Becoming a Pastor

So You Want To Be a Pastor or Minister?
If you’ve decided you want to be a pastor, then you’ve probably thought long and hard about your decision, you‘ve heard an unshakeable call from God, talked to your minister and family, asked friends for advice, and dropped to your knees and prayed. After all, becoming a pastor is undoubtedly the hardest job you’ll ever have and is a decision not to be entered into lightly!

The aspiration to become a pastor is not always a natural desire, but supernatural.  Contrary to what some people believe, not everyone hears the voice of God calling them to enter the pulpit, and not everyone who is called goes into the ministry. More so than any other job, the decision to become a pastor is personal and intimate, and you must want to preach the Word and shepherd a flock of people so badly that not becoming a pastor is entirely out of the question.

So, just how do you become a pastor/minister?

Like most jobs, becoming a pastor or minister takes training, and the requirements for ordination vary from one denomination to another so it may take longer or shorter to complete your program depending on the church.
The overwhelming majority of pastors earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree within an accredited theological program. The best-known accrediting agency is the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). However, some denominations will only ordain graduates of a master’s program from a divinity school. It is typical that these denominations have affiliations with specific schools, ensuring their graduates meet the doctrine requirements of the church. If the denomination of your choice does not require you to attend an affiliated divinity school, instead you may attend a seminary or study online.

Attending a seminary or other institution immersed in your specific denomination’s tradition will ensure your background, goals, and education align.

Degree needed to become a pastor/minister
The most common degree (also considered the professional degree for pastors) needed to become a pastor is the M.DIV (Master of Divinity). However, before choosing to pursue an M.Div, make sure your denomination requires this degree to become the leader of their congregation. The M.Div degree usually takes between four to five years to complete. Further, to pursue an MDiv degree, students must first hold a bachelor’s degree, although the bachelor’s degree does not necessarily need to be in the field of theology.

Some M.Div programs are offered online too. This is great for students who have obligations such as a job or family or are physically unable to attend class on-campus. Some programs will require a few in-person classes, and most provide the same coursework found through their on-campus counterparts.

Typical areas of study for most theology programs includes:

•    Theology, church history, biblical languages, biblical studies, and liturgics.

•    Students learn basic skills in New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew, parable, studies of the prophets, old testament teachings, counseling, and languages in which texts were originally written.

•    Students also learn about preaching, pastoral counseling, community leadership, ethics, and worship.

•    MDiv programs also cover on the art and practice of ministry with students spending field time within religious communities in their area or other places in the world.

Other typical pastoral degrees include:

•    A Bachelor of Science (BS)

•    A Bachelor of Arts (BA) which is offered at many Christian colleges

•    Master of Theology (ThM) which is offered at many seminaries. This degree can also be provided as a one-year extension on the M.Div. degree

•    Doctor of Ministry (DMin), a terminal pastoral degree for pastors and other ministers

•    Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

•    Doctor of Theology (ThD)

Beyond earning a degree, students may also be required to complete an internship, take seminars, work with a mentor, pass an examination, or undergo financial planning. These requirements are often spelled out by your church’s governing body.

Pastor’s salary
Unfortunately, a pastor’s salary can be quite an issue in many churches as it seems neither the pastor, the congregation nor governing body of a church wants to raise the subject when interviewing candidates. However, pastors are required to pay the bills, feed a family and earn a living, so coming to a mutual understanding to make certain you, the pastor is paid fairly is an important topic to raise right up front.

That said, most pastors are not overpaid. Some churches choose to pay their pastors with a compensation package, which may include a home, car, insurance and expense reimbursements. Most of the time, pay is decided based on churches overall operating budgets. It is an unfortunate fact, but many pastors are underpaid, feel unable or very uncomfortable asking for a raise, and are often under a great deal of stress because they are unable to meet their financial obligations. In fact, it’s not completely uncommon for a pastor to leave a church because of financial pressures.

Since the job of a pastor is so extensive and in-depth, a pastor’s pay is not a subject that should be swept under the rug, left as a line item in the budget to be addressed only after all other church expenses are considered, or left to a pastor to negotiate. After all, didn’t Timothy say, “The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and, the worker is worthy of his wages’” (HCSB).

