The Benefits of a Career in Ministry
The path to ministry is unique in that both the journey and the destination can look vastly different from person to person. That is to say, there is no one way to minister, and no one prescribed path to get there — the one common thread among ministry careers is a commitment to faith, education, and connection with others. People who minister can be ordained clergy members, teachers, counselors, youth leaders, community advocates, and so much more.
While a career in ministry is not limited to one spent at the pulpit, ministry jobs often take shape around the following pursuits:
- Educating others about faith
- Helping others improve their lives and outlook
- Giving others the power to improve their lives, the lives of others, and the world at large
- Counseling others struggling with substance abuse, domestic abuse, relationship conflicts, spiritual questions, emotional issues, etc.
Someone with a ministerial education can certainly enter a profession that has no overt connection to faith. Studying ministerial arts can build skills that suit a veritable spectrum of jobs — skills such as:
- Cross-cultural understanding
- Public speaking
- Conflict resolution
A career in ministry, no matter the form it takes, will likely appeal to someone who possesses empathy, a deep connection to faith, and a strong conviction that they can make the world a better place.
Top 11 Ministry Jobs + Salary Data
Earning a degree in ministry is an excellent incentive for the person with wide-ranging career goals. However, it’s important to note that many of the possible careers require additional schooling or certification. For example, in order to become a clergy member, you must first earn a Master of Divinity (MDiv), then complete the ordination process.
The salary ranges listed below are averages from 2021 based on results from Indeed.com, Comparably.com, and Salary.com. Please be aware that these estimates will vary based on the location, year, organization, amount of applicant experience, etc.
Pastor – $43,000
Pastors, ministers, priests, and other members of the clergy lead parishes and congregations in worship and attend to parish administrative duties. These positions often require an MDiv and ordination.
Youth or campus minister – $38,000
These support positions provide spiritual guidance and programming to young people (ages 12–25) in a camp, academic, or community setting. A youth minister typically does not need to be ordained.
Children’s minister – $46,000
Like a youth minister, a children’s minister provides religious education and guidance to young people, typically ages 12 and under. Their duties can involve leading introductions to religious texts, teaching the foundations of faith, discussing and leading projects about faith lessons, etc.
Religious or secular secondary school teacher – $48,000
Teachers with a Master of Ministry or Theological Studies are sought by religious high schools, but not always necessarily to teach religion. Since ministry is a form of teaching, any experience with ministerial arts will prepare teachers to lead classroom discussions within a secular or religious context.
Chaplain – $50,000
Chaplains can work in hospitals, universities, law enforcement, prisons, or the military. They provide non-denominational spiritual support to those who are served by or work for an organization.
Community ministry – varies widely
Community ministers typically work outside of a church setting, often bringing their ministry directly to various populations in the community. A community minister can either work independently, for a larger organization, or as a liaison between religious and secular organizations. Examples include ministers for the homeless, religious media correspondents, or spiritual justice advocates.
Homeschool minister – $48,000
Like a community minister, this person would serve as spiritual support for a specific population — in this case, homeschooled children and their families. Often, homeschool ministers are representatives or affiliates of a larger church.
Missionary – $79,000
Typically associated with Christian denominations, missionaries spread the word of their faith to communities both local and international.
Church administrator – $33,000
This person would fulfill administrative duties within a church setting as a secretary, treasurer, religious education director, etc.
Parish support – varies widely
There are dozens of parish support roles within a congregation, ranging from volunteer to paid, part-time to full-time. Positions include sexton, childcare coordinator, bookkeeper, catechetical leader, youth group leader, choir director, etc.
Further academic research
While some graduate students or PhD candidates can receive grants or a stipend for their research, this path carries tuition expenses. However, job applicants with advanced degrees are typically guaranteed a higher salary in their field. A degree in ministry can lay the academic foundation for any of the positions listed above that require further advanced schooling.
9 Non-Traditional Ministry Jobs
Since so much ministry work — and the skills required to minister — take place outside of a traditional church setting, there are a number of viable career options that may not immediately spring to mind for someone seeking a ministry degree.
Occupational therapist – $82,000
When assisting someone with an injury, illness, or disability in navigating their everyday life, a holistic approach is crucial. This includes acknowledging and understanding a patient’s/client’s emotional, spiritual, social, and cultural values and needs.
Urban sociologist – $79,000
An urban sociologist studies human interactions and experiences in metropolitan areas, and can work within a university, government, or city planning context. Systemic challenges in our cities frequently have roots in racial, economic, or social disparity, so it helps to approach urban studies with an in-depth understanding of faith’s context in our society and how it can inform a more equitable future.
Foreign Service Officer – $109,000
FSOs can be members of U.S. embassies, consulates, or fulfill other diplomatic roles overseas, and need to have an understanding of and respect for cultures and beliefs that may differ from theirs.
