

Which Undergraduate Degrees Are Best?

That being said, an undergraduate degree is considered a basic requirement for entry-level pastors. While some individuals choose an undergraduate major in Bible, it is not a strict requirement. Any liberal arts degree that gets you reading, writing, and interacting with the large social issues of the human condition can prepare you quite well. This is especially true for individuals who realize their desire to serve the church during or after their undergraduate degree. It is not wise to reconstruct the entire undergrad program to switch to a Bible major. Stay with your history, English, philosophy, or related degree, finish it expediently, and get moving on your career.

Get Related Experience

While you are finishing your undergraduate degree, get some experience volunteering in a church. Serve the church anywhere they need help. Like any career, experience doing the work you intend to do is invaluable, but a reputation for being a servant to your church is even more valuable. A formal internship, if you can negotiate such an arrangement with your church, is an excellent asset as well.

How to Get Started as a Pastor

The most typical route to entry-level pastorate work is via entering youth ministry. Youth ministry is a worthy endeavor in and of itself, and should not be viewed as a “stepping stone” to a “higher” position within the church. But, practically speaking, if you are looking to get started, seek a position at a small church looking to hire a youth pastor. Other pastoral positions friendly to those just getting started include associate pastor and pastor of worship.

More School

The road does not stop here. Pastors are almost always asked by their employers, i.e., their churches, to complete graduate studies. You may not need a graduate degree to get hired, but you’ll more than likely need a graduate degree if you intend to make a career out of being a pastor. In many of the more historically-established churches, a pastor cannot get hired without a completed Masters degree.

The Master of Divinity (MDiv) has been the pedigree degree for pastors, but the field is changing. Most job openings now ask simply for a Master’s degree in an appropriate field. The many options include: Master in Religion, Master in Religious Studies, Master in Christian Studies, Master in Pastoral Counseling, and Master in Theological Studies.

Above All Else

Above all else, get experience now, while you are still in a degree program. The market is tougher than ever. Churches report receiving hundreds of applicants for any given position. Even well-qualified applicants will find it difficult to enter the field without experience. Having contacts who are presently serving in ministry will help you establish your reputation, sure up your professional skills, provide excellent references, may even open up leads to a potential hire.

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