Protestant ministers provide for the spiritual, educational, and social needs of Protestant congregations and other people of the community. They lead services, perform religious rites, and provide moral and spiritual guidance to their congregation members. Ministers also help the sick and needy and supervise the religious educational programs of their church. Protestant ministers also have administrative duties in their congregations and may take on further responsibilities in their denomination at the regional or national level, or in community or ecumenical groups. Some Protestant ministers may also be involved in missionary work; this may include establishing or continuing religious education in foreign or remote posts. There are approximately 400,000 Protestant ministers employed in the United States.
Protestant Minister Career History
The Protestant tradition arose from discontent and disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church. The seminal figure in its history is Martin Luther, a Catholic priest who came to lead the Protestant Reformation of 1517. At that time, Luther posted 95 theses, or articles of debate, on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He questioned various Catholic practices and doctrines and strongly condemned abuses by the clergy. Through public appearances and especially through the new medium of print, Luther gathered support for his ideas.
As a result, growing numbers of people began to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, forming their own congregations and establishing their own doctrines and practices. Those who followed Martin Luther’s interpretation of the Christian faith became known as Lutherans, but there were also many people who developed or followed other interpretations, giving rise over time to such Protestant denominations as Methodism and Presbyterianism.
Today, the six largest Protestant groups in the United States are the Assemblies of God, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Methodists. Many other Protestant congregations are not formally associated with any particular denomination and therefore may be called nondenominational churches. The leaders of all Protestant congregations are Protestant ministers.
The Job of Protestant Ministers
Protestant ministers are the spiritual leaders of their congregations. Their primary responsibility is leading their congregations in worship and preparing for those worship services. Some Protestant denominations or congregations within a denomination have a traditional order of service. Others require that the minister adapt the service to the specific needs of the congregation. Most Protestant services include Bible readings, hymn singing, prayers, and a sermon written and delivered by the minister.
Protestant clergy also administer specific church rites, such as baptism, Holy Communion, and confirmation. They conduct weddings and funerals. Ministers advise couples concerning the vows and responsibilities of marriage. They may also act as marriage counselors for couples who are having marital difficulties. They visit the sick and comfort the bereaved.
Protestant ministers usually play an important part in the religious education of their congregations. They supervise Sunday School and similar Bible study programs and usually teach confirmation and adult education courses. The extent of their involvement in religious education programs and other church activities is often determined by the size of their congregations. In small churches, ministers may know most of the members personally and take an active role in everything that goes on. In larger churches, ministers may have to devote more time to administrative duties and delegate some of their other responsibilities.
Some ministers teach in seminaries and other schools. Others write for publications and give speeches within the Protestant community and to those in the community at large. A growing number of ministers are employed only part time and may serve more than one congregation or have a secular part-time job.
Protestant Minister Career Requirements
In high school, prospective Protestant ministers should study history and religion, plus English and speech to improve their teaching and oration skills. Music and fine arts classes will help strengthen their understanding and appreciation of the liturgy. Knowledge of a foreign language may help ministers better serve the needs of their congregations.
While some denominations require little more than a high school education or Bible study, the majority of Protestant groups require a bachelor’s degree plus several years of specialized theological training.
An undergraduate degree in the liberal arts is the typical college program for prospective clergy, although entrants come from a range of academic backgrounds. Course work should include English, foreign languages, philosophy, the natural sciences, psychology, history, social sciences, and comparative religions, as well as fine arts and music.
Seminary curriculum generally covers four areas: history, theology, the Bible, and practical ministry techniques. Practical ministry techniques include counseling, preaching, church administration, and religious education. In addition to classroom study and examinations, the seminary student serves at least one year as an intern to gain practical experience in leading services and performing other ministerial duties.
In general, the major Protestant denominations have their own schools of theological training, but many of these schools admit students of other denominations. There are also several interdenominational colleges and theological schools that give training for the ministry. This may be augmented by training in the denomination in which the student will be ordained. Approximately 250 Protestant schools in the United States and Canada are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Accredited schools require a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, for admission. After three years of study and an internship, students earn a Master of Divinity degree.
Protestant ministers must meet the requirements of their individual denominations. Both men and women can become ordained ministers in most denominations today. Beyond formal ordination requirements, Protestant ministers must possess a religious vocation—a strong feeling that God is calling them to the service of others through religious ministry. For most, this means giving material success a lower priority than spiritual matters.
