It’s been reported that approximately 210 million Americans identify as Christian. It’s also estimated that about 64% of Americans identify as Christian (50 years ago, that number hovered around 90%.) Fifty years ago, that number was 90%. by 2070, 35% and 46% of the U.S. population will be Christian (NPR, September 15, 2022.)
Globally, 2.2 billion follow the Christian faith. How do you reach that many people? The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates there are 5 million pastors and priests worldwide in the four main Christian denominations (Protestants, Catholic, Independent, and Orthodox), and only 5% of that group have formal theological training, either as Bible degrees, or undergraduate/graduate degrees.
One of the primary tenants of Christianity is considered to be ministerial, but Christian ministry isn’t confined to only preachers, pastors, or priests. The word “ministry” is taken from the Greek word diakonia, meaning “to serve” or “service.”
Higher education in America began in the Colonial period with the formation of colleges primarily to train ministers (Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc.). Today, the 21st century sees a wide range of service areas as well as education and training in Christian ministry for lay ministers, counselors, church leadership, social media, communications, and more.
Colleges and universities offer Associate, Bachelor’s, Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Christian ministry. College Consensus takes a look at Christian ministry as a career (as well as a calling), MS and MA graduate programs in the field, and other factors to help you in choosing a path that’s right for you.
What Is a Ministry?
We know that ministry means service, but aside from being an ordained minister, curate, or priest, what forms does that take? How do you take your talents, gifts, or calling and become active in a Christian ministry?
Here are some definitions of church ministry and the important roles they play which may help answer some of those questions.
Teaching Ministries – these can take the form of Sunday School teacher, pastors, religious education directors, Bible studies, etc.
Music Ministries – church choirs, bell choirs, organists and pianists, praise bands, and soloists make up a substantial part of a church’s overall ministerial offerings.
Outreach Ministries – work in meal and housing services, clothing closets, food pantries, health and hospice, child and elder care, and other community-oriented volunteer services, such as Habitat for Humanity, provide much-needed ministries.
International Ministries – missionary trips to underserved nations offer service opportunities in building homes, recovering from natural disasters, farming techniques, health services, and more
Teleministries – In the 1920s, radio ministries began, followed by television ministries that began in the 1950s. Today, computers, the Internet, and platforms such as Zoom, are seeing a new age of online ministries. Live-streaming a variety of ministries became a familiar go-to during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when gathering in large groups was greatly reduced.
Of course, there are other forms of Christian ministry, with some requiring additional and specialized training and/or education. Some of those ministries are discussed later on.
Minister or Pastor or Reverand?
The definition of these roles can be confusing and have their origins in Biblical texts. To add to the confusion of these two titles, pastors can perform as ministers, but not all ministers can perform as pastors. Confused? Little wonder.
The word “pastor” derives from the Greek word “poimain,” meaning “shepherd” or sometimes “elder.” Pastors are Christian leaders performing religious services, counseling congregants, recognized as church managers, and other leadership roles.
In the Protestant faith, ministers go by many names and titles. They may be known as reverends, parsons, rectors, pastors, or curates. In the Catholic Church, pastors are viewed as parish priests.
Christian ministry, to confuse things further, isn’t interchangeable between pastors and ministers. There’s a fine distinction between working as a pastor in a Christian ministry and being a minister in a Christian Ministry doing service to individuals and the community.
Do You Need a Master’s in Christian Ministry?
The answer to that depends on your goals in Christian Ministry. While not a requirement, you can certainly work with organizations involved in Christian ministry; an MS or MA in Christian Ministry can be extremely useful in making a career of service. The degree can help you move into a formal church role as a chaplain, counselor, teacher, youth and music minister, church administrator, etc.
But beyond church walls, however, the MS or MA can be beneficial if your goal is to be qualified as a director of a non-profit organization, childcare program, drug rehabilitation center, child advocacy and human trafficking center, legal aid, veteran support, and much more.
Should you wish to enter the divinity, a Master’s in Christian Ministry provides a solid foundation to move on to a Ph.D. program.
What Will I Learn in an MS or MA in Christian Ministry?
