COLLEGE COMPASS -- Occupational Overview

Protestant Ministers

Nature of the Work

Protestant ministers lead their congregations in worship services and administer the various rites of the church, such as baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion. They prepare and deliver sermons and give religious instruction. They also perform marriages; conduct funerals; counsel individuals who seek guidance; visit the sick, aged, and handicapped at home and in the hospital; comfort the bereaved; and serve church members in other ways. Many Protestant ministers write articles for publication, give speeches, and engage in interfaith, community, civic, educational, and recreational activities sponsored by or related to the interests of the church. Some ministers teach in seminaries, colleges and universities, and church-affiliated preparatory or high schools.

The services that ministers conduct differ among Protestant denominations and also among congregations within a denomination. In many denominations, ministers follow a traditional order of worship; in others, they adapt the services to the needs of youth and other groups within the congregation. Most services include Bible reading, hymn singing, prayers, and a sermon. In some denominations, Bible reading by a member of the congregation and individual testimonials may constitute a large part of the service.

Ministers serving small congregations generally work personally with parishioners. Those serving large congregations have greater administrative responsibilities and spend considerable time working with committees, church officers, and staff, besides other duties. They may share specific aspects of the ministry with one or more associates or assistants, such as a minister of education who assists in educational programs for different age groups, or a minister of music.

Many Protestant denominations now allow women to be ordained.

Working Conditions

Ministers are on call for any serious troubles or emergencies that affect members of their churches. They also may work long and irregular hours in administrative, educational, and community service activities.

Many of the ministers' duties are sedentary, such as reading or doing research in a study or a library to prepare sermons or write articles.

In some denominations, ministers are reassigned by a central body to a new pastorate every few years.


In 1992, there were an estimated 290,000 Protestant ministers who served individual congregations. Thousands of others served without a regular congregation, or worked in closely related fields, such as chaplains in hospitals, the Armed Forces, universities, and correctional institutions. While there are numerous denominations, most ministers are employed by the five largest Protestant bodies Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian.

All cities and most towns in the United States have at least one Protestant church with a full-time minister. Although most ministers are located in urban areas, many serve two or more small congregations in less densely populated areas. Some small churches increasingly are employing part-time ministers who may be seminary students, retired ministers, or holders of secular jobs. Unpaid pastors serve other churches with meager funds. Some churches employ specially trained members of the laity to conduct nonliturgical functions.

Training and Other Qualifications

Educational requirements for entry into the Protestant ministry vary greatly. Many denominations require or at least strongly prefer a college bachelor's degree followed by study at a theological school. However, some denominations have no formal educational requirements, and others ordain persons having various types of training in Bible colleges, Bible institutes, or liberal arts colleges. Many denominations now allow women to be ordained, but others do not. Persons considering a career in the ministry should verify the entrance requirements with their particular denomination before deciding on a career as a minister.

In general, each large denomination has its own school or schools of theology that reflect its particular doctrine, interests, and needs. However, many of these schools are open to students from other denominations. Several interdenominational schools associated with universities give both undergraduate and graduate training covering a wide range of theological points of view.

In 1992, over 200 American Protestant theological schools were accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. These admit only students who have received a bachelor's degree or its equivalent in liberal arts from an accredited college. After college graduation, many denominations require a 3-year course of professional study in one of these accredited schools or seminaries for the degree of master of divinity.

College students considering theological study should prepare by taking courses that will aid them later. At the earliest possible date, they should contact their denominations and the schools to which they intend to apply, to learn how to prepare for the program they hope to enter. Recommended preseminary or undergraduate college courses generally include English, history, philosophy, natural sciences, social sciences, fine arts, music, religion, and foreign languages. These courses provide a knowledge of modern social, cultural, and scientific institutions and problems.

The standard curriculum for accredited theological schools consists of four major categories: Biblical, historical, theological, and practical. Courses of a practical nature include pastoral care, preaching, religious education, and administration. Many accredited schools require that students work under the supervision of a faculty member or experienced minister. Some institutions offer doctor of ministry degrees to students who have completed additional study, usually 2 or more years, and served at least 2 years as a minister. Scholarships and loans are available for students of theological institutions.

Persons who have denominational qualifications for the ministry usually are ordained after graduation from a seminary or after serving a probationary pastoral period. Denominations that do not require seminary training ordain clergy at various appointed times. Some evangelical churches may ordain ministers with only a high school education.

Men and women entering the clergy often begin their careers as pastors of small congregations or as assistant pastors in large churches.

Job Outlook

Competition is expected to continue for paid Protestant ministers through the year 2005 due to slow growth of church membership and the large number of qualified candidates. Opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of theological schools. The amount of competition for paid positions will vary among denominations and geographic regions. Competition will still be strong for more responsible positions serving large, urban congregations. Relatively favorable prospects are expected for ministers in evangelical churches. Ministers willing to work part time or for smaller, rural congregations also should have relatively favorable opportunities. Most of the openings for ministers through the year 2005 will arise from the need to replace retirees and, to a lesser extent, those who die or leave the ministry.

Employment alternatives for newly ordained Protestant ministers who are unable to find positions in parishes include working in youth counseling, family relations, and welfare organizations; teaching in religious educational institutions; and serving as chaplains in the Armed Forces, hospitals, universities, and correctional institutions.


Salaries of Protestant clergy vary substantially, depending on age, experience, denomination, size and wealth of congregation, and geographic location. Based on limited information, the estimated average annual income of Protestant ministers was about $27,000 in 1992. Including benefits such as housing, insurance, and transportation, average compensation was an estimated $44,000. In large, wealthier denominations, ministers often earned significantly higher salaries. Increasingly, ministers with modest salaries earn additional income from employment in secular occupations.

Related Occupations

Protestant ministers advise and counsel individuals and groups regarding their religious as well as personal, social, and vocational development. Other occupations involved in this type of work include social workers, clinical and counseling psychologists, teachers, and counselors.

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Reprinted with Permission of U. S. Department of Labor

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