20 Job Options With a Degree in Theology: Career Guide
The study of theology draws upon faith, tradition, language, art, philosophy, ethics, and a host of other disciplines to paint a comprehensive picture of religion. A theology degree program is meant to provide students with a deeper understanding of religion, its effect on society, and its current role in the global culture. Course content may cover:
- Church structure
- Religious texts
- Faith customs
- Ancient languages
- Modern cultural context
It is important to note that any degree program categorized as “theology” or “theological studies” is not necessarily preparation for a role in the clergy. So what can you do with a degree in theology? Here, we explore career options and provide recommendations for answering your professional and personal calling.
Types of Theology Degrees
For those who feel called to deepen their understanding of their faith in an academic setting, there are multiple types of degrees and disciplines available:
Bachelor’s Degree Programs
3–4 years to complete
Undergraduate degrees exist for Theological Studies, Religious Studies, Biblical Studies, and Ministerial Arts. These programs tend to take a broad approach to faith, covering religious customs from around the world. Other undergraduate programs that lend themselves well to further theological studies include Philosophy, Sociology, Pre-Law, and History.
Master’s Degree Programs
2–3 years to complete
Those looking to study theology at an advanced level can earn a Master of Theological Studies, Ministry, or a broader Master of Arts. Anyone who wishes to enter the clergy must earn a Master of Divinity (MDiv), either at a theological school or seminary, and complete the process of ordination. Graduate programs in this field of study are often guided by one overarching faith tradition, which informs all course content.
3–8 years to complete
Those who wish to teach theology at the university level typically pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in theological studies or a related field. Since theology has strong elements of ethics and morality, many people who study theology at the graduate level go on to pursue a terminal degree in law (a Juris Doctor).
The type of degree you choose is entirely dependent on your goals. If you want to teach, focus on programs and degrees that will enable you to teach at your desired level in your preferred field. On the other hand, if your pursuit of an advanced degree will fulfill a more personal ambition of growing closer to your faith, the options are a little broader.
Skills Developed in a Theology Masters Program
Just as in many humanities programs, studying theology builds a valuable transdisciplinary skill set that is applicable to a wide range of careers. Students of theology develop their skills of:
- Critical thinking
- Oral and written communication
- Academic and independent work habits
- Logical debate
- Presenting in-depth information clearly and concisely
- Public speaking
- Maintaining objectivity
- Respect for different cultures
By and large, students of theology and related disciplines tend to perform well on standardized tests and professional assessments, due in large part to their close reading and deductive reasoning abilities.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Theology?
Earning a degree in theology does not necessarily equate to a profession in the church — on the contrary, it opens up a surprisingly diverse range of job opportunities. While some theology program graduates do go on to careers teaching in or supporting their parish, the majority do not.
For many students of theology, pursuing a degree in this field is more about gaining an education rather than preparing for a specific profession. That said, many theology students find themselves drawn to the helping professions, such as:
- Primary or secondary school teacher
- Hospital or military chaplain
- Mental health or spiritual counselor
- Funeral director
Keep in mind that a theological studies program does not replace training for a specific career. Many of the opportunities listed above require additional schooling or training; some (such as chaplain) may require candidates to seek ordination before applying. On the other hand, some may be available to recent graduates with on-the-job training.
Top Employers of Theology Degree Holders
Job seekers with a theology degree make excellent candidates for positions in:
- Churches and dioceses (non-clerical)
- Lay religious organizations
- Religious primary and secondary schools
- College divinity or humanities departments
- College health services
- Nonprofits (faith-based and secular)
- Healthcare systems
- Chaplaincy programs
- Hospice care centers
- Counseling and rehabilitation centers
- Law firms
- Law enforcement
- Religious camps
Careers in Theology: How Much Can You Earn?
Since so many careers are available to those with theology degrees, salaries are heavily dependent on many factors, including:
- Geographic region
- Level of education
- Previous experience
- Level of responsibility
- The size and type of the employer
Below are salary estimates* for both religious and secular jobs suited to theology degree holders. Bear in mind that some of these positions require further schooling or licensure beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree in theology.
|Lawyer requires a Juris Doctor||$96,257|
|University professor requires a PhD||$79,477|
|Retreat program director administration, group leadership, program development, etc.||$63,956|
|Archaeologist for a museum, research university, religious organization, etc.||$61,964|
|Chaplain in a hospital, prison, the military, in law enforcement, etc.||$61,712|
|Historian at a museum, research library, university, etc.||$60,881|
|Clergy member priest, pastor, minister, ministerial associate, etc.||$48,300|
|Law enforcement officer||$47,319|
|Journalist for secular or religious publications or networks||$45,689|
|Religious education teacher at a religious school, in a church, at a camp, etc.||$44,455|
|Author theological texts, children’s books, memoirs, self-help books, etc.||$43,484|
|Administrative work in a church, missionary, relief agency, etc.||$39,957|
|Youth ministry at a summer camp, community center, in a religious education program, etc.||$36,698|
|Counselor requires further study and licensure, e.g. Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, etc.||$33,854|
|Music director in a church, at a religious camp, etc.||$33,246|
|Nonprofit professional Faith-based or secular||Vast range|
*Salaries are 2023 estimates compiled from Indeed, and are subject to change.
