Christian Studies Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in Christian studies? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and Christian studies degrees.
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Studying Christian Studies: Degrees at a Glance

Christian studies, and variants like world or early Christian studies, are cademic programs that cover the fundamentals of Christian history and theology. Some schools state that these programs are intended as training for non-ordained ministry, or for students who have not chosen an area of specialization. Some schools offer pastoral concentrations within this program.

There are many pathways to ministry employment. Some denominations do not require ministers to have a graduate degree. However, be aware that the Master of Divinity degree (MDiv) is the degree most often held by both Catholic and Protestant clergy, and that some denominations require the degree. The addition of 40,500 new clerical jobs across all faiths is projected from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in Christian ministry, either as clergy or as non-ordained ministry workers Individuals interested in working in academia as religious professors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary or salary range) - Pastor (ranges from $20,000 -$72,500)**
- Youth pastor (ranges from $15,000 - $49,000)**
- Associate pastor (ranges from $24,000 - $61,000)**
- University professor ($62,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 8-14 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Frequently, multiple language requirements
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 10-12 more graduate level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Language and teaching requirements
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in Christian studies or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in Christian studies or related field
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010 figures), **Payscale.com (2012 figures)

Master's Degree in Christian Studies

A Master of Arts in Christian Studies program provides you with a solid grasp of the fundamentals of Christian history, theology and ethics, usually as a preparation for some form of ministry. A bachelor's degree in a related subject is usually a required prerequisite. Core coursework in these programs includes an in-depth study of the Old and New Testaments, the life and teachings of Christ, the history of Christianity as well as Christian theology and ethics. These two year programs are available in both thesis and non-thesis formats.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A career in the Christian ministry can provide you with a deep sense of fulfillment
  • Ordained and non-ordained ministry workers can have a profound positive impact on the lives of others
  • Many churches prefer that ordained ministers have a Master of Divinity degree

Cons

  • Some denominations do not require ministers to have a graduate degree
  • Some conservative churches may not ordain women, though most employ women in non-pastoral ministry work
  • Pay in the ministry is generally lower than that of other occupations

Courses and Requirements

Core courses in an M.A.C.S. program focuses on the Bible, Christian history and theology, Christian worldview and Christian ethics. Offered concentrations might include Christian leadership, pastoral care/chaplaincy, Christian counseling, health and welfare ministry and church planting. Some concentrations, such as biblical studies, require mastery of languages such as Hebrew or Greek. In these programs, you learn these subjects with the goal of using your knowledge to help others in contemporary ministry or to prepare for a doctoral degree program.

Most states require ministers performing weddings to be licensed, according to U.S. News and World Report. Some schools may also require M.A.C.S. students to affirm a personal Christian faith, or to conform to faith-related standards of conduct.

Online Degree Options

Accredited online master's programs in Christian studies are available. Many online programs are designed for working ministers who wish to deepen their knowledge of Christian theology or to prepare for a specific kind of ministry. Online programs are essentially the same as onsite equivalents, with the exception that lectures and coursework are communicated over the Internet rather than in a classroom.

Stand Out With This Degree

Although a Christian studies program is more high-touch than high-tech, technical expertise can be a valuable asset in a job search. Non-ordained job candidates with computer skills may have a small advantage over those who do not. In particular, if you plan a career in missions or overseas ministry work, you should learn to use wireless or satellite communications, because you may need to use these communication methods while overseas.

Additionally, some business knowledge may also be useful, since organizational, decision-making and budgeting skills are important to running a church or ministry well. Knowledge of business operations could make you more attractive to employers.

Degree Alternatives

A Master of Divinity is the most common degree held by Catholic and Protestant clergy. Many denominations require pastoral candidates to hold an MDiv degree to qualify for ordination. Obtaining clerical employment may be easier with an MDiv than with a M.A.C.S. degree, though the MDiv takes roughly twice as long to complete on average (3 to 4 years) and requires intense effort.

MDiv coursework commonly includes detailed exegesis of the Bible, including mastery of Latin, Hebrew and Greek. These programs teach not just biblical languages, Christian theology and history, but also pastoral skills such as preaching, counseling, worship leadership and evangelism. Many MDiv programs include a year of supervised church or parish ministry, and some schools offer you the opportunity to complete an additional year of internship in a local church or social service agency as part of your education.

PhD Degree in Christian Studies

PhD programs with the title 'Christian studies' are available, but may not be accredited. However, accredited PhD programs are available in related areas, such as early Christian studies or world Christian studies. Many students who earn a doctorate in Christian studies go on to teach at a seminary or other post-secondary school.

These doctoral programs are structured traditionally, and contain required core courses as well as a few electives. A PhD in early Christian or world Christian studies requires you to understand several ancient and contemporary languages so that you can translate and comment upon original biblical texts. You must choose a research topic and write an original doctoral dissertation to complete the program. A PhD program may take up to 5 years of full-time study to complete.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Financial aid, such as tuition waivers or stipends, may be available to cover the costs of a doctoral program
  • As a seminary professor, you may earn a higher salary than many non-ordained workers or even some ordained ministers
  • An academic career may be less emotionally and physically demanding than that of an ordained minister or ministry worker

Cons

  • A PhD program may take 5 years or longer to complete
  • Stipends may not cover all the costs of a doctoral program
  • A PhD in Christian Studies may not be as useful as an MDiv outside of an academic setting

Courses and Requirements

As a doctoral student, you take core coursework and pass tests to demonstrate your subject mastery. Core courses often include biblical studies, early church history, theology, ethics, logic and pastoral studies, with some elective choices in your areas of specialization. Tests at this level of study are rigorous and may require you to translate and comment on ancient texts in Latin, Greek or Hebrew. If you pass the testing phase of the program, you are then required to choose a topic and research and write a dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Accredited online doctorate programs in certain areas of Christian studies are available, but rare. These programs usually offer a blend of onsite and online study rather than a purely online program. In an online program, you are usually required to attend on-campus seminars, with the rest of the program being completed online. Coursework in online programs is the same as that in traditional onsite programs.

Stand Out With This Degree

If, like many doctoral Christian studies students, you are preparing for a career in academia, you should take every opportunity to publish to establish expertise in your chosen research area. Having an extensive list of published works may impress academic employers and help you stand out against your competition.

Additionally, having technical expertise in the computer applications likely to be used in a classroom may give you an advantage in a competitive hiring environment. Having this knowledge may help you stand out to employers.

Degree Alternatives

Doctoral degree programs in Christian studies, or aspects of Christian studies, are not as plentiful as available alternatives, such as a PhD in Theology. A theology doctoral program offers you the opportunity to subjects similar to those taught in a Christian studies programs and also prepares you for teaching positions. Potential employers may give hiring preference to degree holders from well-known, competitive schools such as Notre Dame, as opposed to PhD holders from smaller or lesser-known institutions where coursework or program admittance may be easier than in top-ranked institutions.

Popular Schools

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Grand Canyon University

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What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

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What is your highest level of education?

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