Online Master's Programs in Ministry

A master's in ministry online can prepare students to serve Christ, the church, and the world in a variety of contexts. Learners who choose this program usually already serve in a ministry setting as pastors, youth ministers, children's leaders, or educators. Earning the degree online allows these students to remain in their current ministry situations and enjoy the benefits of graduate education without having to uproot their families.

Future students can use the following guide to help find an affordable and accredited program, discover ways to pay for their degrees, and learn how to maximize the impact of a master's in ministry online.

What to Know About Online Master's in Ministry Coursework

In some settings, the master's in ministry degree can prepare students for ordination in their denominations, equipping them to serve as pastors in local churches. Other students use the degrees to position themselves for leadership in nonprofit organizations, missionary settings, or spiritual formation or counseling professions.

The master's in ministry typically requires 33-36 credits and focuses on the practice of ministry rather than on scholarship. For this reason, the master's in ministry does not typically prepare students for doctoral study.

Again since it is a practice-oriented degree, the master's in ministry often includes a practical component. On-campus students might serve in a campus ministry or collaborate with a team of other ministry students. Online students might serve in internships, practica, or other supervised ministry settings to complete this requirement.

What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master's in Ministry Program?

A master's in ministry can focus on a variety of ministerial skills, settings, and contexts, depending on the school offering the degree. In general, however, the curriculum consists of courses in biblical studies, theology, mission, and pastoral ministry. The list below illustrates courses common to many master's in ministry online programs.

Transforming Power of the Gospel

This course looks at how the Gospel transforms people, families, businesses, culture, entertainment, and society. Students consider how the church helps reduce corruption, influences societal authority, and pushes back against destructive social changes. Learners also consider personal and global perspectives.

Preparation of the Sermon

Students learn how to prepare and preach effective biblical sermons in the context of long-term pastoral ministry. The course includes information on selecting and interpreting text, forming sermon objectives, and structuring messages for style and content. Students also learn the history of preaching and mechanics of sermon delivery.

Foundations of Expository Teaching and Preaching

This course sets an intellectual, practical, and biblical foundation for the ministries of teaching and preaching. Students learn to prepare, present, and assess lessons for small group discipleship, pulpit presentation, and classroom instructions. The course includes content on selecting lessons and materials, determining effective methods, and accommodating various learning styles.

Biblical Foundations of Leadership

Students consider leadership from a biblical and theological perspective. The course focuses looks at examples of leadership from the Old and New Testaments within their cultural and faith contexts. Learners give special consideration to the leadership of Jesus in the New Testament.

Old Testament Orientation

This course introduces learners to the Old Testament. Students consider the historical and cultural contexts of the Old Testament writings along with the Christological implications of the work. The course also includes an introduction to reading the Bible through a devotional, narrative, literary, or critical lens.

What Specializations Are Available in a Master's in Ministry Program?

Most master's in ministry online degrees do not include a specialization option. Typically, students who want to focus on a particular area of ministry simply dedicate their elective courses to that focus. In some schools, however, learners can specialize in fields like these:

Cultural Engagement

Students who feel called and committed to share Christianity in diverse environments may choose cultural engagement as their specialization. Courses include global theologies, cultural exegesis, and global migration and diaspora of faith communities. Students also learn to preach and teach across cultural divides and to critique ministry programs through a variety of cultural lenses.

Spiritual and Pastoral Care

Learners who wish to equip others with spiritual formation practices and who want to provide pastoral care can choose this focus. Courses include developing healthy spiritual leaders, foundations in educational ministry, and pastoral counseling for marriage and family. Students also learn how to help people engage in spiritual practices across the human lifespan.

Preaching and Teaching

Future pastors and teachers in the local church can choose a preaching and teaching concentration. Courses include preaching from the Old Testament and the New Testament, expository preaching of a biblical book, and theology and methodology of biblical preaching. Students also learn the history of preaching and gain skills in preaching cross-culturally.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Not all master's in ministry online programs require a final project or exam. Some expect students to complete fieldwork or an internship in a pastoral setting. Others expect an original thesis on a ministry-related topic. Still other programs require students to complete an integrated ministry project under a professor's direction.

Often, the practical component of the degree serves as the initiation point for a final project, which might include further research or a reflection paper. In some degrees, students can choose to culminate their curriculum with either a creative final project or a comprehensive exam.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Ministry Program?

Accreditation and theological orientation can help students select the right program. The best academic programs hold regional accreditation. Many Christian schools also maintain accreditation with the Association for Biblical Higher Education, the Association of Theological Schools, or the Transnational Association of Christian Schools. Holding accreditation with one or more of these bodies can signal a quality program. Students should see a red flag from any school claiming accreditation with an organization not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

In general, applicants should also seek a degree from a school that aligns with their theological and denominational orientation (gaining ordination within a denomination typically comes easier for graduates of that denomination's college). Other hallmarks of a high-quality program include faculty with terminal degrees and course content that meets the student's career objectives.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Ministry Degree

Earning a master's in ministry online can equip students to assume positions of leadership in local churches, nonprofit organizations, and interdenominational Christian ministries. The degree can also open less traditional careers, such as working in funeral homes, serving as a chaplain, or fundraising at a nongovernmental organization. Some careers, such as pastoring a church or counseling, may require ordination or licensure in addition to a graduate degree.