Musician – varies widely
Musicians with a ministry degree can play in their church band, accompany the church choir, teach music at a religious school, pen their own tracks and perform as a solo artist — the options are unlimited!
Social media ministry – $55,000
Information sharing platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok give educators and influencers from every industry an opportunity to connect with like-minded people and even partner with sponsors for events or fundraisers. Social media ministry is a way to connect with those who can’t attend regular church services, or who cannot find a congregation that aligns with their values in their immediate community.
Crisis relief – varies widely
Providing aid to victims of natural disasters, war zones, and other crises requires patience, empathy, and an ability to communicate effectively with people experiencing trauma. Positions can range from volunteer disaster relief support to directors of emergency aid organizations.
Search and rescue – $51,000
Much like crisis relief, search and rescue personnel need to keep a calm, level-headed demeanor while supporting people dealing with stress and trauma, either the parties in danger or those waiting for their loved ones to be found. Search and rescue can be conducted by the armed forces, law enforcement, and others, and usually involves an emergency medical component.
Homeless or transitional shelter services – $40,000
Shelters for individuals without consistent housing need managers, administrators, case workers, and other support staff. The compensation will vary based on the position, but all roles require patience, empathy, understanding, critical thinking skills, and knowledge of mental illness.
Social justice advocate – varies widely
From marching on the front lines of civil rights protests, to advocating for victims of abuse and human trafficking, to lobbying for equity in schools and government, someone with a ministry background can bring a grounding element to the most impactful movements of our time. Advocacy is a volunteer pursuit for many, but social justice advocates can work in churches, government bodies, universities — anywhere humans need their voices heard.
11 Examples of Where You Can Work with a Ministry Degree
As we discussed above, there are hardly any limits to potential career paths for someone with a degree in ministry. Employers who actively seek this type of degree include:
- Religious organizations, such as churches and archdioceses
- Religious elementary and secondary schools
- Religious camps
- Retreat centers
- Home healthcare services
- Nursing care facilities
- Emergency services
- Government or political organizations
- Media productions companies
- Counseling or crisis prevention centers
A search for ministry jobs on Indeed.com turns up open positions at Boston College, United Hospice and Palliative Care of Arizona, AmeriCorps, Hawai‘i Care Choices, Harbor Healthcare System of Texas, and many more.
What Are the Best Degree Options for Ministry Careers?
Ministry degree programs at any level incorporate the study of sacred texts; ministerial arts such as counseling, public speaking, and theology; and a practical ministry component.
As with any profession in any field, higher degrees generally lead to more lucrative or senior positions. When it comes to ministry, the level of degree you earn and the concentration you choose are directly informed by your career aspirations.
Typically completed in two years, an associate’s degree in ministry introduces students to the field and can open professional doors to your local ministry or church administration. This is an affordable option for those who wish to make connections and break into the field.
A standard bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete, during which ministry students receive an academic foundation in ministerial arts and preparation for a possible master’s degree in divinity or theological studies. A bachelor’s degree in ministry can also prepare students for a career in teaching, as an associate pastor, a group counselor, Bible study leader, or mid-level church management.
A master’s degree can take anywhere from two to four years, and, depending on the program focus, further prepares graduates to enter the career of their choice. Students develop their own approach to ministry, form and debate theological ideas, and hone their ministerial skills. Ministry graduates can work as senior pastors in a congregation, become managers within religious or faith-informed organizations, teach at the secondary school level, or prepare to pursue their doctorate in their chosen field. Most master’s degree programs culminate with a capstone or thesis component.
A Doctor of Ministry (or PhD) requires three to five years of study while working in a formal ministry setting. With a PhD in ministry, you can instruct at the university level, achieve executive leadership positions in faith-based academic settings, or actively research and present on your findings within your field.
A Degree in Ministry vs. Theological Studies
At first glance, degree programs with “ministry” or “theology” in the title might seem too similar to make a distinction. However, there are some fundamental differences in the course content, areas of focus, and depth of study.
A Master of Ministry (MMin) program, for example, takes a broad approach to ministerial arts. It incorporates the liberal arts as they pertain to ministry, including communication, education, and critical discussion. This kind of program is ideal for those who want to minister within a specific community or those who want to apply ministerial skills to other disciplines, such as counseling or law enforcement.
A Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program, on the other hand, approaches the study of religion from an academic and philosophical place, focusing specifically on religious thought, worship, tradition, history, literature, art, and societal impact. Theological programs instruct within the context of a specific faith; while the course content can be all-encompassing, it is typically viewed through the lens of a particular religious worldview. An MTS program is ideal for someone who wishes to teach religion (or in a religious school) at the elementary or secondary level, approach their current profession from a faith-informed place, or go on to earn their PhD in theological studies.
