Unless you plan to enter the clergy, you may wonder — what can you do with a theology degree? It just so happens that the study of theology provides an incredibly valuable, interdisciplinary skillset that’s ideal for a range of careers.
Most course content within a college theology program will focus on the study of religion, its effect on world cultures, and the interpretation and analysis of religious texts. Theology students not only build a strong academic connection to their faith, but also hone their skills in critical thinking, analysis, communication, logical debate, research, and maintaining objectivity.
Graduates with theology degrees are attractive job candidates for churches and religious organizations, as well as for some law firms, schools and universities, nonprofits, and health systems. In truth, there is no shortage of workplaces that are looking for job candidates with a background in theology, especially if they have an advanced degree.
Read on to discover dozens more professional opportunities for those with a theology degree.
The Intersection of Theology and Work [Career Benefits]
Theological instruction is not limited to the study of faith; students of theology learn and practice a great number of valuable skills that transcend subject matter. Skills like critical thinking, oral and written communication, research, and logical analysis prepare graduates of a theological studies program to enter dozens, if not hundreds, of faith-based or secular careers.
In fact, because of their academic foundation in critical thinking and analysis, theological program graduates tend to perform exceptionally well on assessments like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Theological studies also emphasize acceptance and understanding of different cultures, so graduates often find themselves entering the competitive international job market with a wide range of practical skills.
Many people who enter a theological studies master’s program possess innate characteristics that lead them to choose this field of study. Empathy, compassion, patience, and a love of helping others are common traits among theology students that can’t be taught via textbook or lecture. As a result, many graduates go on to enter helping professions, including counselor, military chaplain, or hospice nurse.
Explore the top religious and secular careers available to graduates with a theology degree. The salary estimates below are based on U.S. job openings (ca. 2021) on Indeed.com, Comparably.com, and Salary.com. People in these professions may see a significant increase in salary depending on experience or location. Please be aware that many of these positions will require additional schooling or training.
- Chaplain/cleric (military, hospice, hospital, police, etc.) – $50,000: Offers spiritual guidance and comfort to people within a specific setting or profession, such as a hospital or police force.
- Church administrator – $33,000: Fulfills administrative duties within a parish as a secretary, treasurer, religious education director, etc.
- Minister/priest/pastor/clergy member – $43,000: Leads parishes and congregations in worship and attends to parish administrative duties. Requires a Master of Divinity (MDiv) and ordination.
- Missionary – $79,000: Spreads the word of Christian faiths to communities both local and international.
- Music director – $31,000: Coordinates and executes liturgical and music programs within a parish.
- Religion or theology professor/university lecturer – $55,000: Teaches religion or theology at a secular or religious university. Becoming a theology professor requires a PhD (though some community and Bible colleges accept a Master of Theological Studies, or MTS).
- Religious studies teacher/teacher at a religious school – $48,000: Teaches religion at the K–12 levels, or teaches other core subjects within a religious framework.
- Youth pastor – $38,000: Provides spiritual guidance and programming to people age 18 and under in a camp, academic, or community setting.
- Bereavement coordinator – $59,000: Coordinates grief counseling or funerary services for those who have lost a loved one or are dealing with tragedy.
- Anthropologist – $72,000: Studies the human race through historical artifacts, written records, current behavior, biology, linguistics, and more.
- Archaeologist – $59,000: Studies natural or human history as evidenced by physical artifacts.
- Counselor (marriage, family, grief, youth, domestic violence, trauma, etc.) – $30,000: Provides therapeutic support to those in need of personal, social, or psychological guidance.
- Diplomat – $97,000: A representative appointed by their home country and tasked with maintaining political, social, and economic relations with other countries.
- Ethicist – $74,000: Studies and advises on ethical matters, either in a scholarly or professional context.
- Funeral director – $63,000: Coordinates all events and services conducted by a funeral home.
- Historian – $80,000: Studies and presents on historical matters for educational and research purposes.
- Archivist – $60,000: Collects, studies, organizes, and maintains records and artifacts that have long-term value. Some religious congregations hire archivists to maintain their texts and other items of significance.
- Humanitarian aid worker – $75,000: May work with a nonprofit or other organization dedicated to distributing aid, including community development, disaster relief, medical supplies, food, etc.
