Clergy jobs: What You Need to Know
Christian clergy are usually considered the leaders, coordinators, or directors of a church. They are responsible for the spiritual health and growth of the church’s members. They prepare and lead worship services, sermons or homilies, and oversee all aspects of the church and its role in the community.
Clergy members are also expected to advise and council congregants, visit ill church members in the hospital, and perform basic religious rites such as baptism, marriage, burial services.
More and more clergy members are older, and becoming a clergy member is a second or even third career in their lives. There are fewer young high school graduates choosing this career. This means that turnover in churches may be slightly higher because clergy members do not stay at a church as long as in previous years.
Large churches can require several clergy members to keep them running smoothly. A church might have a senior clergy member, assistant clergy, youth leader, music director or leader, and education director.
Common clergy titles include priest, pastor, senior pastor, assistant pastor, minister, rector, associate rector, elder, director, deacon, youth pastor, and choir and music director. For those who are aiming toward an even greater leadership role within a denomination, there are jobs as supervisors and bishops. If you are interested in helping others become closer to God and reaching out to others in need, then becoming a member of clergy may be the right career for you.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 670,000 clergy jobs in 2008, and this number is expected to increase by about 7 percent to 13 percent yearly over the next ten years, so that by 2018 the Bureau projects there will be an additional 217,700 members of clergy.
Administrative Church Jobs
Most churches, no matter the size, need at least one or more people to perform the many administrative duties associated with running a church. Like most businesses, there are bills to be paid, letters and other communication that needs to be written, and budgets to develop and balance. Most church offices are open throughout the week and need personnel to answer phones, make copies, and other general office work. Smaller churches may hire people on a part-time basis. Very large churches may hire several full time people, as well as other professionals such as graphic designers, communications coordinators, and accounting specialists.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there will be growing demand for administrative jobs, in general in the next ten years. The number of administrative assistant positions is predicted to increase between 7 percent and 13 percent by 2013.
If you are not ready to commit to a full time faith-based career, one way to get your foot in the door and gain some valuable experience is to volunteer your time at a church.
Churches need many volunteers to perform their programming, whether that is leading youth groups, teaching Sunday school classes, or singing in the choir. Volunteers can also manage a church’s outreach programs, like providing meals at homeless shelters, coordinating volunteers for Meals on Wheels, and other charitable programs. Some churches develop and execute fund-raising activities to support their outreach programs and need volunteers to manage and staff these activities. Volunteering allows you to see whether full time work at a church is something you really want to do. Usually all you need to do to volunteer is to contact the clergy of the church, or the church administrator.
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide information on volunteers, you can rest assured there will always be the need for volunteers at a church, the only question may be will you be able to volunteer for your program of choice. For the most part, this is not a problem.
Most denominations expect clergy to hold advanced academic degrees such as a master’s degree in divinity, theology, or other related disciplines, like religion, spirituality, or music, depending on the person’s chosen career path. Some denominations or positions may actually require a PhD or law degree. Some non-denominational churches hire leaders with less formal educations, only requiring them to receive training specific to their beliefs and achieving specific certificates.
Most large denominations expect their leaders to become ordained, which means they go through a rigorous process of spiritual discernment and training and upon completion are considered ordained or set apart leaders of their faiths. Some large denominations also may have their own seminary schools, where students can receive their advanced degrees, while many large colleges and universities offer programs in religious studies and theology. There are several Christian colleges and universities that also offer programs that can benefit the person interested in becoming a clergy member. The best choice for you depends on which denomination or non-denomination you wish to pursue. Once you have made that decision, ask several clergy members you trust for their input on where to receive the education you need. Then visit the Web site of the schools and narrow down your list to the top three. Phone the admissions counselors or visit the school in person. When choosing a college or seminary school, you should look at several factors. First you need to make sure your denomination will accept the degree the school offers. Secondly, you need to look at whether the school’s belief system is a fit with yours. Next, look at the college’s program and whether it meets your needs. Finally, do not forget to look at the school’s job placement program, if there is one and it is applicable to your situation. If this is a primary means of you getting a position, you need to know how successful their placement efforts are.