Ministers need to be outgoing and friendly and have a strong desire to help others. They need to be able to get along with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They need patience, sympathy, and open-mindedness to be able to listen to the problems of others, while maintaining a discreet and sincere respect. They need leadership abilities, including self-confidence, decisiveness, and the ability to supervise others. Ministers need to be aware that they will be relied on heavily by their congregation in times of trouble and stress, therefore making it more important they keep the needs of their own families balanced with those of their congregations.
Exploring Protestant Minister Career
The first step in exploring this career is to speak with your own minister about it. He or she can tell you more, help you discern your own calling, and put you in touch with other people and resources. It also makes sense to become as involved with your church as possible: teaching Sunday School, attending weekly services and Bible study, helping at congregational events. You might also want to volunteer with the sick or the elderly, particularly in institutions affiliated with your church.
Protestant ministers are usually employed by the congregations they serve. Most, but not all, congregations play a decisive role in selecting someone to serve as their pastor. Other ministers may choose to work in seminaries, hospitals, or other church-run institutions. Other employment opportunities for clergy include social service work, such as counseling, youth work, family relations guidance, and teaching. Ministers may also find opportunities as chaplains in the armed forces, hospitals, mental health centers, prisons, and social agencies such as the YMCA. Currently, approximately 422,000 Protestant ministers serve a variety of congregations.
Students should consult with their minister or contact the appropriate theological seminary to learn how to best meet entrance requirements. Some denominations do not require seminary training to become ordained. Smaller denominations may train part-time leaders, who eventually may seek ordination. Seminary graduates who cannot find ready employment may become directors of homes for the aged or mentally handicapped, or of orphanages. Others may find employment in the social services, as missionaries, or in church-sponsored summer camps. Some ministers may take an unpaid position with a financially disadvantaged church in order to gain valuable experience.
Newly ordained ministers generally begin their careers as pastors of small congregations or as assistant pastors (curates) in larger congregations. Advancement may take the form of getting a new or larger congregation of one’s own. Protestant ministers may also advance into the hierarchy or controlling bodies of their denominations. Many, though, do not seek advancement in the material sense, but find satisfaction in serving wherever they are most needed.
Salaries vary substantially for Protestant clergy depending on the individual’s experience, as well as the size of the congregation, its denominational branch, location, and financial status. Clergy employed in Protestant and non-Protestant denominations had median annual earnings of $37,870 in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Salaries ranged from less than $18,420 to $59,800 or more. Additional benefits usually include a housing stipend, which often includes utilities, a monthly transportation allowance, health insurance, and other fringe benefits, which raise the average compensation for senior pastors in large congregations to more than $75,000. Pension plans, travel stipends for research and rest, and grants for the education of their children are also frequently included in many compensation packages. Clergy often are given a monetary gift when they officiate at weddings and funerals. These gifts are sometimes donated to the church or a charity by the minister. Some ministers of smaller congregations may add to their earnings by working at part-time secular jobs.
Ministers spend long hours working under a variety of conditions. There is no such thing as a standard workweek. They are very likely to have a set schedule of services, classes, and meetings, but ministers are on call at all times. They are called upon to visit the sick and the dying and to minister to the grieving at all hours. Protestant ministers may also be needed to fill in for colleagues who are away or otherwise unavailable by conducting services and meeting the pastoral needs of their colleagues’ congregations.
Ministers in the mainstream Protestant denominations are well provided for—they usually have an office in the church building and a residence nearby. Such centrally located facilities make it easier to discharge their duties. It is the ministers’ personal responsibility, however, to ensure that they strike the proper balance between work and family life.
Protestant Minister Career Outlook
Membership growth in Protestant churches, such as the Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations, has been stagnant in the past few years. Aging membership has caused church budgets and membership to shrink, lessening the demand for full-time ministers. There has also been a significant increase in membership in evangelical churches. Overall, the increased cost of church operations is expected to limit the demand for ministers. The closing or combining of smaller parishes, and the reduced availability of funds, have lessened the need for full-time ministers. And, although the number of ministry graduates is also declining, ministers should expect competition for some parish jobs, especially the more desirable, urban ones.
Job prospects for clergy are expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Demand for ministers will vary depending on affiliation, with evangelical churches needing the most ministers. Graduates of theological schools have the best prospects for employment, as do ministers willing to work in rural churches with smaller congregations, salary, and benefits. They may also have to minister to two or more smaller congregations to earn a sufficient salary. Employment opportunities may depend on ministers retiring, passing away, or leaving the profession.