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Individuals pursuing online pastoral degree paths often feel drawn to ministry in some form, with many deciding to seek roles as pastors or other Christian leaders in the church. According to data supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), roles for clergy are projected to grow by 8% between 2016 and 2026, while positions for directors of religious activities and education could grow by 7% during the same time frame. Given that the Pew Research Center found seven out of every 10 Americans identify with some form of Christianity, roles for these spiritual leaders should stay in demand in the coming years. This guide offers information on common coursework, degree outcomes, and potential careers.

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Best Online Master's in Ministry & Pastoral Leadership Programs

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Online Master's in Ministry & Pastoral Leadership 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.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

Featured Online Schools

The Best Online Master's in Ministry & Pastoral Leadership Degree Programs

  1. Clarks Summit University
    Location

    Clarks Summit, PA

    Tuition

    $16378

    Located in northeast Pennsylvania near Scranton, CSU serves more than 1,200 students with programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels. A Baptist-affiliated institution, CSU offers a 30-credit master of ministry with a concentration in the Bible. Full-time students can complete the degree in as little as one year by taking eight-week courses, which do not require live class sessions. Students may also take on-campus courses to supplement their online pastoral degree curriculum. The program comprises 22 credits of required courses and eight elective credits. Courses include God's plan for the ages, principles of spiritual formation, and world ministry and the local church. Both men and women may apply, but all applicants need one year of full-time ministry experience and must currently work in ministry.

  2. Creighton University
    Location

    Omaha, NE

    Tuition

    $23996

    A Jesuit, Roman Catholic university in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton educates more than 8,000 students, split half-and-half between undergraduate and graduate programs. The university offers a 36-credit master of arts in ministry to equip students to serve others through the Catholic church or other Christian denominations, or through faith-based parachurch ministries. Creighton's program provides students with year-round, eight-week courses online, plus one-week, on-campus residencies in the summer. Part-time students can expect to finish the online pastoral degree in about three years.

    Courses include historical spiritualities in the Christian tradition, introduction to the New Testament, and ministerial ethics and leadership skills. Admission requires a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher, plus nine credits of theology. Students can also inquire about a distinctive dual degree option with the school's master of negotiation and conflict resolution.

  3. Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary
    Location

    Jacksonville, TX

    Tuition

    $5700

    Owned and operated by the Baptist Missionary Association, an autonomous union of Baptist churches, and located in Jacksonville, Texas, BMATS serves about 160 students. Its master of arts in pastoral theology equips ministers serving in pastoral support roles, rather than those in ministry leadership positions. Associate pastors, lay leaders, and Bible teachers can take the 36-credit online pastoral degree over two years, focusing on biblical studies, theological studies, or pastoral studies.

    Courses include Old Testament theology, New Testament theology, church administration, and survey of Baptist heritage. The degree concludes with a comprehensive exam. To receive an offer of admission, prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Applicants may transfer up to 15 credits from another accredited institution.

  4. Luther Rice College & Seminary
    Location

    Lithonia, GA

    Tuition

    $15229

    Situated in Lithonia, Georgia, part of the Metro Atlanta area, Luther Rice serves about 1,300 students. The Southern Baptist school focuses on providing Christian leadership courses online. Luther Rice offers a 36-credit master of arts in ministry that students can finish in 18-24 months online. Students can complete the entire degree online, or they can choose a hybrid model.

    The curriculum centers on practical skills needed for pastoral ministry and church-based leadership. Courses include introduction to biblical hermeneutics, foundations of apologetics, and marriage and family counseling. To receive an offer of admission, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a GPA of 2.0 or higher. They must also affirm the school's statement of faith and take a diagnostic Bible knowledge test.

  5. Hope International University
    Location

    Fullerton, CA

    Tuition

    $22001

    Affiliated with the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches and located in Fullerton, California, HIU educates more than 1,300 students both in its close-knit, on-campus community and through distance education. The university offers a master of arts in ministry, either single concentration or dual concentration option, which equips students for success in church or parachurch ministry.

    The 36-credit degree includes nine credits in each chosen concentration, options include worship, church planting, intercultural studies, and spiritual formation. Learners take courses such as Bible study methods and tools, Jesus and the kingdom among us, C.S. Lewis and the literature of faith, and vision casting. Students can study exclusively online, or participate in a three-day, on-campus residency. Admission requires a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA, though applicants with lower GPAs may ask for consideration.

  6. Fresno Pacific University
    Location

    Fresno, CA

    Tuition

    $19501

    Located in Fresno, California, FPU is a ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Churches serving about 4,000 graduate and undergraduate students. The university offers an online master's degree in Christian leadership called the master of arts in ministry, leadership and culture. This 48-credit program takes three years to complete. Students study online and in weekly, 90-minute synchronous course meetings.

    FPU provides each student with a ministry coach, and requires both a cross-cultural component and four one-week residencies. Courses draw from biblical and theological reflection, personal and holistic formation, radical and practical application, and self-directed learning. The program concludes with a creative capstone project. Successful applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA, and submit a writing sample, letters of reference, and a personal profile.

  7. Cedarville University
    Location

    Cedarville, OH

    Tuition

    $20811

    A Baptist-affiliated school located in Cedarville, Ohio, Cedarville University educates about 4,000 students through on-campus and online undergraduate and graduate programs. The university offers an accelerated, one-year master of ministry to prepare students for vocational ministry positions or improved leadership in local church settings. This online pastoral degree blends biblical theology, leadership training, and real-world experience. Students can take courses online or on-campus, full- or part-time.

    Courses include trinitarian implications for practical ministry, contemporary theology in historical context, and ministry of teaching and preaching. Each semester, learners meet one-on-one with their program directors for prayer and discussion. Students conclude the program with a robust internship experience, which serves as the capstone. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college and a GPA of 2.3 or higher, and profess faith in Jesus Christ.