What do pastors do?
Today, many pastors are in charge of everything, a do-it-all, know-it-all, care-for-all spiritual leader who conducts services (sometimes two or three in one day), counsels church members, takes care of office work, and even fixes the leaky bathroom faucet. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for pastors to do things they were never trained to handle. This is especially true in small churches with limited staff and fewer people in the congregation willing to give of their time.

Ideally, pastors should be the spiritual overseer, devoting his or her attention to the higher priorities of prayer and ministering the word, while delegating the load of administrative tasks, details, and responsibilities to other ministers, elders and deacons.

While true, the best job description for any pastor or minister comes from the Bible in Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with His own blood.”

Many pastors work incredibly hard at making sure all aspects of running the church and caring for the body of believers are taken care of, either by themselves or by others in the church body. Pastors are multi-skilled and versatile, but they should never be too distracted from what God really called them to do – preach the word and love and care for His flock.

What are some of the challenges pastor’s face?
It’s not uncommon that most pastors face challenges along their path to “pastoring His sheep.” Just as only a lawyer actually understands what lawyers do, so goes that only a pastor understands the day-to-day hassles and rewards of being a pastor. A pastor, after all, is a pastor full-time. It’s all they think about and what they live for 24-hours a day. It is the highest calling on earth because when God calls a person to be a pastor or minister, He places a great deal of responsibility into his or her hands.

Being a pastor isn’t really a job, it is what a person is; hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, this commitment is often misunderstood, and pastors are often overworked. He or she may receive phone calls late at night or may need to rush to the hospital to visit a member of the congregation, and when they aren’t taking care of their flock, they are preparing next week’s sermon or praying.

Pastors must also cope with criticism. Although often unwarranted, people will find fault with pastors or clash regarding a sermon, an opinion, the way something was handled, etc. Of course, this happens in all companies, but once a pastor is handed the keys to the church, it is assumed he or she will take care of everything, say all the right things, and be there when needed, often without realizing all the details required.

What makes this all the more apparent is when you consider the saying that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Pastor’s often make up most of the 20 percent, which can be overwhelming to say the least. So, where do pastors go when they can’t cope, or the obligations of the church are mounting up and they are hitting bottom? Most pastors will agree, they go to their knees in prayer.

Coping with disappointment, attacks by Satan, ridicule by their congregation, or personal or family problems takes a person of incredible faith to overcome and remain steadfast in their faith. But, he or she is in good company, as Jesus was also acquainted with sorrow and grief. He was rejected and despised by the very people He loved so much.

Pastors are special people with an incredible gift who yes, face their fair share of challenges but come out on the other side stronger and more faithful than ever. As mentioned before, it is the hardest job you’ll ever do with the greatest rewards you’ll ever experience.

What are some of the blessings?
Most pastors and ministers will agree that the blessings of becoming a pastor far outweigh the challenges. Pastors can marry people, they witness some of the most important events in people’s lives, like births and baptisms. They study, learn, write and experience holidays like Christmas and Easter intimately and actively. They preach the Word, counsel, advise and help people through times of trouble or headache.

Beyond the obvious, pastors and ministers also have the ongoing ability to impact people all over the world via the Internet, blogs, social media, and more. But above all, pastors overwhelmingly agree that having a positive impact in the lives of people in their faith journey and helping them grow in their relationship with God and Jesus Christ is the biggest blessing on earth, and probably the main reason most people pursue the ministry in the first place.

Obviously, there are many more blessings not mentioned here and during your time behind the pulpit, you’ll receive blessings from your flock as well as from God. First Corinthians 15:58 sums it up well, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

What I wish they’d told me in school or seminary
As in any job, there are always things you wish you knew going in. Becoming a pastor is no different. Not all pastors travel the same road, and everyone’s experiences may be different, but here are a couple of things to think about on your journey to becoming a pastor or minister.

1)    Don’t forfeit your time in prayer and in the Word. No matter how busy you are or how many phone calls come in, never exclude God.

2)    Take a few business classes in college (if offered). You may need them to aid in business and budgetary decisions; when proposing to build a new church or fundraise.

3)    Seek out people who can help you learn how to raise your children like normal kids. After all, like you, they live in a glass bubble and are scrutinized for their behavior every day.

4)    Take ample time to love your wife and family and show them they are first (after God) in your life.

5)    You will deal with critical people in the church. But, knowing this up front will help you be prepared and better able to withstand the storms.

6)    Learn basic leadership skills and how to work with people in the real world.

