Being a Christian means being called to impact the world for Christ using your time, talent and treasure. How that plays out, of course, is different for every believer, and we all have important roles to play as members of the church. For some, part of that journey is a formal part-time or full-time ministry role.
That said, it’s not as simple as hearing a call to ministry and starting to do the work of ministry. It may be quite different from a secular career in important ways, but it’s a career nevertheless. Like any other job, there are practical skills to be honed and performance expectations to be met. In order to pursue your calling, you need training and experience, and part of that training is a ministry degree program.
For many students, pursuing that ministry degree online is the way to get high-quality education in a dynamic, supportive and challenging online class environment while continuing to gain hands-on experience outside the classroom.
What Does an Online Ministry Degree Include?
The specifics of a ministry degree, of course, depend on the particular degree program you choose, but any ministry degree is intended to equip students for an active, formal role in a local church or a parachurch organization (such as a Christian nonprofit, discipleship ministry, publisher or school). Ministry degree programs provide the foundational theory and practical skills you need to pursue a ministry career.
Theology, apologetics and hermeneutics
If your ministry career will include preaching or teaching, then you obviously need a strong theological background in order to effectively explain theology and doctrine to the congregation. Even for those who serve in non-teaching roles, however, a solid grounding in Scripture and theology is vital. You need to understand how your role in the church contributes to the cause of the Gospel and how the principles laid out in the Bible shape the work you do, whether that’s greeting newcomers on Sunday morning or processing payroll on Friday afternoon.
Servant leadership is at once a mindset, a practical management style and a commitment to put the needs of the congregation and the community ahead of the self — and to remember that God is ultimately the lead pastor, not you. Formal training in ministry includes training in Christian leadership and hands-on experience in leadership situations.
Counseling and psychology
Working in ministry means engaging with people who turn to the church in dark moments. A strong knowledge of Scripture is critical in these situations, and so is a working knowledge of human psychology, development and trauma. These skills are critical for ministry roles that involve counseling, such as Christian youth counseling, but even those who work in other roles need to know enough to recognize a problem and point someone in the right direction.
Church administration and finance
Like any other nonprofit organization, running a church requires administrative and financial work. If you’re going to be involved in ministry, you will likely have a seat at the table in the management of the church where you work, even if administration is not your primary focus. Anyone who fills a leadership role needs to understand those administrative challenges and how they intersect with the practical needs of the church and its ministries.
Careers in Ministry
Sunday preaching may be the most visible ministry role in most churches, but it’s far from the only one. The church is a vast, complex and sometimes messy body, and many ministry roles are needed to do the work that keeps churches functioning.
Remember, too, that while there are commonalities, ministry roles vary significantly between denominations and even from church to church within the same denomination. Two people with the same job title in different churches may do very different day-to-day work. It depends on the structure of the church, the needs of the church community and the way different gifts within the staff team support and complement one another.
In short, if you feel the call to ministry, there is certainly something you can do with that calling.
Lead pastor or ministry leader
A lead pastor (or the equivalent title in your denomination) takes on overall responsibility for the ministry, spiritual welfare, growth, and mission of a church. While the specifics of church governance vary between denominations, the lead pastor is generally the church’s primary leader, teacher and vision caster.
Lead pastors conduct Sunday services, preach sermons, oversee assistant pastors and volunteer leaders, develop plans and curricula for church programs and counsel parishioners as individuals, couples and groups. Being called to leadership in ministry also means training and equipping other ministers and serving as a mentor to church members who are moving toward leadership roles. In addition, the lead pastor’s role typically includes administrative responsibilities such as leading staff meetings, assigning duties to staff and volunteers and overseeing the church’s finances, facilities and resources.
Becoming a lead pastor typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree in ministry or theology, and usually a master’s or seminary degree. In addition, you must meet the requirements and complete the process to be ordained in your denomination. While the specific credentials required for ministry leadership vary by denomination, all church leaders should meet the criteria for leadership laid out in 1 Tim. 3:1-7: above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach and so on.
An assistant pastor or associate pastor serves in a supporting role to the lead pastor. Broadly speaking, the assistant pastor’s job is to share the load of ministry leadership, including Sunday morning teaching, small groups, pastoral counseling, church administration and church discipline.
Because every church and every lead pastor is unique, the role of an assistant pastor varies widely. Often, an assistant or associate pastor is chosen to complement the lead pastor’s skills or experience; if the lead pastor is best suited to work with large groups, for example, the assistant pastor may be chosen for their gifts working with individuals. Assistant pastors may directly supervise church staff or volunteers while themselves under the supervision of the lead pastor. Larger churches may have multiple assistant pastors who are responsible for specific ministry domains, such as outreach, missions or youth ministry.
The role of the assistant pastor may be designed for a “pastor-in-training” who is gaining experience to prepare for a permanent role, or it may be a permanent managerial position in a church. Either way, some education is required: churches typically require at least an associate or bachelor’s degree in ministry, along with some hands-on ministry experience.
Youth pastor or youth minister
Youth ministry is a special calling to care for the spiritual needs of young people in the church. A youth pastor is called to engage with, mentor, guide and encourage adolescents and young adults, typically in a church or sometimes in a parachurch organization.