  8. Dallas Baptist University
    Location

    Dallas, TX

    Tuition

    $23019

    Located 12 miles southwest of downtown Dallas, DBU educates more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. This Southern Baptist-affiliated institution offers Christian leadership courses online through its masters of arts in children's, Christian, family, and student ministry. These 36-credit degrees each require 18 credit hours of core courses and 18 credit hours in a specialization. Some degrees offer concentrations in special needs children's ministry or professional life coaching.

    Core courses include biblical servant leadership, Christian history and heritage, and spiritual formation and worship, along with a ministry mentorship. Gaining admission to a DBU graduate program requires a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution, a 3.0 GPA or higher in all previous coursework, and evidence of sound moral character, consistent with the university's mission and ethos.

  9. North Greenville University
    Location

    Tigerville, SC

    Tuition

    $21101

    Located in Tigerville, South Carolina, just north of Greenville, the Southern Baptist institution of NGU serves more than 2,500 students in online and on-campus programs. The school offers a master of arts in Christian ministry to help students meet specific needs in the places they currently serve. Most learners take 18 months to complete the 36-credit program. Online terms last eight weeks, and on-campus terms take 16 weeks. New students can enroll at any of five start dates during each academic year.

    Core courses include biblical interpretation, spiritual formation, and Christian theology, along with an integration project. NGU's online pastoral degree also includes three concentration track options: church growth and revitalization, discipleship and spiritual formation, and missions and evangelism. Applicants must submit a 500-word, self-reflective essay, plus evidence of a bachelor's degree with a 2.5 GPA or higher.

  10. Veritas Baptist College
    Location

    Fredericksburg, VA

    Tuition

    $6676

    Located in Fredericksburg, Virginia and established as a ministry of Faith Baptist Church, VBC serves graduate and undergraduate students through Christian leadership courses online. The college's 30-credit master of ministry provides advanced training to students who want to increase their biblical knowledge and ministerial skills. Each student takes 12 credits of core courses, followed by nine credits in a concentration and nine in elective courses.

    Core courses include systematic theology; biblical leadership in the 21st century; and discipleship, mentoring, and equipping. Students may select between five concentrations, including pastoral studies, church ministries, and missions and cross-cultural studies. Most online students take courses in eight-week modules. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, agree with the VBC statement of faith, and faithfully attend a local church.

Choosing a Program

Students considering an online master's degree in Christian leadership can expect an immersive and comprehensive plan of study that exposes them to topics within Christianity and church membership. In the program offered by Grand Canyon University, degree seekers study topics such as ministerial ethics, biblical hermeneutics, Old and New Testament foundations, and best practices in Christian leadership. Upon completion of a program, many graduates become junior pastors or take up administrative roles in churches. Others may decide to plant their own churches in an underserved area.

Because Christian leadership serves as an umbrella term covering a large field, many programs allow learners to focus their degrees in a concentration area. While these vary by school, options include organizational management, music ministry, youth ministry, systematic theology, and audio/visual ministry. These programs help students tailor their studies to future ministry opportunities. Depending on the program, some students may complete an internship at a church as part of graduation requirements, while others may undertake a research project or thesis.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Ministry and Pastoral Leadership Program?

When reviewing online pastoral degrees, prospective students will notice programs vary by institution. Common classes and concentrations are highlighted below, but students should research individual programs to find out exactly what courses are offered.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master's in Ministry & Pastoral Leadership Degree

Sample Courses for an Online Master's Degree in Ministry and Pastoral Leadership

  • Preventing Ministry Failure:
    This course addresses some of the common pitfalls of both new churches and established ministries. It provides an overview of how Christian leaders can properly manage finances, create attainable goals, and set appropriate boundaries.
  • Theories of Leadership:
    Students in this class look at both secular and biblical leadership models as a way of understanding the theories behind each. They then take part in role-playing activities to understand the pros and cons of each.
  • The Ethics of Ministry:
    This course helps students understand some of the common issues surrounding Christian ethics and looks at how Christian leadership should behave. Other topics include self-care and shepherding diverse populations.
  • Addressing Conflict and Change:
    While all pastors hope to avoid difficult situations in their churches, the reality is that sometimes these arise. This course helps them understand how to diffuse conflict and mediate between leaders and congregants.
  • Foundations of the Old Testament:
    This class provides learners with a refresher on the themes and historical context of the Old Testament, with the goal of helping them interpret the Bible correctly to share with their congregations.
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Online Master's in Ministry and Pastoral Leadership Careers

Online ministry degree paths prepare students for a variety of roles related to leading a church or faith-based organization. Most are tasked with traditional responsibilities such as leadership, finances, or education but fulfill their duties in accordance with their denominational faith.
  1. Members of the Clergy: Regardless of denomination, members of the clergy act as spiritual leaders within the church and convey messages from the Bible to their congregations. Some may work as head pastors while others may focus their efforts on youth ministry or music. They may also lead Sunday School and small group meetings.
    • Median Annual Salary: $47,100
    • Projected Growth Rate: 8%
  2. Religious Activities & Education Directors: These professionals coordinate extracurricular activities at the church and encourage participation from members and visitors. They may oversee the annual Christmas outreach program, develop Vacation Bible Camp in the summer, or oversee counseling programs at the church.
    • Median Annual Salary: $38,980
    • Projected Growth Rate: 7%
  3. Other Religious Workers: This category serves as an umbrella term for other employees of the church and can include administrative staff, janitors, pianists and organists, personal assistants, finance directors, or anyone else who helps keep the church running smoothly.
    • Median Annual Salary: $29,310
    • Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Return to the top

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