Top Executives

Holding a master's in ministry online may open top executive positions in large churches, parachurch ministries, nonprofit organizations, or educational settings. Leading a ministry of that size requires the ability to manage a team, raise funds, work with stakeholders, and expand influence, often within a resource-constrained environment. Ministry leaders also need a firm understanding of themselves, their theology, their vision, and their capacity for leadership — all of which they can acquire in a ministry degree.

  • Median Salary: $104,980
  • Currently Employed: 150,600
  • Expected Job Growth 2018-2028: +6%
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Earning a master's in ministry online can prepare professionals for careers in public relations and fundraising at faith-based organizations. Many Christian ministries that provide relief, development, education, and other services need leaders who can inform the public about their work. These organizations also need professionals who can identify, cultivate, and solicit donors who make this work possible. A master's in ministry can help students gain the needed skills in communication and human relations to build a team of supporters.

  • Median Salary: $114,800 per year
  • Currently Employed: 81,200
  • Expected Job Growth 2018-2028: +8%
Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers direct programs that serve people, neighborhoods, cities, and the world through social interventions. These professionals may serve as program managers, direct service providers, event planners, and data collectors and analyzers. Some work with a special group such as children, older adults, or a recognized minority. Typically, social and community service managers work for nonprofit organizations, social service offices, and the government. A few serve in faith-based settings.

  • Median Salary: $65,320
  • Currently Employed: 168,800
  • Expected Job Growth 2018-2028: +13%
Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists are mental health professionals who provide counseling and related services to couples and families. These professionals help clients manage their emotions, deal with new circumstances, and develop improved interpersonal relationships. Clients may receive assistance making future plans or get access to specialized resources for serious mental illnesses. Marriage and family therapists may own their own practices, serve in the practices of others, or work out of churches or mental health offices.

  • Median Salary: $50,090
  • Currently Employed: 55,300
  • Expected Job Growth 2018-2028: +22%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

What Is the Expected Job Growth for Ministry Careers?

According to the BLS, the U.S. employs about 50,000 members of the clergy. Some of these professionals serve local churches in pulpit ministry; others work as chaplains in the military, hospitals, hospices, fire stations, and corporations. Still others may direct social service or community programs.

The growth of religious work depends on the type of work a clergyperson does. Some denominations need new pastors while others do not, for example. In general, however, the BLS projects that social and community service occupations will grow by 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Ministry

After earning a master's in ministry, leaders must maintain their focus on their own personal development and connect with opportunities in their communities and across their denominations. Joining a professional organization can be an effective way for pastors, chaplains, and other ministry leaders to grow spiritually, personally, and professionally. Members benefit from conferences, valuable content, and personal connections.

National Association of Evangelicals

  • The NAE connects and represents evangelical Christians. Individual members have access to the organization's magazine, library of information, conferences, and podcasts.

Global Leadership Network

  • Global Leadership Network produces a leadership summit each year that attracts attendees at sites around the world. Members receive a free ticket to the summit along with access to exclusive content and discounts from Apple.

Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network

  • Members of this network can take advantage of plentiful resources for pastors who work in the marketplace as well as serve in small churches. The organization provides videos, books, and an online curriculum called SKILLEDTRACK to help develop small groups, senior adult ministries, youth programs, and leadership skills in a small setting.

Center for Spiritual Care & Pastoral Formation

  • This international network of Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors, chaplains, pastors, counselors, teachers, and spiritual directors provides personal and professional development for its members. By joining the organization, members can earn certifications plus engage in dialogue and learning around 21st-century practices in chaplaincy through institutions and community-centered groups.

Christian Union

  • Christian Union is an organization with a mission to develop Christian leaders to transform culture. The ministry serves on major university campuses and in key cities. Members can subscribe to its magazine, access video and audio resources, attend conferences, and get involved in local ministries through CU Day & Night.

How to Pay for a Master's in Ministry Degree

Some graduate students pay out of pocket for their educational expenses, but many access help through discounts, loans, grants, scholarships, and employer matches. The federal government does not offer Pell grants to graduate students, but it does provide many helpful resources. Most denominations also help support future pastors and leaders by offering discounts at denominational colleges or scholarships for seminary or graduate education in ministry.

Federal Financial Aid

The federal government offers low-cost loans for graduate students, along with funds for veterans and other qualifying applicants who wish to pursue higher education. To access any federal dollars, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available through the U.S. Department of Education. Many private funders also require applicants to fill out the FAFSA.

Pentecostal Leaders Scholarship

The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary offers this scholarship to emerging leaders from around the world. Applicants must meet minimum academic requirements. AGTS also provides discounted tuition to its supporting denomination's pastors, the school's alumni, district officials, and Assemblies of God national office employees in addition to private, competitive scholarships.

Mary E. Bivins Ministry Scholarship Program

This privately funded scholarship helps pay for graduate education for students planning to pursue Christian ministry as pulpit preachers. Recipients must hold residence in one of the northernmost 26 counties of the Texas panhandle. Applicants must meet minimum academic standards and may come from any denomination.

John Wesley Scholarship Fund

The Free Methodist Church offers this financial support for ministerial candidates seeking a master's in ministry. Applicants, who must be pursuing full-time ministry in the Free Methodist Church, are required to attend a JWSF-supported institution. The denomination chooses two candidates from each of the three bishops' regions to receive support each year.