What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Theology Program?

Students enrolling in an online master’s in theology program can expect to receive a thorough grounding in theological studies, including in-depth classes covering the Old and New Testaments. Online theology studies are beneficial to students who may not live near a seminary or Bible studies college, as well as students whose other life responsibilities make attending traditional classes difficult. This online master’s degree can also enable students already working in ministry to better balance work and school demands. Differing online programs hosted by universities throughout the country offer students the ability to further specialize in ministerial topics and vocations.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Theology

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
Leadership Prepare students to take on leadership roles within congregations and ministry-related organizations. Minister, church administrator, theology program administrator, lay leader
Biblical Studies Enable deep dives into both testaments of the Bible plus classes on the history of Biblical books and related interpretations. Minister, college professor, church education director, Christian writer
Church History A deeper understanding of how history has impacted and reformed church and how the church has shaped history. Church leader, college professor, Christian writer
Homiletics Equips students to evaluate their church needs, design sermons and programs to suit those needs, and host educational opportunities. Minister, Christian educator, missionary, college professor

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Theology

Online master’s in theology degrees vary widely between educational institutions. Bible colleges, divinity schools and colleges offering degrees in theology shape their curriculum based on which church, if any, they are associated with as well as the overarching mission of the school. When you are evaluating different programs, remember to also learn more about the institution. That research can help you to pick the program best aligned with your background and your future career goals. If you are already working in ministry or plan to after graduation, spend time understanding the requirements your denomination may place on how or where you obtain your degree. Also consider whether a master’s in theology program requires any in-person participation, such as summer or winter intensives.

Some courses you may encounter for this degree include:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
New Testament Apologetics Defenses for the New Testament.
Old Testament Apologetics Defenses for the Old Testament.
History of Christianity How the church began and developed over time.
Christianity in America Origins of Christianity in America and its impact on current churches.
Evangelism Sharing the gospel through preaching and teaching.
Evangelism Sharing the gospel through preaching and teaching.
Interreligious Dialogue Comparative studies of Christianity with other world religions.
Preaching Framework for selecting topics and developing sermons.
Doctrinal History How certain beliefs or customs came about in the church.
Current Doctrinal Concerns The impact of current affairs on church doctrine.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Theology?

Just as specializations and courses vary widely for online master’s in theology programs, so do program lengths. Credit requirements from leading online theology schools vary from 30 credit hours upward to 48. Students may complete all studies in as few as three semesters through full-time course loads. Higher credit counts and part-time versus full-time status may require two or more years to complete. Some universities allow students to take courses of their choosing in different semesters, while others are a lock-step experience of taking classes in a set order. Typically, new students can begin in August or January. Some colleges do let master’s in theology students begin at other times of the year or engage in self-paced studies.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Theology Prepares For

Various denominations in the Christian faith have widely divergent policies in the certifications and licenses they confer after a student finishes their master’s studies. In many cases, the governing body of a denomination requires students to go through certification or licensure requirements as they are also completing their educational studies. In some denominations, the only step necessary is completing a degree before taking on a certain role. Others offer umbrella certifications that enable newly degreed students to take on any role within the church. And finally, some denominations confer different licensure depending upon the role sought, such as a licensed pastor, a certified lay leader or a pastoral counselor.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Theology Degrees

You have many factors to consider when choosing the right master’s program for your needs and belief, and one of the most important is whether an institution has achieved accreditation for the degrees it bestows. Because church-related studies are so uniquely personal to a theology student, you may find that you’re best served by a school run by your denomination. In those cases, you may find the school to only be accredited by the very church that it serves. Larger universities that serve broader nondenominational students may attain accreditation independent from any church body. Additionally, schools may obtain multiple accreditations, first to confer certain levels of degrees and second for their theology-based programs.

The leading accreditation earned by many universities that offer theological and divinity programs is from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Studies. Other accrediting bodies include the Higher Learning Commission and the Association of Biblical Higher Education. And depending on geography, schools may be accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC) or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Theology Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Most churches and Christian organizations require leaders and higher-level professionals to attain a master’s degree. Students who attain a bachelor’s in theology have opportunities to use their degrees in settings like church-run elementary and secondary schools, teachers in church-run classes or other church roles including children and youth ministries. Growth estimates for various clergy and religious occupations are in line with the county’s average, growing at a rate of 8 percent. The BLS doesn’t differentiate between professionals holding bachelor’s versus master’s degrees in religious settings.

Expected Salary

According to the BLS, salary levels are more dependent on job type within the religious field versus differing between degree level. Online master’s in theology programs do prepare students for more specialized job types, paying average salaries higher than more entry-level positions.

Earning your master’s in theology degree helps prepare you to take on roles within the clergy, church leadership positions and faith-based jobs within Christian organizations. Most of those positions require a master’s and in turn pay a higher salary.

Geography also plays a large role in the salary you can expect to earn after completing your master’s degree. Clergy-level salaries can be vastly different depending upon where you live.

Below is a map of annual mean wages of clergy nationwide. Blank states indicate data is not available.

Career Opportunities

Many career opportunities exist for individuals with advanced theology degrees outside of a typical church setting. These opportunities often hinge on the specialization you choose for your degree program.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Minister (Clergy) Ministers are assigned to or selected by specific churches or organizations and charged with leading worship and supporting parishioners. Most ministers work with a specific church, while others may work in hospitals, hospices and schools. $50,800 per year 8%
Director of Christian Education As a director of Christian education, you’ll work within either a church or school setting to create educational strategies and paradigms, manage individual teachers and ensure all teachings are in line with specific religious doctrine. $45,470 per year 7%
Missionary Missionaries take Christian teachings and messages to underserved populations in both developed and developing nations. They often embed with the population they seek to teach. $36,380 per year 8%

Professional Organizations

Many Christian denominations offer their own network of religious workers for individuals to join, but nondenominational organizations are also available for clergy and other church professionals to take part in. These organizations enable religious personnel to make valuable connections, enhance development opportunities and further grow in their profession. Consider these organizations that may be instrumental in your future career.

National Association of Christian Ministers: This organization offers resources to license and ordain ministers. For those who have already achieved that through their home denomination, the NACM offers professional development opportunities as well as valuable networking opportunities.

Association of Professional Chaplains: This group formed more than 70 years ago to provide much-needed support to ministry professionals whose vocation is to support others.

National Association of Evangelicals: The NAE supports and advises on issues a clergyperson may face within their church home as well as in their work with other organizations.

A more complete list of associations religious personnel can join is offered by the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Theology

Online learning can be less expensive than obtaining a degree through a traditional education setting, but programs can still be quite costly. Your first step toward obtaining help in paying for your master’s in theology is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once done, you can learn about the many resources the federal government offers through grants and loans. Additionally, you can find grants and scholarships offered by both church and private organizations to help you cover the cost of tuition and other expenses. Always look within your own church and denomination to see what aid you may be able to obtain.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships Details
Mary E. Bivins Foundation Religious Scholarship Program Award: $3,500 per semester

Deadline: Last Friday in January at 12 noon

Eligibility: Graduate students may apply for this scholarship after completing 9 credit hours.

Marguerite Young Endowment Fund Award: $1,500

Deadline: March 31

Eligibility: Students studying theology at all levels.