- International social worker – $57,000: Provides cross-cultural (and perhaps multilingual) social support to individuals and communities in need in multiple countries.
- Writer – $60,000: The formats and contexts are limitless within this profession. Freelance writers can submit articles on faith, religious practice, and the Catholic tradition to popular publications such as America, St. Anthony Messenger Press, NCR, etc.
- Journalist – $38,000: Collects information and presents it in a newsworthy format to the public. Journalists with a background in theology can act as religious correspondents to major news outlets or regular contributors to magazines and online publications. Wartime correspondents may especially benefit from theological foundation, since many international and intercultural conflicts have a religious element.
- Non-governmental organization (NGO) worker – $31,000: These national and international organizations are government-agnostic, and often provide humanitarian or social services. They need to fill many of the same positions as a typical company, including accountants, administrators, or project managers.
- Non-profit worker – $56,000: Positions can range from the volunteer to the executive level, and can involve fundraising, event planning, advocating, or communicating with lawmakers and the media.
- Social worker – $57,000: Provides social services to individuals, families, children, and at-risk communities.
- Teacher – $60,000: No matter the subject or grade level, theology provides an excellent foundation in communication and critical thinking in a classroom setting.
- Police officer/civil service – $53,000: Responsible for protecting civilians and upholding the law.
Other professions to consider
Though these careers may have no direct link to faith, many graduates with a theology degree seek to become healthcare administrators, health care workers (with additional education), administrators in higher education, or retreat facilitators or administrators.
How to Start Your Theological Career
Earning a theology degree can be a very intentional step toward a specific profession, but it’s also a common choice for people who are searching for their next purpose. No matter your professional or personal goals, if you choose to earn a degree in theology, it’s likely that you have a strong connection to your faith.
As you examine your priorities, it’s important that you check in with your commitment as it pertains to your faith: Do you feel called to serve in a church or diocese, or would you rather serve your faith in a more secular capacity?
Whether you want to teach, preach, or follow your faith in other ways, be aware that many possible career paths require additional schooling or certifications; for example, parish ministry requires that you earn an MDiv and become ordained, while teaching at the university level requires a PhD. Specific professions such as hospital chaplaincy or youth ministry may also require that you complete an internship or practical hours onsite at a facility.
It helps to talk with others who have the kinds of careers you want, and ask them how they reached their professional goals. Theology program faculty and alumni are great resources for career guidance. You may also join or volunteer at a local church, faith-based nonprofit, or other organization that performs the kind of work you’re interested in.
There are plenty of faith-based professional organizations that offer professional development, networking opportunities, and other career resources for theology majors. Organizations to explore include:
- The Young Catholic Professionals is a community of business owners, educators, and influential young people in their 20s and 30s who work to spread the word of Christ through local networking chapters.
- The Association of Youth Ministry Educators (AYME) is committed to developing the next generation of youth ministers through networking, scholarly contributions, and critical engagement with the practice of youth ministry.
- The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic brotherhood that puts faith into charitable action by volunteering, fundraising, sponsoring, and giving back to their communities.
- As the world’s largest society dedicated to the academic study of religion, the American Academy of Religion connects scholars for collaboration, discussion, networking, and professional development.
- The National Association of Pastoral Musicians is dedicated to fostering the art of musical liturgy in Catholic communities across the U.S.
- The Association of Theological Schools (ATS), which accredits theology programs in the U.S. and Canada, maintains an online community for students and scholars to connect, share ideas, and network.
- Palliative care organizations, such as the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) and Caring Connections.
Other organizations and communities to be aware of as you begin your professional journey include:
- Christian Community Development Association
- National Association of Catholic Chaplains
- National Black Catholic Congress
- National Catholic Partnership on Disability
- Society of Biblical Literature
- Society of Professors in Christian Education
What Are the Best Degree Options for Theology Careers?
Since there are so many possible career options with a master’s degree in theology, your chosen professional path may be informed by the kind of programs you enter.
Bachelor’s Degree Programs (3–4 years)
- Religious Studies: This type of undergraduate program usually takes a broad approach to religions, and is tailored to students who wish to study multiple world religions, their cultural significance, and historical and contemporary impact.
