Becoming a Social Worker

Since helping others is an action greatly emphasized within religious circles, it’s no wonder that those who wish to incorporate theology as part of their career plans often pursue studies in social work. Providing emotional, intellectual and spiritual guidance, a religious social worker uses scripture, prayer, and follows the value system of their faith in order to deliver counsel to those in need. These social workers engage in some of the same actions as a pastor, but specifically concentrate on the personal and spiritual issues that parishioners, patients and clients face in their everyday lives.

Job Activities & Responsibilities

Religious social workers are hired by colleges, universities, companies, hospitals, and facilities that care for the elderly to provide counsel to patients and clients; run departments; and assist people with issues related to religion and spirituality. While state and local agencies are common places of employment for social workers, those that incorporate religious guidance often gravitate to positions within private organizations, faith-based agencies (like the Salvation Army), and churches. Often placing a strong emphasis on God and the importance

 of spirituality as it relates to health, healing and happiness, faith-based social workers typically engage in the following day-to-day activities:

  • Listening and understanding the needs of a diverse group of clients
  • Assisting people in improving their overall quality of life and well-being
  • Helping people adapt to changes and challenges in their lives, such as disease and divorce
  • Suggesting effective and creative ways to solve clients’ issues
  • Maintaining case files and paperwork
  • Connecting clients to appropriate community resources and additional religious counsel


Social workers that counsel in accordance to their faith need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the field. To qualify for higher-paying positions and openings that demand a higher level of involvement (such as licensed clinical social worker), a master’s degree in social work is required. This type of program typically takes two years to complete, and also allows students to explore working in a specific field of social work.

Step by Step: How to Become a Religious Social Worker

1. Earn a college degree. To qualify for most entry-level positions, a faith-based social worker is expected to complete an undergraduate education. Students often pursue a curriculum that combines studies in both social work and theology. Other acceptable degrees include the following human services fields: special education, psychology, sociology, and rehabilitation counseling. Coursework for aspiring social workers often includes an introduction to social work, human development, Code of Ethics, general psychology, statistics, health services, case analysis, research methodology, and common social issues.

2. Gain the appropriate experience. Completing an internship or supervised fieldwork allows an aspiring social worker to expand their knowledge and gain real-life experience in the field. Social services agencies (such as Catholic Charities, Shelter House, Inc. and Starlight Children’s Foundation) and advocacy organizations (like the Children’s Defense Fund) are ideal for building skills and interacting with individuals, families and the community. Internships are also available at local, not-for-profit health organizations, religious agencies, churches, clinics and hospitals. The North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) is another resource that helps connect students and professionals to employment-, continuing education-, and networking opportunities.

3. Become a certified or licensed professional. State regulations for social workers vary, and depending on geographic location and job qualifications, prospective job candidates are often required to become licensed or certified. The process may include earning a master’s degree; fulfilling supervised clinical work hours; and passing relevant exams.

4. Pursue additional education, training and/or credentials. With additional education and experience, religious social workers may assume specialized roles and provide a variety of services to patients, clients and church members. Social workers with state licensure and a background in children studies, psychology and/or youth ministry may become adoption consultants. Social workers with administrative experience, knowledge of finance, and an economics background may become a community service manager. Social workers with a background in conflict resolution may pursue a position as a family counselor. Others use their counseling experience and faith-based philosophy to become substance abuse social workers.

Career Salary, Outlook & Growth

Religious social workers are hired by schools, parishes, faith-based organizations, and assisted-living communities for the elderly to provide counsel that stays in line with specific religious teachings and beliefs.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,980 in 2017. Job candidates residing in specific geographic locations benefit from earning the highest pay for social work in the U.S., such as those counseling children, families and schools in Connecticut ($67,780), New Jersey ($66,610), District of Columbia ($64,800), Rhode Island ($61,530), and Illinois ($58,140).

An increased demand to hire employees that can provide social services leads to an excellent job outlook for prospective social workers. From 2016-2026, social workers (as a whole) can expect an anticipated employment growth of 16% for this career field, which is a much faster than average projection than all other jobs on the market. Social workers that specifically work with children, families and schools will find a 14% increase in job openings. Graduates will find 109,700 new positions between 2016 and 2026. Those with a unique specialization, such as providing faith-based services, generally encounter increased chances of finding employment.

Q & A

Katie Leikam
What made you fascinated with social work?

I went to a therapist in high school who was a clinical social worker and the experience was so positive, I wanted to help others as he had helped me.Can you tell how your education went, describe the path that lead to you being where you are today?

I received my Associate of Arts in Psychology from Gordon College and my Bachelors of Science in psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice from Georgia State University and then went on to receive my Master’s of Social Work from University of Georgia. I originally wanted to be a probation officer, but changed my mind and decided to go to graduate school. In graduate school, I took micro and macro social work classes, so not only did I learn how to be a clinical social worker, I learned about grant writing, research and volunteer management.

After I graduated I was a case manager for four years and then I took my Licensed Master’s of Social Work test and passed. About a year later, I began clinical supervision for my Licensed Clinical Social Work license and after 3,000 hours of work experience and 120 hours of supervision and three years of practicing while supervised by another LCSW, I took and passed my clinical test.

It was a very long journey that took me about 20 years with all of the breaks. I think the long journey makes me appreciate my accomplishments even more. It has shaped my wanting to mentor other social workers in my career.

Were you at all concerned as to finding a job after school?

I was concerned with finding a job after school and I actually didn’t get a job in social work until two years after I received my master’s degree. It wasn’t for lack of trying either, but I was living in a rural area where it was more difficult to find work.

Where did you start your career and where has it taken you?

I started my career as a parent aid for Family and Children Services. I would supervise visits between foster children and their biological parents and teach parenting classes. Since then I have had the opportunity to work as a hospice social worker, a community organizer, a case manager with the elderly, on an assertive community treatment team with people with severe mental illnesses and finally a therapist and group practice owner and national public speaker.

Have you enjoyed your career?

I have enjoyed my career a lot. There are times when it felt like too much work for too little reward, but now that I am a small business owner, I get to utilize skills that are changing everyday from being a clinical therapist to a teacher of others to becoming a marketer. It is ever changing and very rewarding.

Anything you don’t like?

Sometimes I don’t like it when people think that social workers are not clinically trained as I have had hundreds of hours of clinical training and my clinical licensure preparation was rigorous.

Do you have anything to offer students interested in Social work what would it be?

I would say that you are in a field that can take you in many different directions and you have chosen a career that will always be in need. You will be able to shine and use many skills that aren’t taught in school and the best learning takes place after graduation during your continuing education classes.