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What is a Minister/Pastor?

A minister, pastor, or preacher is a person who leads a spiritual congregation. They are most visible on Sunday mornings, when they deliver a sermon that concerns spiritual literature and their interpretation thereof. Ministers also function as counselors for church members who struggle with personal or spiritual matters.

Ministers are found in a range of Christian denominations that includes Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, and Lutheran. While each denomination uses the same essential text, the Holy Bible, as the core of belief, each has its own interpretation that inform sermons and counseling sessions. However, each denomination is a Protestant faith, as opposed to Catholic. This means that ministers and pastors, etc. can be married or even female. Catholic priests cannot marry, and women are forbidden from the clergy.

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Steps to Becoming a Minister or Pastor

There are many possible routes to becoming a minister in a protestant denomination. The Catholic church, on the other hand, is very limited in how it trains its clergy. For protestants, as with any clergy, you should first feel a deep calling to the profession. This often manifests as a deep spiritual revelation that has a profound impact. For some this happens in childhood or adolescence, while others hear a calling later in adulthood.

From that point, you can pursue formal training in a college or university. You can also attend a seminary. Each denomination may have its own special guidelines and thus may recommend specific schools or degrees. On the other hand, some ministers eschew membership to any particular denomination and work with non-denominational congregations. Since you are pursuing this profession as a protestant, you can still marry and engage in life in much the same manner as laypeople.

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  • Step 1: Hear the Call and Consult a Minister

  • Step 2: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree

  • Step 3: Graduate School

  • Step 4: Receive Ordination


Step 1: Hear the Call and Consult a Minister

When you hear the call to the ministry, your first step should be to discuss it with your pastor. He or she may ask that you provide some evidence that attests to your personal relationship to God. When you discuss this, you will find that there is a lot of work to do. Your minister can detail the steps you should take, and you might begin working towards becoming a lay minister.

Each denomination has its own process for lay practitioners, but you will certainly need to begin deeper biblical studies. You might be asked to do work for the church. This could mean overseeing charity events, leading charitable missions to underprivileged areas, or working with your church's youth program.

Step 2: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree

Depending on your church, a bachelor’s degree is not necessarily required. However, formal religious training will help make you the best prepared minister you can be. You might find that there are several degrees to pursue: Religion, Christian Leadership, and Biblical Studies are a few options.

While you study for your undergraduate degree, you should remain active with a church. If there are religious organizations on campus, seek out leadership roles. During summer breaks, look for volunteer opportunities where you can take an active role helping others.

Step 3: Graduate School – Master of Divinity

You can strengthen the depth and breadth of you religious training by pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. Most programs are subdivided according to the particular denomination you prefer. There are programs for Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, Baptists, and more. Make sure that your specific denomination is represented and ask your pastor for guidance when selecting a school.

Step 4: Receive Ordination

Once you are ready to pursue a full-time job, you will need to be ordained into a church. This process varies from denomination to denomination, and some denominations don't have any codified process, rather, each church is free to determine its own ordination process. You are likely to be scrutinized by a panel of ordained clergy and laypeople as well. With that said, you might find that there are recommended guidelines which should serve you well when preparing for ordination.

As part of your duties, you will provide counseling to your congregation. You might wish to attain a state license, but that is not necessary. However, if you should decide to leave your position in the church and still provide counseling, you’ll need to attain a state licensure. State counseling rules generally include specific coursework and a period of supervised practice.

What Does a Minister Do?

On a daily basis, a minister oversees the spiritual and administrative growth and development of a church. This might involve meetings and consultation with other members of church administration to discuss future projects, budgetary concerns, and community outreach, for example. You might also have scheduled counseling sessions with members of your congregation. This could be one-on-one sessions with troubled individuals or perhaps marriage or family sessions.

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You will also need to spend some time during your day planning out future sermons and services. For these, you might seek inspiration during prayer sessions or from the current events of the day. For example, if something traumatic impacts your nation or community, you might address that from a spiritual point of view.