7)    Understand that only God is omnipresent and even the best pastors can’t be everywhere and do everything all the time.

8)    Realize there will be bad days when God seems very far away, like when a member of the congregation dies or your church splits because of some conflict. Remember, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm46:1) God’s in control.

Final Words

You are heading into the greatest journey of your life and like all journey’s there will be sadness and happiness, frustration and encouragement, challenges and blessings. But, the road to becoming a pastor or minister is unlike any other in that you are called to teach others about God and His Son, Jesus Christ and “equipping of the saints for the work of service.” (Ephesians 4:12).

Welcome to our Pastorial roundtable. We have come together to shine a light on the beautiful career of pastoring. What we are seeking are the struggles and highlights of the career. We also want to learn more about educational standards for those who are seeking a Theology Degree.

Let’s start off by asking ,What are the main hardships that a pastor might run into?

Pastor Chris Smith
The hard parts of being a pastor is being obedient to God The Father no matter what. Your obedience may require you to give when it is not comfortable to give, to relocate when you don’t understand why, to leave your job and depend on God The Father to take care of you and provide for you, and when you realize that everyone is not going to like or Love you anymore.

Pastor Flippin
The hardest aspect of ministry comes down to three things. First, the demands of the ministry. Ministry is 24/7. A preacher has to be very disciplined, compassionate, loving and thick-skinned to survive ministry. The second is the great expectations parishioners place on a pastor. They want you to be the pastor, preacher, problem solver, manager, visionary, human and always available to meet their needs. Finally, the sacrifice; the unexpected sacrifice that comes with ministry. You sacrifice your family/ friendship for the time, energy and emotion that it takes to fully support your ministry … it takes a lot to work to continually lead others to do and live better for Christ.

Pastor Turner
The most difficult part of the ministry of a Senior Pastor is comforting those who are experiencing grief and loss because of the passing of a loved one. Death interrupts the continuity of our relationships with each other as it forces us to adjust to a new normal. As a Senior Pastor, guiding families through these delicate moments takes an emotional toll that becomes apart of the natural ebb and flow of ministry.

Pastor Chris

I suspect that the “hard part” for me is different than most pastors. I am what we call a bi-vocational pastor, meaning I work a non-church job in addition to my work at the church. Truthfully, the “bi” part would suggest that I make money at the church. I do not. I do not take a salary or housing allowance or anything from our church. I don’t feel like the size of our church justifies a full-time salary and we are not large enough for my partner (co-pastor) and I to pay ourselves part-time. The only person that gets paid in the church is our worship pastor. Everyone else is a volunteer.

I am a church planter meaning that I started a new church. We just launched Easter weekend 2018 after more than a year of active planning and preparation.

I feel burnt out now mainly because I am bi-vocational. Working my regular job, being present at home with my wife and 3 kids, and running a church is very taxing. Though our church is small, the responsibility is still there.

What are the most fulfilling parts of being a Pastor?

Pastor Chris Smith
The most fulfilling part is witnessing people lives changing for the better, to see their prayer answered, to see the power of The Gospel of The Lord Jesus Christ operating in your life to be a Blessing to others, to experience miracles in your life and the lives of others that are connected to you, and to know that you are doing the Will of The Lord Jesus.

Pastor Flippin
The most fulfilling part of the ministry of a Senior Pastor is to see the impact made on congregants’ lives from the messages preached and ministries shaped for Gospel transformation. I love helping people see their full potential and purpose in God; empowering and energizing them to be better people in Christ. To know that one’s labor wasn’t in vain and has been a motivating force in someone’s life makes every sacrifice worth it all. Every day is different. Every day is both challenging and fulfilling.

Pastor Turner

The most rewarding aspect of ministry is knowing that, “many are called, but few are chosen”. God called us (me) to do a great task on HIS behalf which is a great honor. So when you trust in God, trust the process, go through what you have to go through the rewards are endless and truly fulfilling.

Pastor Chris

The most fulfilling part is the relationships. I absolutely love walking with the people of my church and watching them grow. Seeing what God is doing in their lives day after day and week after week is what keeps me going. We do a thing at my church called, “What’s Your Story” where members are free to share their stories of victory, defeat, hope, or even just something they learned in their reading or study that week. Hearing those stories, celebrating victories and comforting each other during setbacks is what ministry is all about.

What are your thoughts on what the education standards of a Pastor should be?

