Pastors and ministers help people who want to increase their understanding of the Bible, deepen their faith, and overcome challenging circumstances with Christian guidance and counsel. Whether in churches or humanitarian organizations, preachers make differences in others' lives through faith-based instruction, encouragement, and advice. They help those seeking spiritual leadership in a complex world.
Pastors and ministers help people who want to increase their understanding of the Bible, deepen their faith, and overcome challenging circumstances with Christian guidance and counsel.
You can choose to enter a range of pastoral specialties, such as missions, youth, or music. Or you may opt to become a pulpit minister who delivers sermons to a general congregation. Regardless of your decision, your desire to pursue this career reflects your commitment to Christian beliefs and your desire to help others understand Christianity through the proper interpretation and application of Scripture.
This page discusses the process of becoming a pastor, introduces you to pastoral roles within the church, and offers resources for various ministerial careers.
How to Become a Pastor
Steps to becoming a pastor vary according to denominations, but most religious groups follow a similar academic route. The steps below offer a framework to think about your professional future in the ministry.
Become an Ordained Minister
Pastors seek ordination because it affirms ministry as their calling, verifies their beliefs, and helps others understand their calling to the ministry as their full-time vocation. Ordination requires meeting with church leaders so they can determine if you possess the necessary personal and spiritual qualities for this role. In addition, you may need to complete several evaluations, including a background check and psychological examination. Once you complete these steps and your academic studies, your church hosts an ordination ceremony to affirm your calling.
Earning your degree to become ordained requires extensive coursework in theology and its relevance in today's world. Classes typically explore topics like biblical interpretation, Christianity from a global perspective, and virtues. You can choose to earn an associate degree, which generally requires two years of full-time study, or a bachelor's degree, which takes about four years. On average, an associate degree costs $25,000-$30,000 while a bachelor's degree can cost $2,000 a semester to almost $30,000 a year.
Most ordained ministers earn a master's degree in theology or divinity. The expense of this degree also depends on where you enroll. It can range from just over $5,000 annually to close to $25,000 a year.
Earn a Master's Degree
A career in ministry means you must earn a degree that allows you to understand Scripture and help others do the same. Completing your master's degree can prepare you for ordination, and many consider it a requirement for becoming a pastor. While you can still pursue a range of ministerial careers without this advanced degree, some roles require it.
Financial aid and scholarship options can help defray the cost of your studies, so make certain to investigate them to lessen the financial burden of your schooling.
Master of Divinity
Master of Theology
Master of Ministry
Accreditation for Divinity and Theology Programs
Make certain to earn your degree from an accredited college. Accreditation verifies that the school maintains high academic standards, challenges students intellectually, and requires they perform at their academic best. Whether in a church or other setting, expect your employer to value employees who attend an accredited college.
The same agencies that accredit the majority of secular colleges in the U.S. accredit several Bible colleges. These include the Southern Association of College and Schools and Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Furthermore, the Transnational Association of Christian College and Schools and Association for Biblical Higher Education accredit several U.S. Bible colleges. The U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize these agencies.
Types of Pastors
The following list describes types of pastors common in the ministry. In addition to what each job mandates, pay careful attention to the special skills and passions you should possess for these pastoral roles. Doing so can help you decide which makes most sense for you based on your interests, experience, and calling. Moreover, it can ensure you enter a career that allows you to help others and make a difference in people's lives.
Senior or Lead Pastor
In this role, not only must you know how to develop and nurture relationships with colleagues and those in the church, but also you must do so by communicating biblical truths and prioritizing God's Word. You must demonstrate leadership, a heart for others, and the ability to nurture people's spiritual development. The position usually requires several years of experience.
This position requires you to support the senior pastor and the church body through community-building that engages others in discipleship activities. In addition to preparing and preaching sermons, you lead prayer sessions, offer mentoring, and plan outreach opportunities. The latter can include a communications strategy that leverages social media and community announcements to connect with those outside of the church.
In this role, expect to deliver outreach on behalf of, and give back to, others in the local or global community. Responsibilities include oversight of the leadership, management, administration, and overall vision of a missions department to spread the Word of God. You do so through designing mission trips, preparing those who participate in them, and helping establish churches.
You should possess an advanced degree in theology or ministry that prepares you to interpret the Bible and share that interpretation with those who seek to deepen their understanding of it. In addition to exemplifying teaching-preaching expertise, you should embody pastoral qualities and a godly character. Your multiple years of experience should also prepare you to work collaboratively with other pastors and church leaders.
This position requires oversight of the church's music, drama, and visual arts to complement the church's teaching. Responsibilities include designing engaging worship activities in collaboration with the senior pastor, leading the technical functions necessary to incorporate worship into regular services and special events, and organizing volunteers who support worship activities.
Your role equips young people to deepen their relationship with Christ and influence their peers to do the same. Your desire to help youth mature in their biblical understanding and Christian faith can require outreach to area schools. It can also mandate organizing teams of volunteers who help you build community relations to engage young people in the church.
