Pastors are the leaders of the church, responsible for guiding the congregation and maintaining the spiritual health of everyone in it. A pastor is someone who has had extensive training in theology, and may have earned a degree from an accredited seminary. Pastors often preach sermons to their congregations, teach Bible classes to help people understand their faith better, lead prayer services, and oversee other aspects of church life such as weddings or funerals. They are often involved in community outreach programs too, including feeding the hungry or helping those in need find housing or medical care.
What does a pastor do?
A pastor is an ordained member of the clergy of a Christian religious denomination who is responsible for leading a congregation. After ordination, a pastor is appointed to lead and counsel a particular parish, church or community. They provide moral, spiritual, personal and religious guidance to their parishioners. The specific duties of a pastor vary widely based on their religious denomination, the needs of the community and the style of the church. Some of the duties of a pastor may include:
- Leading religious worship services
- Providing counseling to parish members, including comforting them when they are distressed, visiting those who are sick or offering advice in important decisions
- Performing religious ceremonies, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals
- Fundraising for the church or community
- Overseeing church finances, including accounting and budgeting
- Organizing and directing charitable efforts
- Fostering a sense of community
- Composing and delivering sermons
- Teaching theology classes
- Leading prayer groups
- Instructing the parish and the public in moral and ethical matters
- Responding to crises to comfort the injured or dying
- Overseeing ministry efforts of a church or congregation
The salary of a pastor can vary widely since there are as many employers as there are Christian religious denominations. Some might work part time while other pastors work full-time hours with overtime. Many pastors are also given housing allowances and other forms of compensation.
There are many different ways to become a pastor. Job requirements will vary widely depending on the religious denomination, church and position:
The necessary education for a pastor depends on the denomination’s requirements and the type of church a pastor wants to work in. Some pastors might start their own churches based on their personal beliefs, and some organizations ordain pastors immediately online. Other pastors may secure employment after completing an education program online. Many denominations require aspiring pastors to complete higher education, such as earning a bachelor’s degree in theology or religious studies, and some require specialized education through training programs, such as a seminary, theological college or divinity school.
One common and frequently required education path for pastors is to complete a Master of Divinity degree. This program typically takes three years and involves the study of Christian ministry and theology, including Old Testament studies, New Testament studies, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, philosophy, pastoral theology, ecclesiology, evangelism, liturgical studies and Christian education. This degree is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.
Since pastors often provide counseling, it can be beneficial for an aspiring pastor to also take courses in psychology.
Pastors gain the majority of their training through their educational programs, direct experience or by shadowing pastors in their denomination. Some churches may offer assistant or associate pastor positions or other roles to newly ordained clergymen. Some denominations also create their own training programs, which have various requirements. There are also online training programs provided by a variety of individuals and organizations.
Pastors can also train for the role by gaining relevant experience through community service, volunteer work, leading church youth groups or other similar activities that can help hone ministry skills.
Pastors have no legal requirement to earn any certifications or licenses, but various churches may expect a counseling certification or refer to ordination as a certification:
Ordination or becoming ordained is the process of becoming consecrated or officially authorized as a member of the clergy. Various Christian denominations have differing requirements for ordination, so you should research your church’s practices. Ordination often involves a religious ceremony after completing training, though some organizations offer online ordination.
Pastoral Counseling Certificate
This certification is offered by various colleges, universities and online programs and provides training in counseling practices in pastoral settings. Programs integrate spirituality and theology with standard psychotherapy practices. Requirements vary but usually include several supervised hours in counseling. This certificate can also be called Spiritual Counseling Certification or Clinical Pastoral Education Training.
Pastors need a variety of skills to manage a parish effectively, including:
A pastor is the leader of a congregation. They must provide direction to their parishioners, and are also often leaders in their community and direct various outreach efforts.
Pastors usually preach to their congregation during worship services and write their own sermons. They may also speak publicly at community events, so they need excellent public speaking skills.
These leaders often have the responsibility of inspiring church members to take certain courses of action or of reaching out to communities in missionary efforts. In addition to public speaking skills, pastors need the ability to motivate, inspire and persuade others.
Active listening and empathy
Congregation members or other people often turn to a pastor for help or to discuss their problems. To provide effective assistance, pastors need to listen actively and supportively to encourage confidence.
In addition to managing church members, pastors often manage the finances, numerous activities and other staff members of a church. They need the analytical, strategic and organizational skills to oversee and direct an organization effectively.
Communication and interpersonal skills
Pastors frequently interact with other community leaders and attempt to evangelize the public in addition to building relationships with the members of their congregation. They need to communicate well, earn trust and develop relationships with many people.
Pastors are often responsible for procuring funds to support their church, charitable organizations or community outreach efforts. They need the skills to plan, organize and carry out fundraising events.
The most important quality a pastor needs is devotion to their work. Being a pastor usually requires a complete commitment to faith and service.
Pastor work environment
A pastor’s work environment is varied. While some pastors may only work on Sundays, many work frequent, irregular hours. In addition to spending time in a church and speaking from the pulpit, they may also have office hours, be active in community leadership, travel to parishioners’ homes, visit the sick or imprisoned, or travel as a missionary to various areas.
How to become a pastor
If you want to become a pastor, try following these steps:
1. Consider your religious beliefs
How you become a pastor will vary greatly depending on your association with a religious organization or denomination and requires immense commitment, so you must be devoted to your beliefs or your specific church.
2. Become a member of good standing in your church
To be considered for a pastor position, many candidates need to already be respected members of their church or religious denomination. Cultivate your standing by regularly attending services, offering your assistance to church leaders and volunteering to help with or lead religious activities.
3. Seek out a leader in your church
Pastors or other church leaders can guide you through the ordination process and counsel and inform you about what steps to take to become a pastor. Some churches have committees that oversee the candidacy process, which can take several years.
4. Fulfill education and training requirements
These requirements will vary according to your denomination or the church you want to work for. You may need to pursue higher education, such as earning a Master of Divinity degree, gain relevant experience, earn a pastoral counseling certificate or complete training programs. Research job descriptions and typical requirements in your desired area of employment or speak to your church leaders to determine what education and training you need.
5. Become ordained
Typically, all pastors need to be officially authorized through ordination to be appointed to lead a congregation. To complete this step, you will need to speak with the leaders of your church.
6. Create a resume
List your education, relevant experience and skills. Focus on relevant information, such as theological knowledge, counseling certifications, community service and volunteering experience. Write cover letters tailored to the positions you want to apply to by using keywords from each job description. Some parishes or church councils may also require you to fill out a lifestyle questionnaire.
Pastor job description example
Resurrection Church is seeking a new associate pastor to assist our senior pastor in ministering to our parishioners and school children and helping with our community outreach programs. The associate pastor will lead weekly worship services and various prayer groups, teach Bible study at the parish school and counsel church members or others looking for assistance. Other responsibilities may include leading youth group activities; performing baptismal, nuptial and funeral rites; and fundraising. A degree in theology or religious studies is required, and an MDiv degree and Pastoral Counseling Certificate are preferred. In addition to your resume and cover letter, please provide two recommendation letters and submit the lifestyle questionnaire found on our website.