To inform your spiritual work, it is vital to maintain a regular bible study. You could do this on your own, or you could formalize the process by studying with a regular group. You might convene a group of spiritually advanced laypeople in your congregation, perhaps from your lay leadership. You could also seek out other ministers from your area, or online.

Skills to Acquire

  • Leadership:
    You should be able to gather strong teams and delegate authority effectively. You will not only be the spiritual leader of your church, but you should take charge of church outreach initiatives, the physical plant of the church, and hiring for various church positions.
  • Counseling:
    You will need to have great skill with people on an individual basis. Ministers need to conduct counseling sessions with individuals, couples, families, or groups. You will need to provide spiritual solutions for human problems. When you are able to help your parishioners through tough times, you strengthen the overall congregation.
  • Writing and Communication:
    Every week you will need to deliver a sermon for your congregation. You will thus need to sharpen your writing skills so that you can convey large spiritual ideas in concise, relatable ways. If you hold a Master of Divinity, you might be used to writing on a very high academic level. When you become a minister, you will need to read your audience and seek to reach them, while also elevating their spiritual lives.
  • Fundraising:
    Every church must bring in funds if it hopes to maintain the physical church. To keep the community strong, it will need to pursue various philanthropic or other projects. Thus, you will need to devise schemes to help the organization raise money. Your insightful and stimulating sermons will bring funds into the Sunday collection plates, but you might devise other means of fundraising, such as car washes or carnivals.
  • Public Speaking:
    This is a key skill for any minister or pastor. Every Sunday you must be able to address your congregation with words of spiritual wisdom and hope. It's also important for you to be able to address other groups from time to time. For instance, you might take a larger leadership role in the upper reaches of your denomination. Thus, you will likely need to speak to your fellow clergy at conventions or other gatherings.

Alternative Paths

Not every pastor or minister attends college, much less graduate school for the purposes of becoming a member of the clergy. You could have an MBA and be in full pursuit of the corporate life when you discover your true calling. If you desire a career as a clergy person, you could delve into spiritual studies in any number of ways. You could ardently study the bible at home on your own, with a larger group, or with your pastor.

You could then start your own ministry. This can take any number of forms. You might begin by convening bible studies or inviting parishioners to your home on Sunday for a less-formal service where you deliver a sermon and perform other typical pastoral duties. You could also rent or purchase a venue where you can hold services, conduct counseling sessions, and organizing as a state-recognized religious body.

If you are in a church, you can discuss your desire with your pastor and pursue ordination. After all, to become a minister, they key qualification is whether or not a church accepts you as their spiritual leader. There are even very charismatic youngsters who feel the call and become ordained to the clergy.

Pastor and Minister Careers & Salary

Where Might You Work?


As a pastor or minister you can work in many different environments. The most commonly recognized setting would be a church where you would act as the spiritual leader for a congregation. In this position you would deliver sermons on Sunday, counsel parishioners, and oversee the day to day running of the church. Your church size could be rather small or a huge megachurch.

Alternatively, ministers also work in the military to provide spiritual counsel for soldiers and their families, on cruise ships for spiritual seekers on holiday, or even on television or the internet. These days you could find a congregation through YouTube videos or some other means.

Your spiritual mission might be to help others as a writer or researcher. Thus, you could work in an academic setting or even as an independent writer. It’s possible to create a subscription newsletter or small magazine as an outlet for your message. Your work could manifest in biblical interpretation, inspirational writing, or specific areas such as overcoming drug addiction or easing marital strife.

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Ministers also work in foreign, third-world missions whose focus lies in offering help to locals in need of means for sustainable agriculture, water sources, and medicine. Other missions might be in the United States, helping the poor or sick discover a sense of relief, and perhaps rise above their current state. Essentially, wherever there is a need for a spiritual message, you can find duties and a purpose.