Typically, a master’s program requires 30-36 credit hours of coursework and includes an internship, thesis, and/or capstone project. You’ll also find schools offering specialties and concentrations in areas such as leadership and administrative skills, family or pastoral ministries, counseling, conflict resolution, theological ethics, as well as biblical studies in the New and Old Testaments. Pastoral care topics concerning ministries aimed at women and the elderly are popular and are frequently in a school’s curriculum.
Even though offered online, some programs may require a residency experience. Usually conducted on the weekend, residencies have you travel to the campus, where you’ll interact with professors and other students.
Capstone projects are frequently used in lieu of a graduate thesis. You’ll identify a problem or issue, conduct research, and develop a plan to address the concern.
You’ll find many programs that have you complete an internship in a particular Christian ministry field that will provide you with hands-on training, work with experienced mentors in the field, and offer you valuable experience in your chosen ministerial area.
Is an Online Degree Worth It?
The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) estimates the average cost of a graduate program to be around $19,792 per academic year at a public institution. Private schools can average $26,597 per academic year. While the NCES doesn’t break tuition costs down between online and on-campus programs, online programs tend to be a bit cheaper.
If you’re like most people, you need to continue to work as you get your graduate degree. You probably have a family, a job, or ministry commitments that make attending a traditional college degree program difficult. With an Internet connection and computer, you won’t disrupt your work-life balance.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, colleges and universities improved their technology and beefed up their online course offerings so students wouldn’t fall behind.
Online, hybrid, or distance education degrees have come a long way from the 1990s when some less-than-reputable programs offered degrees that were unaccredited and taught by ill-prepared or unqualified instructors. Diplomas stated the degree was earned online. Today, distance education is not only accepted but preferred widely by non-traditional students.
Accredited programs taught online offer the same curriculum that is taught by the same professors as students receive on-campus. You’re able to study on your schedule without leaving your house.
Earning an online degree has many terrific benefits and can greatly allow you to expand your school search to other states. Numerous online programs charge online students the same tuition rate as in-state students, which can be a significant saving. You may, however, have to pay miscellaneous technology fees.
What Can I Do with a Christian Ministry Master’s Degree?
Christian Ministry isn’t an easy discipline to categorize in terms of career paths since it can touch on virtually all people and stations in life.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies Christian Ministry as a broader employment category of “Community and Social Service Occupations,” which includes, among the clergy, some of the following job titles:
|Hospice or Hospital Chaplain
|Residential Program Director
|Non-Profit Program Coordinator
|Director of Volunteer Services
|Director of Religous Education
How Much Can You Earn?
The BLS suggests job growth figures in this field are varied, ranging from 4% between 2021-31 for clergy, religious education, and program directors. Community and social service specialist positions are expected to grow faster than the average jobs rate of 9%, media specialists will see 6% increase, teachers will increase by 5%, and counselors will grow at 10%.
Even though you may be called to Christian Ministry, unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably still need to earn a living. As you can imagine, with the multiple roles in ministry that are available, there’s no simple answer to how much you might earn. Salaries are dependent on your position, where you live, where you work, and if you work full or part-time. We can, however, give you some salary estimates.
|Average Yearly Salary
|Directors, Religious Activities and Education
|Non-Profit Program Manager
|Residential Program Director
Unlike other fields, it’s hard to point to specific professional organizations credentialing certificates for Christian Ministers. Instead, it’s appropriate to look to the church denomination and its organization as serving as the professional overseer. You may find organizations such as the National Association of Christian Ministers (NACM), Southern Baptist Association (SBA), National Council of Churches (NCC), Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), Association of Related Churches (ARC), and others.
Not all certificates in Christian Ministry are equal. We’ve heard of people receiving online ministerial certificates to officiate at weddings, births, funerals, etc., with virtually no training or education. These mail-order “pastoral” certificates became very popular during the Vietnam War and were by draftees to hopefully receive draft deferments.
If you Google ministry certification, you’ll find many options pop up from certificates offered through colleges and universities, specific Christian denominations, as well as general online certificates. Be sure to know if your particular ministry has specific certification requirements.
