How to Become a Minister

A Bible sitting on a table at the front of a church.

Christian ministers cultivate the spiritual growth of their church community. They draw on their practical and intellectual skills as church leaders to share their biblical and theological knowledge with the members of their church. 

By earning a ministry degree, prospective ministers can build the knowledge and skills required to best serve their church. Individuals who feel called to a career in Christian ministry should learn more about what a minister does, how to become a minister, and the career outlook for the role.

What Does a Minister Do?

As church leaders in a Christian denomination, ministers provide spiritual guidance to the members of their church. They may lead worship services, conduct weddings and other religious ceremonies, and provide counseling. A minister’s responsibilities may also include planning church programs, leading volunteers, managing administrative responsibilities, and attending community events. 

Ministers may specialize in one type of ministry, such as hospitality, teaching, or counseling ministry. Hospitality ministry focuses on meeting the social needs of the church and community. Teaching ministry emphasizes educational sermons and lessons that teach people about the Bible and other religious topics. Counseling ministry focuses on the spiritual health of the church community, with ministers offering emotional and mental health support to members. 

Other focus areas ministers may specialize in include church outreach, charitable work, youth services, or music. 

Steps to Become a Minister

Ministers invest years in their spiritual and educational growth. Becoming a minister requires both education and church experience. 

In most cases, ministers need a college degree and ministry experience. Ministers also must complete their church’s ordination process, and, in some states, ministers need a license.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Most churches expect ministers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Earning a degree in Christian ministries, biblical studies, divinity, or ministry leadership can help aspiring ministers gain the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed. 

In a bachelor’s in Christian ministry program, students explore scripture and theology, with an emphasis on practical training in evangelism, discipleship, sermon preparation, congregational care, and leadership. Ministry majors also can develop their communication and interpersonal skills. 

With a bachelor’s degree, prospective ministers can pursue ordination or apply to a graduate program in ministry.

2. Gain Ministry Experience

In addition to meeting the educational requirements, prospective ministers must demonstrate their religious faith and commitment to the church through church and ministry experience.

For example, taking on leadership roles within the church as a Bible study leader, youth pastor, or Sunday school teacher can help individuals cultivate the skills needed to work as a minister. Gaining ministry experience can also help candidates meet ordination requirements for their denomination.

3. Consider a Master’s Degree

Earning a master’s degree can prepare ministers for leadership roles in larger churches and denominations that require a graduate degree. Ministers can pursue a master’s degree in ministry, theology, religious counseling, or Christian leadership.

In a master’s degree program, students explore topics such as spiritual formation, biblical leadership, and homiletics. Depending on the program’s focus, students may be able to concentrate their ministry training in an area such as education, counseling, or leadership.

4. Become Ordained

In many Christian denominations, individuals must complete the ordination process before becoming a minister. 

Each denomination sets its own requirements for becoming ordained. Some require an apprenticeship under an ordained minister. The requirements may also include community volunteering hours or passing scores on an examination.

Ordained ministers can perform church rites, including marriages, funerals, and baptisms. 

5. Obtain a License

In addition to ordination, some churches license their ministers. Holding a license allows a minister to perform specific church functions. Because the requirements and process for licensure vary, prospective ministers should check with their church for more information.

In some cities, counties, and states, ministers also need a government license to perform marriage ceremonies. For example, New York City requires marriage officiants to register with the City Clerk and pay a fee. Clergy members must prove that they have been ordained.

Minister Job Outlook and Salary Information

Ministers benefit from having stable careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 266,700 employed clergy members as of 2022, and 1,500 new clergy jobs were projected to be added between 2022 and 2032. 

Members of the clergy had a median annual salary of $55,550 as of May 2022. Salary figures vary by factors including employer, location, and experience level. In addition to religious organizations, several other industries employ clergy members, including hospitals, private schools, and home healthcare services. Those working in religious organizations had the highest median annual salary at $61,840 in 2022, according to the BLS.

Religious workers in nonclergy roles had a median annual salary of $39,370, according to the BLS. This category includes Bible teachers, missionaries, and other church workers who are not ministers. The highest-paying industries for these religious workers include individual and family services and home healthcare services, where their mean annual salary was between $60,000 and $65,000. 

Earn a Ministry Degree at Mid-America Christian University

Ready to start your ministry journey? Earning a ministry degree from Mid-America Christian University can help you launch your career. MACU offers several online, hybrid, and on-campus paths for students interested in the ministry. The online Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministries program prepares students to lead and serve in the church. Taught by instructors with ministry experience, the program also provides foundational preparation for a graduate-level degree.

In addition to the undergraduate ministry program, MACU offers an online Master of Ministry program designed for pastors and lay leaders. The program helps students strengthen their leadership, evangelism, and strategic planning abilities while they explore biblical exegesis and spiritual formation. The program also offers a Leadership emphasis and a Pastoral and Crisis Care emphasis.

Individuals interested in a leadership focus can also consider the online Master of Arts in Leadership with a Ministry Leadership Emphasis program. Grounded in theoretical leadership concepts, the program emphasizes change theory and Christian theology. 

A regionally accredited institution, Mid-America Christian University has its roots in Wesleyan-Arminianism. MACU’s holistic online programs center on Christian values and offer a community-focused learning environment. You’ll benefit from personalized support and real-world experience as a MACU student.