Potential Career Paths

You might have a similar skill set to that of a pastor or minister, yet you don't have the desire to lead a church. If you examine the skills and duties of a clergy person, you might find that you can perform similar service to your community, though in a different occupation.

One way to help people relieve their troubles is through pursuing counseling. To become a state-licensed counselor you will need to achieve a degree in Psychology or Social Work. You will then complete supervised practice hours, and perhaps fulfill other requirements, depending on your state's regulations. Some lay counselors include a spiritual component alongside psychotherapy.

You could opt to teach any grade from kindergarten through twelfth grade. If your religion is of great importance for you, there are faith-based schools where you can integrate a spiritual message along with the standard curriculum.

Youth Pastor:
If you have a special rapport with young people, this might be a great way to help them develop in the context of your religion. Though this is typically the domain of younger people, the job is available for anyone who can connect with youthful members of a congregation.

Religious Music Director:
Some find that they would love to carry a spiritual message through song. Music directors are often thought of as leading the Sunday choir, but your church might allow for more advanced musical programming. You could help the youth of your church form a Christian rock band, or you might develop other musical programming to reach contemporary congregations.

Military Clergy:
Soldiers often feel a great burden, particularly in times of combat. They need help dealing with their own mortality, loss of comrades, and other stressors. You could also work on peace time bases and help military personnel with more ordinary human struggles.

Hospital Clergy:
In this position, you can be there for people at all phases of the human drama. You can work along with parents of newborns, a grieving family who has just lost a loved one, or people facing terminal illness. Your work might be most called for in hospice situations, which will be both rewarding and very challenging.

Non-profit Administrator:
Non-profit professionals work to help people without the overwhelming burden of a profit motive. In this way, they are similar to pastors and ministers. As a non-profit administrator, your leadership and administrative abilities can work in concert with your desire to help, thus creating and maintaining effective, mission-driven organizations.

Life Coach:
This is primarily an independent position where you will seek out clients who are in need of a change in their life. You might focus on their nutritional needs, or you might work on their spiritual deficits. Your clients will benefit from your ability to assess their needs and guide them towards a better way to live their life.

Minister Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Associate Pastor $32,000 $49,000 $68,000
Minister $39,000 $51,000 $60,000
Pastor $40,000 $49,000 $54,000
Senior Pastor $40,000 $58,000 $67,000
Youth Minister $24,000 $37,000 $51,000
Youth Pastor $25,000 $39,000 $54,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

The outlook for this career path is positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the projected growth for this occupation is anticipated to be average (8 percent) through 2026. You can thus be sure to find a congregation in most any growing city or town in the nation. The BLS also shows that the occupation's median salary in 2017 was $47,100, which is a living wage for most areas. Keep in mind that your compensation might include a rectory/parsonage, or church-owned home for you and your family.

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Advancing From Here

Once you become a minister or preacher, you will find that there is still room to grow. You can help build your congregation through stimulating and insightful sermons, fundraising leadership, and community outreach. Also, as you deepen your spiritual knowledge and wisdom you will further enrich your career in ways that traditional economic models don't account for. This might not always involve monetary compensation, but the true goal of a spiritual leader goes beyond finances. If you are able to better lead more people to a sense of ease and comfort in their spiritual lives, you will have achieved success.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are there government requirements for ordination?

The federal and state governments do not have oversight over church and they do not have control over the requirements for becoming a minister. Federal and state governments do have some control over certain regulations if church business such as finances, taxes, and business licenses.

Should ministers choose a denomination?

Ministers will generally want to choose a denomination before they finish their education because many ordination requirements will change depending on the specific denomination you're part of.

Do you need a high school diploma to become a minister?

You will need a high school diploma to become a minister at the minimum.

Where do ministers work?

Ministers work in local churches, military, on cruise ships, hotels, nursing homes, Christian education ministries, or even on television or the internet

How much do ministers make?

On average ministers make $56,000 annually.

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