Youth pastors need to teach young people the basics of the Christian faith, answer their spiritual and practical questions, organize activities and find opportunities for the youth to get more deeply involved in the church. Effective youth pastors manage their youth ministries in an organized and dynamic manner, effectively coordinate with other ministry leaders and provide both wise counsel and a strong example of healthy faith to the youth.
To become a youth pastor, you generally need at least an associate degree in youth ministry or a related field; many churches prefer candidates with bachelors’ degrees. Most churches prefer hands-on youth ministry experience as well. Depending on your denomination, you may or may not have to be ordained. To learn more about pursuing a career in youth ministry, read our article, “How to Become a Youth Pastor.”
Church administrator or staff
Church administrators and support staff are responsible for the efficient management of church operations. A church is a place of worship, but it’s also a place where a great deal of work gets done, from communication to event planning to logistics, and effectively managing time and stewarding the church’s resources is an important part of the mission.
A church administrator’s job may include overseeing communication with church members, planning events, acquiring office supplies, overseeing maintenance of the church building, paying bills, processing payroll, tracking income from donations and handling tax and regulatory compliance. Church administrators need to work with the utmost integrity in order to set a strong example and instill confidence in church members.
Church administration roles usually require at least an associate degree, if not a master’s. While some church administrators have backgrounds in business or office management, a ministry degree program that includes training in accounting, finance and administration is ideal. Good church administrators are skilled not only in the mechanics of running an office, but also in communication and relationship-building, both to recruit volunteers and to maintain strong overall relationships with the ministry team and the church body.
Parachurch ministry staff
Parachurch organizations are Christian nonprofits that work to fulfill a particular mission outside the structure of the local church. Some parachurch organizations are explicitly focused on evangelism and discipleship, while others focus on welfare, social services and other humanitarian causes. The world of parachurch organizations is vast, including youth and college ministries, political activist groups, publishers, study centers and emergency aid centers.
Working for a parachurch organization means dedicating your ministry career to a particular mission, often with a level of focus that most local churches cannot match. You may partner with local churches to pair specialized expertise in your focus area with their knowledge of needs and resources in their community. The goal is not to replace the local church, but rather to support and supplement local churches in the shared goal of showing Christ’s love and advancing the cause of the Gospel.
Parachurch ministries vary greatly in their mission and structure, but a degree in ministry will give you a strong foundation of tools that are applicable to any sort of parachurch work. Whether the ministry you choose is focused on evangelism, discipleship or social welfare, training in relationship-building, theology, hermeneutics and counseling will help to equip you for the many challenges with which parachurch ministries engage.
A chaplain is a member of the clergy attached to a secular institution, such as a hospital, nursing home, correctional facility, police or fire department, branch of the armed services, government body or private business. Christian chaplains represent the Christian faith and often a specific denomination, but they are called to minister to people of all faiths.
Chaplains lead non-denominational services, serve as advocates to make sure people in their institutions are able to practice their faith and provide spiritual counsel to individuals and groups. Being an effective chaplain requires empathy, flexibility and patience. Often, people who come to a chaplain are not dealing with problems that are explicitly religious in nature; they’re struggling with addictions, relationship problems, anger management or trauma. A Christian chaplain should embody the love of Christ for all people while providing practical help to navigate these spiritual struggles.
Becoming a chaplain typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree in ministry or theology, and often a master’s degree. Many chaplains are also professionally certified through the Association of Professional Chaplains. Depending on the setting, chaplains may be required to be ordained by a recognized denomination and/or complete additional training.
The Power of an Online Ministry Degree
Most full-time roles in ministry prefer candidates with both a degree and hands-on ministry experience. Of course, ministry work is rarely a nine to five job; depending on the nature of your role, you may need to be available at odd hours to minister to people in crisis or take part in church programming meant to accommodate others’ schedules. The flexibility of an online degree program, then, is key for aspiring ministers, since it allows you to gain your experience and education simultaneously.
Learning online doesn’t mean learning alone, however. Christians are called to learn and grow in their faith in community, and that community need not be constrained by physical location. In an online program, you will have access to instructors and peers from a variety of backgrounds and can draw from their perspectives to deepen your knowledge of ministry. When done well, online ministry programs are a beautiful picture of people from all walks of life coming together with a shared mission.
Making a career out of ministry requires knowledge and specialized training. You need a solid grounding in Scripture and the liberal arts and practical knowledge of the skills needed for ministry, including leadership, theology, counseling, psychology, interpersonal skills and church administration, and you need to pair that theoretical knowledge with hands-on ministry experience. This is the type of experience you can expect when you earn your ministry degree online at Point University.
Get your ministry degree online at Point University
Point University’s online ministry degree programs are designed to help you develop your gifts, enhance your knowledge, and strengthen your faith as you prepare to serve in a ministry role. Our online programs include:
- Associate of Arts in Christian Ministries
- Associate of Arts in Youth Ministry
- Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministries
- Bachelor of Science in Youth & Family Ministry
- Master of Transformative Ministry
Each of our programs seeks to equip aspiring servant leaders to follow Jesus’ call to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-15). Our online programs provide the same high-quality education from well-respected faculty as our on-campus students in a flexible, asynchronous environment where you will have meaningful interaction with professors and peers. If you’re ready to see whether Point University is the next step toward your calling to ministry, contact us today.