Pastor Chris Smith
I don’t think all pastors need a bachelor’s degree or a Masters because when God The Father calls or chooses someone to be a pastor, He will prepare, empower, and anoint him or her according to His will, plans, and desire.

Pastor Chris

I just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Religion from Vanguard University in May. I didn’t think that a pastor needed formal education before becoming a pastor, but in my early days of ministry the Lord put it on my heart to go back to school and really learn the Word, so I did. I learned so much when I was in school that I cannot imagine being a pastor without this foundation. I’m sure it can be done but I don’t recommend it.

I plan to get my Master’s someday, but when I look at the coursework I feel like my undergrad training was very similar. I know that most pastors study something secular in their undergrad before pursuing a religion-based master’s degree, but having a Bachelor’s in Religion and then headed to a Master’s in the same field seems a bit redundant for me right now. I know that I will grow in a Master’s program which is why I plan to do it, but I am taking a break right now. However you do it, whether Bachelor’s or Master’s, I think that education in this field is a must.

Pastor Flippin
I do feel pastors need advanced degrees and/or teaching now more than ever due to technology, the internet and how fast the world operates. A preacher, especially one who seeks to become a pastor, will find that congregations are looking for them to not only have a bachelor’s degree but also a Masters. Churches are demanding, like the world, for pastors to be educated and professional. They are holding pastors to the academic standards of a lawyer, doctor and any profession that requires a well-balanced education. A formally educated preacher/pastor will go much further than one who doesn’t seek to further their education. Non-formally educated preachers nowadays will be limited in their vocation.

Pastor Turner
I am a strong proponent of theological education. I believe the call to ministry is initially a call to prepare. If one has the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s or Master’s degree, they should take advantage of it. Since no one retains a lawyer or is under the care of a physician who has not had formal training, churches should not allow their souls to be cared for by someone who has not sought to “love God with their mind” in the pursuit of higher education. With all of that said, there is no substitute for immersing one’s self in the discipline of study throughout life and spiritual disciplines that empower the intellect to be able to touch the heart and hurts of humanity.

Do you or have you Experienced burn out as a pastor?

Pastor Chris
Yes, I have experienced burnout, and I get weary mentally at times, and the attacks from the devil could sometimes be intense.

Pastor Chris

I feel burnt out now mainly because I am bi-vocational. Working my regular job, being present at home with my wife and 3 kids, and running a church is very taxing. Though our church is small, the responsibility is still there.

Pastor Flippin
I think we all tend to feel the burn out of ministry. There are a few things that contribute to this… it takes a lot to be so much for so many, serving the people/congregation will wear you down, no matter what and we all have to learn to rest often and accurately to recover and recuperate. Two, we burn out because we often depend on ourselves, our ability versus God’s power and ability. Thusly, it wears us thin. All preachers hit a brick wall.

Pastor Lawrence
I have not experienced burn out in its most extreme forms but there is a certain reoccurring ministry fatigue that happens when significant breaks and sufficient rest are not the norm. Since I have served as a Senior Pastor for over twelve years (between two churches) I have discovered what my rhythm of work and rest is. I aim to take one day each week and one week each quarter to refuel and refocus.





About our Experts
About Executive Pastor Richard Flippin:

Rev. Dr. Richard Flippin is a third generation preacher following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He is a graduate of Morehouse College (2001) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Philosophy and also a graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology where he received his Masters of Divinity in 2004. In 2014 he completed his doctoral studies and received his Doctorate of Ministry Degree in Church Leadership Excellence from Wesley Theological Seminary, American University in Washington, D.C. Currently, he serves as the Executive Pastor of the Greater Piney Grove Church, Atlanta, GA, where his father is the Senior Pastor; and he is also the Director of Organization, Ministry Planning and Special Projects.

About Senior Pastor J. Lawrence Turner:
Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner accepted the call to serve as the Senior Pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, TN on January 13, 2013, after having served a congregation seven years prior in New Haven CT. He is a native of Nashville, TN and a magna cum laude graduate of Fisk University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religion and Philosophy. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Yale University School and was awarded the prestigious H. H. Tweedy Prize for exceptional promise for his pastoral leadership. He received his Doctor of Ministry degree in May of 2018 in Transformative Leadership at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Rochester, NY.  He is married to Bridgett Nicole Turner and they are proud parents of two little ones.