Becoming a Preacher: Job Description & Salary Information

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A preacher's mean annual salary is around $47,000, but is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a preacher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Preacher

A preacher is a member of the clergy who provides spiritual guidance. It is a job title that incorporates many religious positions, such as priest or pastor. Find out the pros and cons of being a preacher and see if it's the right career for you.

Pros of a Preacher Career
Slightly higher-than-average annual salary ($47,730 as of May 2014)*
Ability to serve as a role model and mentor to congregants***
Openings are predicted for positions in all faiths*
Positions can be found in a variety of locations, such as hospitals and established congregations*

Cons of a Preacher Career
Many positions require clergy to have a graduate degree*
Seminary or divinity school can be expensive (62% of students graduate in debt)**
Long work hours (60+ hours per week)*
The responsibility of resolving societal problems may cause stress*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **The Association of Theological Schools, ***I Have a Plan Iowa.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Like all members of the clergy, preachers serve as teachers and religious leaders. They help congregants understand religious texts, officiate at religious services and preside over life cycle events, including baptisms and funerals. Some preachers also fulfill administrative roles, such as overseeing staff or committee meetings.

A preacher's work hours include nights, weekends and holidays. Duties that call a preacher out of bed in the middle of the night include administering last rights and comforting grieving families. Preachers also providing guidance to married couples and individuals considering religious conversion.

Career Prospects and Salary

The BLS predicts average job growth for all clergy members, including preachers. It is estimated that all positions in the field will increase by 6% in the 2014-2024 decade, which is about on par with the average occupational growth rate for that time. Most openings will be available with congregations in small, rural areas. Clergy trying to secure bigger congregations in an urban setting will face the toughest competition.

The BLS reports that salaries for clergy members range from about $22,000 to $76,000, as of May 2014. In the same report, the BLS stated that the annual mean wage is about $47,000, which is slightly higher than average. Those who work for wealthier congregations may enjoy a higher salary. Some clergy members take on additional work, such as officiating religious ceremonies in secular locations, to supplement their incomes.

What Are the Requirements?

Education requirements vary amongst religions and religious denominations. Most members of the clergy need a master's degree in divinity, theology, ministry or a related field to secure a position. Some sects only require a bachelor's degree or high school diploma. Before leading a congregation, most clergy members go through an ordination process. Once hired, preachers receive a significant amount of on-the-job training.

There is a current trend in ministry ordination in which individuals can become ordained ministers by simply filling out an online application and paying a processing fee. This ordination process is most often used by individuals who wish to conduct a particular life cycle event, such as a wedding. The validity of such ordinations is only recognized by some states. If you wish to lead an established congregation, you should follow the more traditional educational route.

Useful Skills for Preachers

Preachers are in a distinctive position to have a profound impact on the lives of individuals. Strong counseling, conflict resolution and problem-solving skills are important qualities for all members of the clergy, including preachers, to have. Such skills can help nurture congregants and guide individuals through tough personal situations.

Having artistic skills can also prove useful to preachers. With such talents, preachers can employ music to engage a congregation during services. Creative abilities can also help preachers develop youth and adult programming that is both educational and entertaining.

What Employers Are Looking for

Job postings may include the title preacher or pastor in the job description. Postings often indicate the religious affiliation and size of the congregation. In addition to a candidate's educational background and experience, congregations look for a candidate who embodies the spirit and ethics of the faith. Below are examples of some job postings open in May 2012:

  • A Church of Christ in Tennessee is looking to hire a full-time preacher. The small congregation is comprised of mostly retirees. They are seeking candidates who have a solid understanding of religion, a proven dedication to faith and solid references.
  • An Evangelical church in Oregon has an opening for a part-time Pastor of Worship Ministries position. Candidates should have experience in developing religious programming and leading religious services. Familiarity with religious music composition and arrangement is also desired.
  • A Congregational church in New Hampshire is seeking a senior pastor. The church is located in a small, rural community. Candidates should have a Master of Divinity and at least five years of experience.

Standing Out in the Field

Like all members of the clergy, successful preachers stand out because they have attracted and retained a large congregation. To attain this following, preachers must develop strong interpersonal, communication and relationship-building skills. In addition, successful preachers inspire and motivate their congregants through words and actions. Developing a strong public speaking style that can capture the attention of an audience may encourage congregants to return to services on a regular basis, and allow you to stand out as an effective preacher.

Voluntary certification is another way to bolster a resume. For example, the National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA) offers the Christian Counseling Training Program. Classes towards the counseling certification can be taken online or in a traditional classroom setting. The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) also offers certification programs. The AAPC's Pastoral Counseling Training Program leads to certification in the field of pastoral counseling and psychotherapy.

Other Careers to Consider

Religious Activity and Education Director

If you are interested in working for a religious institution but do not want to lead a congregation, consider a career as a religious activity and education director. Like a clergy member, directors interact with congregants and utilize strong interpersonal skills. Many positions can be secured with just a bachelor's degree.

As of May 2011, the annual mean wage for religious activity and education directors was about $42,000, slightly lower than the annual mean wage reported for clergy members. According to O*Net Online, job opportunities are expected to grow between ten percent and 19% during the 2010-2020 decade. This growth estimate is about as fast as average.

Counseling Psychologist

If you like the idea of helping people but wish to do so in a secular manner, consider a career as a counseling psychologist. Becoming a counseling psychologist requires significant educational training. Psychologists must have a master's degree or Ph.D. in the field and often need to obtain licensure to practice.

As of May 2011, the annual mean wage for counseling psychologists was about $73,000, much higher than the annual mean wage for clergy members. The BLS predicts the job opportunities for all psychologists to grow by 22% during the 2010-2020 decade. This growth prediction is faster than average and more favorable than the outlook estimated for clergy members.

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