Clergy play an ongoing role in millions of Americans’ lives, providing spiritual and moral guidance and assistance to members of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or dozens of other recognized groups. Clerics – the name for those in the clergy field – serve as leaders of these diverse groups, and assist congregants during important or difficult life events, like weddings, births, and deaths of loved ones.
Depending on religious affiliation, a member of the clergy might be referred to as a pastor, minister, priest, rector, preacher, chaplain, rabbi, shaman, or deacon. Specific job duties depend on the size of the congregation; many clergy members do not lead a congregation at all. Some clergy serve as U.S. Armed Forces chaplains, prison chaplains, or religious school teachers.
A clergy member’s job duties typically include ministering to congregants, instructing converts to the faith, writing and delivering sermons, organizing and leading religious services, teaching classes, administering to the sick, visiting prisoners, officiating at weddings and funerals, and managing staff and volunteers.
Clergy Job Summary
Extensive skills are required for clergy positions, including communication, supervisory, and organizational skills.
Typically, a master’s degree is obtained prior to entering this field.
Average job growth is expected in this field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Salaries typically vary by location, education level, experience, and size of congregation.
Work Environment for Clergy
Clergy work includes sedentary tasks, like visiting the sick and writing sermons. It can be emotionally and mentally draining, with long days spent providing comfort to and counseling to individuals, couples, and families. In addition, clergy must often attend to the various administrative duties of running an organization and supervising staff.
Clergy are often required to make decisions—sometime difficult ones—and must work closely with groups and teams of congregants. Members of the clergy typically work irregular hours, and often put in more than 40 hours of work per week. Emergency calls happen at any hour, day or night. Weekends and holidays are the busiest times for clergy jobs, with activities and services to plan and manage.
Education, Training, and Licensing
There are many paths to becoming a member of the clergy. Some religious organizations recognize a simple call to service, while others require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or other post-graduate theological studies. Each religious group has its own qualifications and traditions. Some religions do not allow women to become clergy; depending on the faith, there may be various other restrictions.
Ordained ministers in the Christian faith often earn a seminary degree. Master of Divinity degrees are offered at accredited seminaries. Candidates are often sponsored by their denominations.
Entering a Master of Divinity degree program requires a bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, and usually a sponsoring entity. Courses include Old Testament, New Testament, preaching, ethics, sociology, theology, and administration. Full-time students often earn their degrees in four years; part-time students can take as many as eight years to complete their degrees.
In the Jewish faith, Rabbinical programs require an admission process with psychological and academic testing, along with a minimum of four years of college. Then, there are typically five to six years of study, plus a year in of study in Israel. Upon graduation, many seminaries require an internship.
It’s important to research a divinity degree program’s accreditation. Earning a degree through an unaccredited program can hinder job success or even cause the degree holder to lose a job once the employer discovers this fact.
Most states require those officiating at weddings to be licensed. It is recommended that clergy research the requirements for their state.
Being a member of the clergy can be a life-long profession, and clergy careers often last far past normal retirement age. Clergy candidates must be aware of the all-encompassing nature of the profession, and have the ability to handle stressful situations and long working hours. Clergy must also have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, be active listeners, and exercise excellent judgment. Patience, the ability to teach others, and social perception are also valuable skills for clergy.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures show that clergy held about 670,000 jobs in 2008. Employment in this field is expected to grow at an average rate compared to other occupations, with a projected 217,700 new clergy jobs through 2018.
According to the BLS, those holding clergy jobs in 2008 received an average yearly salary of $42,950, and an average hourly wage of $20.65. Depending on geographic area, education level, size of congregation, and years of experience, average clergy salaries can range from $32,100 to $48,334, according to PayScale.com (July 2010).