What is the Best Degree to Become a Minister?

If you have decided to make Christian ministry your career, you may be interested in learning about the best degree to become a minister. The truth is, the answer to this question may vary depending on the denomination or Christian tradition with which you are affiliated, and on whether you want to work as an ordained or lay pastor. Let’s assume from the question, however, that you are interested in working in ministry in a regular, probably full-time capacity.

Ministry and Ordination

The confusing part is that the word “minister” simply means, as a verb, to take care of someone’s needs. Some Christian churches have a deep sense that all of their members act as ministers to one another and to people in need. However, within the broader Christian tradition, the word “minister,” as a noun, has especially applied to the professional clergy or pastors who lead a church. When someone wants to become a minister, they are usually referring to becoming a pastor or leaader in a Protestant church. It is less common to hear a Catholic clergy person referred to with the generic term “minister.” Catholic clergy are usually called priests.

Whether or not you need a degree to become a minister may depend in part on whether or not you are seeking to become ordained within a given denomination so that you can serve in a regular or full-time capacity as a pastor or leader in a church. Some denominations have a deeper history than others of relying on lay ministers who may not ever receive much formal education, according to In Trust. Other denominations, like the Assemblies of God, will train and license their pastors within their churches. Even when they do ordain their pastors, they don’t absolutely require that they have a degree of any kind, though some do have a bachelor’s or master’s.

The Master of Divinity and Other Options

In many historical Protestant churches, such as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Methodist churches, it has long been accepted that candidates for ordained ministry get a degree at a seminary where they can receive theological and pastoral training. The degree of choice is usually the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, which is a three year master’s level degree with a minimum of 72 credit hours. You have to have a bachelor’s degree of some sort to be admitted to an MDiv program, where you will study not only theology and pastoral care, but other things such as church history, the Bible, and biblical languages (usually Greek and sometimes Hebrew). These courses are designed to help prepare you to lead and teach a church congregation.

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Like many other disciplines, theological education is changing, partly due to the advent of online learning, according to Christianity Today. Some seminaries offer some of their courses online, and some schools also offer other degrees, besides the MDiv, which you might choose to pursue and still become a minister, either in a church or in a parachurch organization or so you can work as a missionary. Those degrees include Master of Arts (MA) degrees in theology or global or intercultural studies. In general, if you want to serve in full-time ministry, the best degree to become a minister will be some form of a master’s degree, and probably a master of divinity degree.