The 3 Best Online Master’s in Biblical & Pastoral Counseling Programs

| TBS Staff

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Individuals who feel called to minister others through counseling often complete a Christian counseling degree online. Flexible options make these degree paths ideal for those who want to use their skills and talents to help those who are struggling. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not maintain job data on those working in pastoral counseling specifically, roles for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are predicted to grow by 23% between 2016 and 2026. If you're thinking about completing a biblical counseling degree online, use this guide to learn about common paths, curricular requirements, and available careers.

The Best Online Master’s in Biblical & Pastoral Counseling Degree Programs

Liberty University View School Profile $$$$ Lynchburg, VA 46% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, offers more than 600 academic programs to over 100,000 enrollees. Liberty’s almost 350 online programs include an online Christian counseling degree, which blends psychological knowledge and theological study.

The online master’s in pastoral counseling degree includes 36 credit hours that most learners complete in a year and a half. Learners can transfer up to 18 credit hours into the program, accelerating completion to as little as one year. Students complete classes in systematic theology and issues, theories, and foundations of pastoral counseling in addition to an internship. Students can also participate in two on-campus optional intensive training sessions.

Liberty’s program does not prepare students for clinical licensure but prepares them to be spiritual counselors and pastoral leaders. Students study with noted Christian theologians and spiritual leaders through Liberty’s Rawlings School of Divinity.

Freed-Hardeman University View School Profile $$$ Henderson, TN 54% Freed–Hardeman University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission.

Founded in 1869 and affiliated with the Church of Christ, Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees to almost 2,000 learners. Dedicated to empowering students through faith, knowledge, and service, Freed-Hardeman offers an online master of arts in pastoral care and counseling that's grounded in theology and practical application alike.

The online master’s degree in pastoral care and counseling at Freed-Hardeman University includes 48 credit hours of coursework and internship requirements. In addition to classes on the New and Old Testaments, communication in the ministry, and psychopathology, students study theory and practice of family therapy, grief counseling, and clinical intervention from a Christian perspective. At the end of the program, students complete a 6-credit hour internship to gain hands-on experience and apply degree knowledge. Learners prepare for careers as youth ministers, preachers, Bible school teachers, and other leadership positions within the Christian community.

Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary View School Profile $$ Kansas City, MO 44% Calvary University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Calvary University in Kansas City, Missouri, owes its foundations to the merger of Kansas City Bible College and Midwest Bible College in 1961. The Citadel Bible College of Ozark, Arkansas, joined Calvary in 1987, further contributing to the school’s mission to offer nondenominational undergraduate and graduate programs based in service to Christ and a biblical worldview.

Calvary’s online master of arts in biblical counseling includes 54 credit hours including core classes in systematic theology and hermeneutics. Learners can transfer six hours into the program. Biblical counseling courses provide learners with foundational knowledge about evangelism in counseling, marriage and family counseling, and leadership and influence. Students must declare a cognate from areas such as addictions and dependency, practical theology, educational services, and organizational development. Learners also study research and complete a thesis or an internship.

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Online Master’s in Biblical & Pastoral Counseling Degree Program Ranking Guidelines:

We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

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Choosing an Online Master’s in Biblical & Pastoral Counseling Program

By completing a Christian counseling degree online, students gather knowledge and skills that help them in various professional settings. While some programs focus on preparing graduates for roles in the church, others outfit them for work in counseling centers or private practice. Common classes that learners can expect to take include marriage and family counseling, small group ministries, trauma assessment and interventions, and the biological components of addiction and recovery. Graduates often take on roles as substance abuse counselors, church counselors, chaplains, life coaches, or non-licensed counselors. In order to work as a licensed counselor, applicants must complete additional education.

When looking at Liberty University's online Master’s in Christian counseling, some of the specialization areas offered include addictions and recovery, community chaplaincy, marriage and family, crisis response and trauma, and military resilience. These mirror many other Christian counseling degree online paths, but prospective distance students should speak with admissions panels to learn about individual offerings. Depending on how they plan to use the degree upon graduation, and if they hope to complete additional education, students typically participate in a practicum, a culminating project, or a thesis.

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What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master’s in Biblical and Pastoral Counseling Program?

When reviewing the following sections, students should remember that programs vary. Before committing to any Christian counseling degree online, research the program to learn about specifics.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Doctoral Degree in Biblical and Pastoral Counseling

Given the specific nature of a pastoral counseling degree online, these programs often exist as specializations of other degrees rather than providing additional concentrations under the pastoral counseling umbrella. When researching prospective programs, learners will likely come across a variety of degrees leading to different outcomes. Individuals who decide to complete a master of divinity in pastoral care, for instance, usually pursue this program because they plan to work within the church to provide counseling services. Those who enroll in a master of arts program, conversely, often want to offer Christian counseling services but plan to do so without working at a church. For those who aren't sure which path they might take or are equally interested in both, the master of theology in pastoral counseling is commonly pursued by individuals who want to work inside and outside of the church.

Sample Courses for an Online Master’s Degree in Biblical and Pastoral Counseling

  • Methods of Pastoral Counseling:
    With a focus on bringing together theory and application, this course ensures students understand the tenets of common pastoral counseling methodologies and helps them decide which one best suits their beliefs and goals. Students take part in role-playing exercises using various frameworks.
  • Legal and Ethical Considerations in Pastoral Counseling:
    Given the sensitive and confidential nature of counseling professions, students take this course to understand their responsibility as practitioners. In addition to analyzing court cases, students review ethical codes and case studies to help them think through various scenarios and how to respond to them.
  • Crisis Intervention as a Pastoral Counselor:
    Students review some of the common tenets of crisis intervention and discuss how those fit into pastoral interventions. In addition to standard areas of crisis and trauma, learners also consider how spiritual challenges factor into these difficult moments and how their training can help.
  • Pastoral Counseling for Children and Adolescents:
    This course introduces students to the different cycles of child development before moving into discussions of how to appropriately provide counseling at different life stages. Common topics for this course include trauma, abuse, eating disorders, bullying, learning disabilities, and parental disagreements.
  • Pastoral Counseling for Military Mental and Behavioral Health:
    This course exists for individuals who want to work with active military members and veterans experiencing issues related to their service, including posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Students learn how to treat issues such as depression, addictions, anxiety, stress, and suicidal ideation.
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Online Master’s in Biblical and Pastoral Counseling Careers

Graduates of online pastoral counseling degree paths can choose from a variety of careers, depending on the populations they hope to serve and the work environment they prefer. Some work for companies that employ counselors, while others choose to strike out on their own.

  1. Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor: Working in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings, these professionals provide therapy to individuals working through issues such as addiction, behavioral problems, eating disorders, and mental trauma. They evaluate their clients' mental state, create treatment plans, monitor changes, and consult with other mental health professionals.
    • Median Annual Salary: $43,300
    • Projected Growth Rate: 23%
  2. Marriage and Family Therapist: Working with couples, children, and families, these professionals serve as mediators to work through feelings and emotions. They encourage dialog between spouses or children and their parents, create communication assignments, and connect patients with other valuable resources. Individuals must possess a Master’s degree to pursue these roles.
    • Median Annual Salary: $48,790
    • Projected Growth Rate: 23%
  3. School Counselor: Aside from helping students sort out classes and think about college, school counselors help students identify their strengths and talents, deal with issues affecting school performance, provide counseling, and serve as someone students can speak with about personal issues. School counselors must hold a Master’s degree.
    • Median Annual Salary: $55,410
    • Projected Growth Rate: 13%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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