While certification in Christian Ministry per se isn’t necessary, you may need certification or licensure to practice in specific areas. Combining a master’s degree and appropriate certifications can keep you current in your ministry and allow you to increase your abilities and help more people. Obtaining a professional certificate will also demonstrate your qualifications and accountability and identify you as a subject matter expert for your congregants, organizations, or employer.
Since there are numerous certifications available, you’ll need to select the one(s) that will be of the most benefit to you and your ministry. Some general examples of the certifications in Christian Ministry can include:
- Certificate of Ministry in Biblical Studies
- Certificate of Ministry in Pastoral Ministry
- Certificate in Ministry and Church Leadership
- Certificate in Youth Ministry
- Pastoral Care and Counseling
- Theology of Ministry
- Ministry Operations
- Certificate in Human Resource Ministry
- Certificate in Lay Ministry
Depending on your Christian ministry plan, you may need to hold a state license. For instance, if your ministry is working as a nurse or physician in a non-profit clinic, you’ll still need to be licensed with the state as a healthcare professional. Interested in family or individual counseling? You may need to be a licensed counselor or therapist. Want to run a kitchen or shelter for the homeless, abused elderly, women, or children? You might need to have a health and/or state license along with your graduate degree.
Admissions, Financial Assistance and Accreditation
Let’s look at general admission requirements first.
As you may imagine, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree for most, if not all, graduate programs. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, numerous colleges and universities have waived requirements for the GRE/GMAT test scores. In addition, Christian Ministry graduate programs don’t require your undergraduate degree to be in a specific discipline.
Graduate admissions offices will require completion of an online application (along with an application fee), academic transcripts, a certain GPA (usually a 3.0 minimum), letters of recommendation, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), a statement of purpose or personal essay, and resume or curriculum vitae.
You need to be especially mindful of graduate admission application deadlines. You may want to directly contact the program you’re interested in to see if it’s going to be the right fit. Be aware, too, that Graduate programs and institutional deadlines may not be the same, and usually, the department’s admission deadline supersedes the deadline set by the graduate school. In other words, you may need to be admitted to the graduate program before you formally apply to the graduate school. Also, keep in mind that almost universally, U.S. graduate school admission offers must be accepted by April 15th.
Even if you think you’re not eligible for federal assistance, be sure to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) anyway. Colleges and universities use information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) may demonstrate your financial need and you may qualify for reduced interest rates in federal student loans.
Graduate programs frequently use the FAFSA® to award university, industry-specific, state, and federal need-based grants or scholarships. For instance, your non-profit agency has scholarship funds available but wants to verify that you have a financial need.
If you’re currently working, your employer may pay, or pay in part, for you to earn a master’s degree. Employers see educational benefits as an important factor in employee retention and career advancement. Be sure to talk with your Human Resources Department to see if you may qualify for tuition assistance as part of your benefits package.
Online, hybrid, and distance education at one time were looked at as a “lesser” degree than one earned in person. That’s because, early on, some online degrees were seen as money-making opportunities and weren’t accredited or adequately monitored. That’s no longer the case.
Degree accreditation is your assurance that the curriculum for your master’s degree follows specific educational standards. Accreditation also determines that whether you attend online or on-campus, the program, curriculum, and faculty teaching are qualified and meet professionally accepted training.
Accreditation is especially important when earning an online graduate degree. There are two types of accreditation: institutional (through a regional or national accreditation agency) and programmatic accreditation which is awarded by professional organizations that monitor that a program will appropriately prepare a student for a career in a particular field.
You may find some Christian Ministry programs accredited by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the ATS Commission on Accrediting or other agencies. However, you need to find a college or university that is accredited by an approved Department of Education regional agency, such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), etc.
Ten Online Master’s in Christian Ministry Programs
College Consensus, to help you get started in your search, identified ten Christian Ministry programs that may help. While there are many more online Christian Ministry masters programs, we chose these ten to provide you with an idea of the types of programs available.
We looked at a program’s faculty, any specialty areas offered, the length and cost of the program, national recognition, and the curriculum. This should give you a solid starting point in your school search.