Professional Associations for Theology Careers
Even before graduating with a degree in theology, it helps to research professional organizations and networking opportunities in your desired field. College faculty members can be valuable resources in this area, since they have likely been working in theological studies or a related field for some time. They may be able to connect you with working professionals who can speak to their academic experience and the steps required to land your desired job.
For example, if you are thinking about pursuing a job in ministry, talk to local spiritual leaders (both ordained and laity) to see how they got their start. If you think you’d like to teach religion in grade schools, see if you can interview or shadow a religious studies teacher for a day. If you are not already a member of a church, join a congregation and volunteer in the areas you might like to pursue professionally, such as children’s ministry or chaplaincy.
Likewise, look for volunteer opportunities with nonprofit organizations whose values and mission align with yours. Both faith-based and secular nonprofits are always looking for dynamic leaders and support staff with excellent communication, public speaking and critical thinking skills — not to mention empathy and a genuine desire to help people.
In almost any industry, there are professional organizations that provide networking opportunities, continuing education, licensure, and countless resources to support recent graduates and industry veterans alike. Research professional organizations in your desired field to begin making connections.
Here is a list of organizations that may be of interest to theology degree holders:
Theology Degree Career Outlook
The career outlook for someone with a theology degree will look different depending on their specific career goals.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, aspiring clergy members, religious education directors, and other religious professionals can expect a 4% industry growth rate in the next ten years, which matches the national average for all occupations. Community and social service occupations, meanwhile, are projected to grow by 9% before 2030, possibly because this is a slightly broader field. The counseling profession — whether mental health, spiritual, marriage and family, etc. — can expect to see a 10% increase in jobs by 2030.
Since a background in theological studies is applicable to so many professions, employment statistics vary widely across industries. That said, skilled spiritual leaders, teachers, and counselors are always in high demand by parishes, schools, and private or community wellness centers. Pay can be highly competitive depending on a candidate’s level of education, with master’s degrees and PhDs preferred for many leadership or high-level teaching positions.
Whatever your career goals, research relevant professional organizations and make connections in the field, even before you graduate with a theology degree. Pursuing advanced degrees can increase your chances of securing a higher level job, so consider a Master of Theological Studies or related degree from an accredited theological school whose values align with yours.
Is a Masters in Theology Right For You?
If you have a background in religious studies, philosophy, ministry, sociology, or even history and desire a job in a related field, you may be an ideal candidate for a Master of Theological Studies.
As the country’s only Franciscan theological school and seminary to offer a Master of Divinity degree, the Franciscan School of Theology offers a unique experience for lay people to learn alongside seminarians bound for the Catholic priesthood. Our alumni have gone on to an endless range of careers: from healthcare and social services to education and retreat leadership. Whatever your chosen path, earning a master’s degree from FST can translate to a fulfilling future of active service.
To learn more about our degree programs and other academic opportunities, connect with an FST admissions counselor today.
FAQs About Jobs in Theology
Do I need to be religious to earn a theology degree?
Not necessarily, particularly if you do not intend to pursue a clergy position. Most undergraduate theology or religious studies programs have no prerequisites, although a religious background may help in understanding and interpreting sacred texts and customs. Likewise, there are many graduate-level theology programs that are open to people of any faith background, though those pursuing advanced degrees in theology often share the same faith as the program. Keep in mind that graduate theology courses are taught through the lens of one guiding faith, so students with a personal relationship to that faith may be at an advantage.
Are there online theology degree programs?
Yes! The Franciscan School of Theology offers a Master of Theological Studies program 100% online. Delivered in partnership with the University of San Diego, the online MTS program is informed by the Franciscan Catholic tradition, one that focuses on the joy of creation and serving the most vulnerable members of our global community. The online format provides flexibility for working professionals, recent undergraduates, and career changers based anywhere in the country. Remote MTS students receive the same caliber of instruction as on-campus students, including access to FST’s experienced faculty members.
Should I join a professional organization in theology?
Many recent graduates find that joining a professional organization in their field helps connect them to networking opportunities, training, licensure, and countless other resources. These organizations are filled with working professionals who can speak to their academic experience and the steps required to land your desired job. Research relevant professional organizations and make connections in the field, even before you graduate with a theology degree.