How to Start a Career in Ministry
When considering a career in ministry or a related field, experienced people are your best resource. University program faculty, working professionals, current graduate students, alumni, or PHD candidates are excellent resources for guidance informed by lived experience.
See overview: University of San Diego – Master of Theological Studies
If you are currently in or are considering an academic program that incorporates ministry, talk to instructors or advisors about possible career paths, or ask if you could be put in touch with alumni to ask about their experiences. Alternatively, seek out people who have the kinds of jobs you want and ask them how they got started.
Determining your personality type can also have a significant impact on your career search. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most well-known personality test used to identify ideal career paths. While the official test can be purchased, administered, and analyzed through professional counselors or services, there are plenty of versions of the test available for free online. Once you’ve discovered your personality type, consult a resource like Do What You Are to help identify your ideal career.
There are also many faith-based professional organizations that offer networking and continuing education opportunities for aspiring ministry professionals. For those interested in ministry careers, the Association of Youth Ministry Educators (AYME), the Young Catholic Professionals, and groups like the Knights of Columbus are great networking resources.
Since many careers in ministry require additional certification or training, continuing education opportunities are recommended throughout your career. For example, depending on your profession, you may wish to take certification courses in police chaplaincy, trauma response, sensitivity training, addiction counseling, or conflict resolution.
Certifications or Licensure Required for Ministry
If you do not plan to earn your Master of Divinity or seek ordination, churches and other religious organizations rarely require licensure for community or associate ministry positions. Certifications, on the other hand, are valuable in that they demonstrate an individual’s skills and abilities in specific types of ministry. Be mindful that certain careers involving elements of ministry, such as counseling or social work, do require licensure, so be sure to do your research as you plan your career trajectory.
Certificate programs offer a way to hone in on specific areas of ministry such as:
- Christian leadership
- Youth ministry
- Working with young people
- Bible studies
If you are interested in exploring different forms of ministry, there are grants and fellowships available that can open new doors. Non-degree programs offered by universities are also excellent opportunities for those who have not yet identified a specific area of interest.
Ministry Career Outlook
According to Azusa Pacific, the typical starting salary for someone with a degree in ministry is $36,518 (ca. 2021–22). Professionals with this degree can expect to make an average of $41,360 after 10–19 years.
While this may not seem like the most financially lucrative career landscape, the job satisfaction that comes with careers in ministry far outweighs the compensation. The primary driving factors for entering this field are far more immaterial, including:
- Feeling a strong calling to the work
- Motivation to help others
- Building and maintaining a strong faith-work connection
- Sharing faith work with others
This does not mean that people working in ministry cannot earn competitive salaries. It’s also important to remember that salary is dependent on factors like location, prior experience, type of work or employer.
If you’re exploring a career in ministry, higher education is likely a part of your plan. Talking to a university faculty member or advisor can be extremely helpful in refining your academic and professional plan. Our world-class faculty at the Franciscan School of Theology at USD are always happy to advise those who are curious about entering the world of ministry and theological study.
As we mentioned earlier, your greatest resource in this field will be other people — start by making the connection to a USD advisor today!
Ministry Career FAQs
Q. What degree do you need for a career in ministry?
A. The degree you choose truly depends on your career objectives, professional requirements, or personal level of academic commitment. The higher the degree level, the more professional doors open. Ministry professionals can hold associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees, depending on their career aspirations.
Q. What can you do with a degree in ministry?
A. A Master of Ministry (MMin), at the very least, can prepare you to enter community ministry or chaplaincy, serve as a missionary, become a mid-level church administrator, or teach religion in some elementary and secondary schools (though a Master of Theological Studies may be a better option for this last position). Non-traditional ministry careers include social justice advocacy, crisis relief, or Foreign Service Officer.
Q. How do I begin my career in ministry?
A. If you’re wondering how to achieve your career goals, your best resource will be professionals working in your desired field. Connect with university faculty, academic advisors, alumni, and networking groups to discuss possible paths to your ideal ministry job.
Q. How much can you make in a ministry career?
A.Salaries vary widely for ministry jobs, from unpaid volunteer work to six figures (or more!). Since there is no single career objective for people with a ministry degree, salary will depend on job type, location, level of experience, employer, and much more. For many people who enter these types of professions, however, money is rarely the primary incentive. The rewards of a career in ministry are far more intangible and long-lasting.
Q. Are there ministry careers outside the church?
A. Absolutely! In fact, a significant portion of ministry jobs take place outside the walls of a church or worship space. Ministry professionals can find their niche in law enforcement, the armed services, on the streets, in healthcare, overseas, in refugee communities, in schools…the possibilities are truly limitless!