“Give diligence to make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Such was the inspired counsel of the apostle Paul to his young students. It holds true today more than ever. For students hoping to pursue a theology degree, it’s vital to make sure that you are suited to this highly rewarding – yet extremely challenging – field. After all, once you’re convinced you’re pursing a calling rather than a passing whim, you can be sure that He who called you will enable you to make it through the many obstacles you’re likely to face. The first obstacle, in many cases, is justifying your chosen career to the naysayers.
Theology, or the study of God, is the oldest discipline there is. Ever since Adam and Eve first explored the garden, mankind has felt the call to know his Maker. In every age and clime, various attempts at theology have striven to understand the divine. In the early days of American history, almost every institution of higher education – including most of the Ivy League schools – were established for the purpose of teaching theology to the future leaders of the New World. Such was the priority these early Americans placed on understanding of Scripture. They remembered the oppression and the resulting lack of morality and stability in lands where God’s word was prohibited, and they wanted this new land to be different. In an effort to provide their descendants with the blessings of liberty that come only where the Spirit of the Lord is, they made sure Bible-based theology would be a cornerstone of the new nation.
Fast forward to modern times, when liberty is running thin and crime is rampant, and check out the modern attitude on many campuses towards those planning to pursue a degree in theology.
“Will you be able to get a job?”
“We have a theology department?”
The truth is, students of theology are more in demand than ever. In every land, class, and tongue, hearts are hungry to know how to be reconciled to God. Natural disasters, plagues like Ebola, and wars – especially “holy” wars – make the thirst for answers to the big questions that much more urgent, and many hearts are hungry with no one to care. Whether those individuals regularly burn incense in front of a grimy gilded statue, hoping their good deeds outshine their evil ones, or they work twelve hour days trying to pay off steep mortgages in vain efforts to achieve a sense of purpose, masses of people feel empty, guilty, and alone. The knowledge of the grace God gave all people when Jesus Christ sacrificed himself willingly as payment for the evil deeds of all mankind is a message that’s more needed than ever before. The rejuvenating power of the resurrection is available for the taking, and many who’ve never heard the story of the gospel would welcome the news. That’s why theology never goes out of demand, even if it’s not as popular a major as in centuries past.
Although many objections you may face may be rooted in ignorance or intolerance, there’s one legitimate question that you need to be able to answer: “Will you be able to get a job?” Theology is a very broad field, and many of the theological careers you might choose require intensive further study, post-graduate work, or certification in another discipline. That’s why the sooner you can decide which is right for you, the better. Here are some of the top careers you might pursue with a theology degree, and every one of them has the potential to make a huge difference in a hurting world.
1. Senior Pastor
The goal of becoming a senior pastor, or shepherd, is one of the most common career paths for those pursuing a degree in theology. Depending on the size and location of a church, the job description of this career can vary widely even in a single denomination. Even greater differences exist among the various denominations. Generally speaking, a senior pastor or head of a congregation is responsible for everything that goes on in that ministry.
Although most people assume pastors only work on Sundays as they ascend the pulpit to deliver the sermon, in actuality, a senior pastor’s job description is comparable to any top-level CEO, even if the pay is not. All community relations, financial obligations, and member contentions stop at his desk. Additionally, senior pastors are responsible for all religious services, such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals, which are absolutely required, yet these aren’t always conducive to the pastor’s already-full schedule. In almost all denominations, sick members expect a hospital visit from their pastor or one of his assistants, and this is a vital way of showing a pastor’s care for his flock.
Add to this the Biblical requirement of attendance to the Word of God, prayer, and instruction of the flock to do the work of the ministry; providing Biblical counsel for members about a plethora of personal issues; wise delegation of necessary tasks; and, among other things, supervision and oversight of volunteers, especially those working with children. Whew! Do you see why a good pastor is a hero, more than worth his weight in gold?
If you have a desire to lead a congregation in a senior role, make sure to spend a lot of time with successful, seasoned pastors who can provide valuable insight. Relationships formed in the college classroom can be invaluable down the road when you are the counselor who is in desperate need of counsel.
2. Assistant Pastor
For those intimidated by the job descriptions of senior pastors, a great way to ease yourself into the ministry is by starting out as an assistant pastor. Usually, larger churches are the ones capable of paying more than one pastor, so it’s likely your job description will be much more narrow, depending on the focus of ministry the leadership chooses for you. You might be responsible for counseling church members on marriage, finances, or life coaching; for undertaking the public relations of the church; or for visiting prospects and conducting bus or van routes. You might be delegated to a ministry to the homeless or to non-English speaking members, to oversee the Sunday School or children’s ministry, the music or drama ministry, or to the senior citizens’ ministry and hospital visitation. Your theology degree will open doors for you, but love and humility will be required to go through many of the doors enthusiastically. If glamor and glory is your motivation, you might want to look elsewhere. If you want to make a difference that can last into eternity, you’re in the right place.
3. Youth Pastor
Another way many young theology graduates ease their way into the ministry is by becoming involved in the youth ministry. This can be an exciting yet draining career, and the potential for making a difference is enormous. An important advantage to working in the youth ministry is a spouse who is 100% on board and is also enthusiastic about working with teens, especially troubled teens. Having a supportive husband or wife alongside is crucial to remaining pure when working with easily infatuated, passionate young people.
A great way to use a theology degree is to become a missionary. Although you may not strike it as rich as some other careers will monetarily, you’ll be rich in experience and in the joy of bringing the gospel to those who, in many cases, have waited all their lives to hear. If you wonder why anyone would become a missionary, take a missions trip over the summer to a place where Bibles are being distributed for the first time, or go help out in an orphanage where children are desperately waiting to be noticed. See if you don’t change your mind about what makes a person rich.
Whether you have a desire to serve in the medical field or in the military, a theology degree can open doors for you as a hospital or military chaplain. This can be an extremely rewarding career, and you can make relationships that can last for a lifetime with the most unlikely people. Before you decide to pursue one of these careers, take time first to explore what your requirements would be. If a military chaplain, what would be your level of involvement? Are you willing to be separated from your family for months at a time if deployed? Are you physically capable of undergoing the rigors of basic training? If you become a hospital chaplain, will you be required to undergo any special certification? It’s important to know the answers to these make-or-break questions before you commit to a major that you might find to be, in the end, incompatible with you personally.
Many theology degree-holders obtain positions as teachers. If you think this would be a good fit for you, make sure that, going into the program, you keep education as a focus so that you can graduate with teaching certification. After all, the last thing you want is to graduate and then be sent back to school for further training. Making sure you know where you’re headed can save you a lot of time in the long run.
If you are the scholarly type, you might just want to become a theologian, continuing your education until you are qualified to turn around and teach the college classes yourself. If you decide to go this route, make sure you never get “above” the Bible. Let the unchanging Scriptures, not pop philosophy and ever-changing opinion, guide your thought, and you will find yourself truly qualified to train great minds in the intricacies of theology.