Funding your education can also be a big concern. Many denominations and schools offer fellowships, scholarships, and grants. Talk to a financial assistance director at the school to find out what financial aid you qualify for. There are also low interest student loans that can make going back to school affordable.
For non-clergy church jobs, such as office administrators, the education requirements are not as stringent. Office administrators may need to have an associate’s degree related to office administration, or a high school diploma, GED, plus some experience. Volunteers will not need to have a certain level of education in order to perform their volunteer duties.
Required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
Today’s clergy members have many different hats they need to wear, but the good news is, there is also a growing movement for members of the church to play a more aggressive role in daily church operations. Still, clergy are expected to have a wide range of knowledge, skills, and abilities.
First and foremost, clergy members should have extensive knowledge of theology, the Bible, and their denomination’s worship methodology, including the church’s history and evolution. This is usually gained through attending seminary school or Christian college. In addition, since clergy members are leaders and typically have people working for them, even if it is on a volunteer basis, clergy members need to have knowledge of leadership, management, and administrative practices. Customer service techniques are also valuable for clergy to know, since they provide many services to their constituents. Lastly, since clergy members counsel and advise their congregation, they should have a basic understanding of counseling techniques and know when to refer someone to a professional, licensed counselor.
Being a clergy member is a people-intensive job, which means having excellent communication skills is a must. Clergy must be able to listen to their congregants, understand their needs, and respond to them in a meaningful way. Additionally, clergy members need to have strong organizational and time management skills. Kevin Brennfleck, a national certified career counselor and director of the Christian Career Center, says “Every day is different. There are so many priorities and it is a struggle to get it all done.” Having good organizational and time management skills can go a long way toward keeping you on task and in good standing. As a leader, clergy members are also often the ones that are looked upon to make a final decision. A clergy member must have excellent decision making skills.
As if all of these skills and extensive knowledge wasn’t enough, congregations also expect their clergy members to be excellent speakers, teachers, and writers. Most of these abilities can be improved with practice and through attending workshops and continuing education classes.
For non-clergy staff members, which are most often administrative assistance and office personnel, you will need to have knowledge of common computer programs, office equipment, and common office procedures. You will also need to have good communication skills, organizational skills, and people skills. Additional skills and abilities depend on the job’s duties. For example, some administrators may have the responsibility of accounts payable and receivable and will need the skills applicable to performing these functions. Volunteers will not be expected to have a specified set of skills and/or abilities, other than a desire to work with people in a way that best represents the church.
Average Clergy Salary Information
The salary for clergy members, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $20.06 hourly, or $41,730 a year. Salaries fluctuate dramatically from denomination to denomination and within each denomination. Often the larger the church and clergy responsibility, the higher the salary will be, although that is not always the case. Some smaller, affluent churches may pay a greater salary equal to a larger church.
The salaries for church administrative staff members may be higher or lower than the national average, depending on the size of the church, and the responsibilities of the job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average yearly salary for office administrators is $25,320.
Potential Church Career Paths
So once you become a minister, priest, pastor, or elder, what’s next, you might ask? The answer to that question depends on your denomination, or church, if your church is not affiliated with a denomination. Traditional denominations like the Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches usually have hierarchal structures in place that will map out possible career advancements. Churches are usually clustered in geographical sections which are overseen by a single person, usually called a bishop, but not always, depending on your denomination. You may start out heading a small church in a given area. Once you (and leaders agree) you have accomplished what you can at that church, your next step may be to lead a larger church. Eventually you could supervise many churches by becoming a bishop, or lead a certain aspect of worship or church life for a district, like education, outreach, etc.
If your church is non-denominational, then your options may be fewer. You may choose to grow your church, or to start other churches in nearby sections of your city or towns. You may also choose to explore other tools for professional development, like writing articles or books, or speaking at meetings and conferences.
Career paths for office staff members depend on the size of the church and its administrative staff. For larger churches and staff, administrators could become supervisors, managers, or get promoted into more specialized positions such as volunteer managers, accounting coordinators, or communication specialists. Smaller churches with only few staff members would need to find jobs at larger churches in order to advance their careers.