Christian Minister Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a Christian minister? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming a Christian minister is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Christian Minister

Christian ministers generally conduct worship services, baptisms and funerals, and provide Christian care and leadership for the members of their church. Check out some of the pros and cons of this career to decide if it's right for you.

PROS of a Christian Minister Career
High job satisfaction rating****
Helping others can be rewarding****
Preferential tax status***
Varied job duties (Preaching, training, administration)*****

CONS of a Christian Minister Career
Low pay is possible, especially for those just entering the field ($37,000 median salary for entry-level ministers in July 2015)*
Graduate school debt ($40,000 average graduate school debt)**
Education requirements (6+ years)******
Long hours (Potential to work 60 or more hours per week)*****

Sources: *Payscale.com, **U.S. News and World Report, ***Internal Revenue Service, ****NORC/University of Chicago, *****Duke Pulpit and Pew, ******O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Christian ministers, who may also be called pastors or priests, generally conduct worship services, baptisms and funerals, and provide Christian care and leadership for the members of their church. In hierarchical denominations, they may serve under the oversight of a bishop; in non-hierarchical denominations they may function without oversight or as part of a board of elders.

Pastors are typically responsible for oversight of all teaching, preaching and staff. They may lead bible studies or small groups and will generally run staff meetings. Larger churches may have a senior pastor, associate or assisting pastors and youth and family pastors. Additionally, some churches have worship pastors who are primarily responsible for organizing the worship service, including music and arts presentations, and teaching pastors who present the sermons. Ministers are often responsible for marriage and family counseling and for visits to parishioners who are in the hospital or are otherwise unable to come to church. They may also serve on community and/or denominational boards.

Job Growth and Salary

The clergy field is expected to grow about as fast as average from 2012-2022, with 8-14% growth expected (www.onetonline.org). They noted that the majority of pastors work for religious bodies or organizations, but that they are also hired by hospitals, home health care services, nursing homes and the government. Clergy earned a median salary of around $44,000 in 2014, according to the BLS. As of 2012, the IRS allowed for deductions for clergy housing and some expenses, which may significantly lower tax liability.

Requirements

Education Requirements

The most common path for becoming a pastor includes earning a bachelor's degree in a Christian field, such as Bible, theology or Christian education, and then pursuing a master's degree in divinity. An M.Div., which takes three years to complete, includes coursework in the Bible, Christian history, Biblical languages and worship, and will normally need to be done at a school or seminary approved by your denomination.

Some denominations require pastors to complete internships or go through steps such as being ordained as a deacon prior to becoming a priest. Most denominations will have newly ordained pastors begin as assistant or associate pastors. Some denominations recognize the gifts of ministry without much formalized education.

Useful Skills

Christian ministers need to be sensitive and caring. They need to have a deep understanding of the history and doctrines involved in Christianity; more importantly, they need to believe in, live out and pass on what the faith teaches. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, the ability to balance work and family demands and the ability to be flexible are all required to serve well in this field.

Job Requirements

Recent job postings looked for pastors with the ability to lead and teach. Excellent communications and administrative skills were requested, along with the ability to handle the administrative tasks of a parish. Some churches were looking for pastors who would 'grow' the church, while others looked for pastors who could run both the church and an attached school. A sampling of job postings available in April 2012 included:

  • A church in New York sought a part- or full-time pastor to grow the church and provide vision and leadership. Requirements were that the applicant be of the denomination and willing to transfer canonical residence to their bishop.
  • A church in the Pittsburgh area looked for a part-time temporary pastor who would provide biblically based preaching, leadership and worship. Administrative and collaborative skills were requested and providing support for youth and children's programs were also noted.
  • A church in Illinois advertised for a part-time senior adult minister to design and run a ministry to seniors in the church and community. The church desired someone who was ordained, with a devotion to Christ, passion for ministry with seniors, flexibility and organizational skills. They required a bachelor's degree with 1-2 years of experience.
  • A church in Ohio was seeking a full-time associate pastor to lead outreach efforts into the community. A master's degree and/or a bachelor's degree in a ministry-related field along with experience in evangelism, ministry coordination and volunteer mobilization were requested. The candidate would need to meet with varying ministries, do evaluations and aid communications efforts. A passion for following Jesus and sharing the Gospel was required.

How Can I Maximize My Skills?

Develop Related Skills

Ministers have several functions within a church, and depending upon the needs of the church, differing things may stand out on a resume. Most churches look for pastors who are good at preaching, which is called homiletics. In some cases, churches that are searching for a pastor will send people out to listen to your sermon or witness how you interact with your congregation during church services. Taking additional courses in homiletics at seminary or attending seminars on preaching could help develop these skills.

Administration, which is part of the pastor's role in running a church, is also something that it would be good to be knowledgeable about. Coursework in basic church finances, organization and management would all demonstrate your understanding of the importance of administrative skills for a church.

Acquire Additional Training

Since counseling church members about their religious and personal needs is a common task for ministers, according to O*Net Online, you might want to obtain some additional training in this area. Colleges and seminaries offer certificate programs in counseling, which can help you to stand out among applicants.

Alternative Career Paths

Religion Professor

If parish ministry is not right for you, you have other options. If you still want to focus your career in a religious field, you might consider teaching Christianity at the college level. This field offers similar employment projections, but you could make more money than if you opted to work as a minister. According to the BLS, professors of religion earned median salaries of $65,000 in 2011, and job opportunities in the field were expected to grow by 17% through 2020. In order to become a college professor, you would need to earn a Ph.D. in Religion or a related field. You would be responsible for preparing lessons, performing research and working with students.

Social Worker

If you want to help people with the issues they face in their lives, but would prefer a non-religious career, you can consider becoming a social worker. Social workers do some of the same work as pastors do, when it comes to working with people facing difficult life issues. As a social worker, you could help clients improve their well-being or adapt to changes in their lives, such as divorce or unemployment. You could also work as a clinical social worker, providing therapy or diagnosing and treating emotional and other disorders. Dependent upon the type of social work you'd choose to do, you may need to earn a master's degree. The field is expected to grow by 25% from 2010-2020, and the BLS reported median wages of around $54,000 in May 2011.

Psychologist

Another option you might consider is a psychologist career. Psychologists work to serve people also, either through research or directly by treating emotional and mental disorders and helping to change unhealthy behaviors. This field offers faster than average employment growth and high wages. The BLS reported median wages of nearly $90,000 as of 2011 and projected a growth in job opportunities of 22% from 2010-2020. You'll most likely need a doctoral degree for this job, but you can find some positions with just a master's degree. You may also need to be licensed, depending upon both the state you work in and the type of work you'd do.

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