- Philosophy: Undergraduate philosophy students learn the basic principles of logic and reasoning while building their skills of analysis, critical thinking, written and oral communication, and constructing logical arguments. Besides a B.A. in Religious Studies, this is the ideal preparation for seminary or a master’s degree in Theological Studies.
Master’s Degree Programs
- Theological Studies (2 years): This academic master’s degree program examines the languages, beliefs, history, and cultural impact of religion throughout the centuries and today. Programs are often informed by one central faith, which provides a lens through which course material is interpreted.
- Ministry (2 years): Master of Ministry programs often have a broader focus on the Christian “ministerial arts,” and can include elements of theology, philosophy, Bible study and interpretation, and liberal arts like communication and education. Additional certification or schooling may be required to enter teaching positions.
- Divinity (3 years): A Master of Divinity (MDiv) is typically required to enter active Christian ministry. Most MDiv programs will focus on a specific denomination and may include temporary, supervised placement in a parish. The MDiv is the most common professional degree for those pursuing ministry in North America.
- Seminary (3–4 years): This is an institution designed specifically to prepare students for the clergy. A seminary student will study theology, hone their ministerial skills, and analyze scripture within a specific Christian denomination, after which graduates will begin the process of ordination. A bachelor’s degree is required for entry.
- Juris Doctor (3 years): As mentioned above, theology’s focus on critical thinking and objectivity is well-suited to students who are interested in pursuing law degrees. Many students of theology go on to earn this graduate-level degree in preparation for becoming lawyers.
- PhD (4–8 years): Theology students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in any field they desire after earning their master’s degree. A PhD enables graduates to teach at the university level within their chosen field.
9 Employers Who Look for a Theology Degree
It likely comes as no surprise that most churches and religious groups prefer job candidates to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field. However, since a degree in theological studies or ministry implies so many interdisciplinary skills, employers like to see this type of experience on an applicant’s resume.
See overview: University of San Diego – Master of Theological Studies
Some types of employers who seek theology students include:
- Catholic or other Christian lay organizations
- College divinity departments
- Faith-based nonprofits
- Hospice care coordinators
- Hospital chaplaincy programs
- Law firms
- Religious camp organizers
- Religious primary and secondary schools
Careers with a Degree in Theology vs. Ministry
Master of Theological Studies Careers
As mentioned above, a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) is considered an academic degree, as opposed to a professional degree. As such, it is research-focused and typically requires a capstone or thesis component. Though this degree is not tailored specifically to one profession, an MTS can prepare graduates for teaching religion at the elementary, high school, or community college level.
Other potential career paths include:
- Civil servant
- Community ministry (youth, college campus, camp, etc.)
- Diocesan catechetical leader
- Director of diocesan media and communications
- Director of youth ministry
- Further academic research
- Health care professional
- Military chaplain
- Nonprofit leader
- Parish support
- Religious coordinator
Master of Ministry Careers
A Master of Ministry (MMin) can either be an academic or professional degree. It takes a broader approach to the Christian ministerial arts than an MTS, incorporating units in philosophy, history, education, communication, and psychology as they pertain to active ministry. Since its scope is more general than an MTS, the career opportunities for someone with an MMin are much less specific.
However, the next steps for someone with this degree may include:
- Community ministry
- Further academic research
- Parish support
- Religious education
Theology Career Outlook
Since a degree in theology helps students build such a wide range of skills, the career outlook for someone with a theology degree may look different depending on individual goals. For example, besides achieving a clergy position, someone with a theology degree may be prepared to enter the fields of public administration, communications, or international relations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals entering a career in social services (including ministry) can expect roughly a 5% increase in job prospects from 2021 onward. That being said, skilled spiritual leaders and religious teachers are always in high demand by parishes and religious secondary schools.
The median annual salary of someone with a theology degree changes based on their profession, but the average social services salary tends to hover around $45,000 (clergy members made an average of $51,940 in 2020). Higher salaries are generally associated with careers in higher education, or for those with advanced degrees.
Salary aside, the kinds of jobs held by theology majors offer great personal satisfaction and fulfillment, and often become lifelong professions.
Ready to take your next step toward one of the exciting careers above? Start a conversation with a USD advisor today, and see where a Master of Theological Studies – Franciscan Theology can take you.