You support the spiritual development of college students. In addition to training leaders who can support these efforts, you design curricula they can use to oversee instruction of this age group through Bible study. Your role should empower college learners by strengthening their understanding of God through teaching, retreats, and mentoring.
Young Adults Pastor
Your passion to help people may lead you to equip young adults with biblical knowledge through teaching, conferences, retreats, and fellowship activities. You must demonstrate trustworthiness and a caring attitude. In addition, you should show you can work collaboratively with other pastors in your church toward the shared goal of empowering young people in God's word.
This role ensures a church continues to operate smoothly after its senior pastor leaves and as the congregation searches for a replacement. In addition to possessing the attributes of a senior pastor, you should be able to help people remain focused on God's word during a time of change and to persevere in their faith while the church identifies a new leader.
Your responsibilities require a nurturing demeanor coupled with effective communication skills. This role often means relationship-building with hospice patients and their families. You may also support the volunteers and staff in medical facilities. You help patients with individual spiritual care plans and often partner with their clergy.
Salary and Employment for Pastors
The salary for pastor jobs depends on responsibility, location, education, and experience. Pastors with an advanced degree and/or significant experience typically earn more than newcomers without a master's degree.
How Do Pastors Get Paid?
Churches frequently pay pastors on a contractual basis. The contract can specify your annual salary and benefits over a finite period of time, after which the church can review performance and opt to renew or not renew the contract. Some churches also provide pastors with a house (i.e., parsonage) or a housing stipend, as well as a car allowance. A committee in the church generally makes these decisions based on the church's finances.
In addition, your earnings largely depend on the size of your congregation and members' tithes. In some instances, a pastor may work another job to supplement his or her income, especially if the church is small with few members or if a pastor's specific role does not require full-time hours.
Things to Consider Before Becoming a Pastor
When considering if you should become a pastor, examine your faith to determine the difference between a career interest and a spiritual calling. Pray and reflect on your spiritual path, and make certain your faith reflects the kind of maturity that can inspire others. Think carefully about the educational preparation a preacher must undertake, and ask yourself if you truly enjoy these kinds of studies.
Also, consider how much you enjoy interacting with people. After all, a preacher must nurture others in their Christian walk, so you must exhibit a genuine love for people.
In addition, think about your comfortability with public speaking. Moreover, know that your salary can vary with the amount of money your church receives in tithes and offerings, and this can require your adaptability and flexibility when it comes to your paycheck.
Professional Resources for Pastors
- Pastor Resources This website offers insights about pastors' lives, including challenges they face and how they overcome them through faith. In addition to this kind of encouragement, the site provides a free magazine that showcases practical church leadership guidance.
- Pastoral Care This nonprofit supports all Christian denominations through education, research, and various kinds of assistance. This threefold ministry approach aims to help preachers overcome problems that may arise in the church body and eradicate "America's empty pulpit" crisis.
- Church Leaders Providing information, resources, and opportunities to create connections among church leaders, this resource communicates through articles, news, podcasts, and videos. In addition, it showcases a jobs board for those who want to work in a church.
- American Pastors Network This website aims to encourage and equip preachers and their congregations as voices of truth based on biblical standards.
- Pastors Discipleship Network This organization trains African pastors and their wives in the skills needed to lead a church. It networks with individuals and other organizations that strive to strengthen pastoral training throughout the continent.
- International Association of Women Ministers This association encourages, celebrates, and advances women in the ministry by helping them establish meaningful relationships with one another across the globe. It allows women of diverse backgrounds and experiences to connect while also advocating for the ordination of women.
- Faith Christian Fellowship International A group of ministers established this organization to serve ministers, missionary entities, and churches, thereby sustaining the body of Christian believers. Founded in 1979, it hosts conferences and is developing a training program.
- Association of Certified Biblical Counselors This organization serves pastors and disciples, ensuring they offer guidance that aligns with the doctrinal integrity of the scriptures. It also certifies biblical counselors and hosts national and regional conferences.
- Institute for Biblical Research Experts in the Old and New Testaments comprise the membership of this scholarly organization, which seeks to promote excellence in biblical studies while hosting conferences, workshops, and access to research and publications.
- International Ministerial Association This organization empowers ministers through continuing education, conferences, and credentials. Pastors who hold membership may apply for their church to join the Associate Churches of IMA.
Online Tools For Pastors
This tools allows for easy organization of information through saving and sharing ideas and files in a digital space. It can help preachers save notes about upcoming sermons, document meetings with other ministers, and create connections with one another.
This church management software helps address administrative needs like facilities oversight, volunteer scheduling and service planning, and membership documentation. It also helps track donations and issues that might arise in monitoring intake of contributions.
This project management application organizes teams around the tasks they must complete by allowing them to visualize and share their progress toward finalizing them. It facilitates collaboration by permitting users to make comments and share files.
This site allows pastors to search Bible verses in various translations and versions. The online library includes commentaries, concordances, and Bible reading plans in addition to the Greek and Hebrew Interlinear Bible.
Pastors can use this web-based budgeting tool for both professional and personal purposes. They can help allocate dollars for church expenditures and track costs incurred while simultaneously monitoring their own expenses.