Schools to become an ordained pastor are called divinity schools, theological colleges or Bible colleges. The Christianity Today website shares that while there are some nonaccredited theological colleges that offer good training programs, accredited schools may offer a more comprehensive ministry program that better prepares you to work as a pastor. Talk to the pastor of your church to learn about the educational requirements of your denomination’s leaders.
Schools that train you to be an ordained pastor offer classes like Old Testament and New Testament literature, theological foundations, philosophy, Christian history and world religion courses. In the U.S., various entities accredit schools that allow you to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree in a Christian ministries-related field, including the U.S. Department of Education, Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada, and the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. Examples of undergraduate degrees that you can earn include a Bachelor in Christian Ministries or a Bachelor in Theology and Religion. Colleges that offer degrees to help you become an ordained pastor may also have a seminary -- a type of graduate school. Graduate degrees that an aspiring pastor may earn include a Master of Divinity or a Master of Ministry Leadership.
Modern seminary schools first appeared after the Council of Trent as a result of the Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, according Gary S. Greig, a former professor at the Regent University School of Divinity, in the article “The History of Seminary Education and Theological Accreditation.” The first theological schools emphasized scholarship, personal discipline and philosophy, so clergy members graduated as well-educated individuals. In 1636, Harvard College offered the first U.S. undergraduate theological school with academic programs for those who wanted to become ordained pastors. Greig shares that Harvard College and Andover Theological Seminary, the first organized seminary school in the U.S., set the standards for theological education that continue to influence modern religion-related academic programs.
It takes four years to earn an undergraduate degree in a Christian ministries- or theology-related field. Postgraduate education at a seminary can range between one year and five years, depending on the degree or certification that you seek. Nondegree certification programs and those that allow you to earn a master’s degree take up to two years to complete. It can take up to three additional years to earn a doctoral degree in a Christian ministries-related field after you earn a master’s degree.
Most theological schools offer only the training needed to become a pastor. However, a college that’s associated with a particular denomination may also provide the courses and internship opportunities needed to become an ordained member of the respective church. The ordination process to become a pastor varies by denomination, so you may need to complete an official training program offered by your denomination after you graduate with a Christian ministries-related degree.
- Christianity Today: Accrediting for Dummies
- U.S. Department of Education: Accrediting Agencies Recognized for the Their Preaccreditation Categories
- Communion with God Ministries: The History of Seminary Education and Theological Accreditation
- University of Oxford: Our Courses
- George Fox Evangelical Seminary: Programs
- Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York: Ordination Process by Denomination
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images