Abilene Christian University
ACU has a flexible online Master of Arts in Christian Ministry especially designed to enhance your theological foundation and help prepare you for a career in education or social services. In a 48-credit hour program, you’ll improve skills in communications, coordinating, planning, and leadership. Additionally, you’ll acquire skills in spiritual care and counseling, hospice, and theology. Working with your advisor, you’ll be able to identify the best 12 hours of electives in Student and Family Ministry, Ministry and Bible, Ministerial Leadership, and Spiritual Formation to meet your goals.
This South Carolina university offers a 36-credit hour, online Master of Ministry program that’s ideal for those in the ministry needing an advanced degree who are new to the ministry or lay leaders. Providing both foundational and practical components, you’ll take a mix of courses in theology, practical applications, and biblical studies. This program focuses on strengthening your leadership skills and pastoral ministry. You’ll complete a capstone project and participate in a week-long residency on the Anderson, South Carolina campus.
The Master of Arts in Ministry at Indiana’s Bethel University is an online program you can complete in as few as 12 months. You’ll want to explore this program if your goal is to strengthen your spiritual foundation and leadership skills. Uniquely, this program has an emphasis on biblical literacy to supplement studies in multicultural ministry, spiritual formation, Biblical interpretation, etc. The MA has six start dates each year, a generous 18 credit hours transfer policy, and has a reasonable $6,670 overall program cost.
This online Master of Ministry (M.Min) through the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University is a great choice for current ministers or those called to lay ministry with a degree in a different field. The curriculum concentrates on practical challenges and theological concerns, with courses focusing on the interpretation, application, and theology of biblical studies. The program concludes with a ministerial internship (in your home community) under the supervision of a qualified mentor.
This Jesuit university receives national accolades for its educational quality. Classes include studies in ethics, leadership, theology, ministerial psychology issues, etc. The program also has an internship component. Courses in this hybrid MA in Ministry degree are offered online in eight-week sessions, with on-campus residency seminars during the summer. You’ll have a national and internationally known faculty for this 46-credit hour program at Creighton University. Be sure to apply for the university’s 50% tuition discount for ministry students.
Grand Canyon University
The College of Theology at Grand Canyon University’s Master of Arts in Christian Ministry is an online program ideal for future and current lay ministers as well as assistant pastors looking to improve their leadership positions. You’ll learn practical skills in communication, organization and leading ministries, ministerial ethics, as well as pastoral care. The curriculum is designed to help you counsel and guide congregations with 21st century ethical and spiritual challenges.
Located in Lynchburg, VA, Liberty University has an over 50-year history of providing online education, and its MA in Christian Ministry is part of that tradition. In about 12 months, you can complete the 36-credit hours completely online. The focus of this degree is on Christian and biblical leadership principles, including educational strategies to train congregants in evangelism. Course topics cover studies in the Old and New Testaments, pastoral counseling, communication, discipleship, and other subjects.
With six start dates during the year, this Master in Ministry (MIM) online degree will fit with your work and family schedules. Requiring 30 credits, you can complete this program in around 16 months or so. This is a good foundation if you’re seeking to become a lay or vocational minister but don’t have an undergraduate degree in ministry. When you complete the degree, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the Old and New Testaments, be able to develop effective sermons and accomplish the administrative demands of a working ministry.
You may not be familiar with this Georgia university, but you’ll want to review its online Master of Transformative Ministry (MST). Whether you’re an experienced minister or just beginning your pastoral journey, this program will help you recognize the curriculum’s four themes in Theological, Community, Organizational and Personal Transformations. The 100% online degree requires 36-credit hours, you can transfer up to 12-course credits, and the flexibility of the curriculum will let you set your own pace to earn your MST.
Recognized as one of the nation’s top universities, the M.A. in Online Ministry at Regent University is unique in its mission to train innovative ministry leaders in developing and maintaining effective Internet ministries. You’ll learn of online discipleship, create an impactful online ministry using web-based tools, and explore real-world ministerial skills with an internship. You’ll learn from pastors, evangelists, and experienced faculty as you prepare for a career as an online minister, communications director, social media manager, and more.