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Religious Vocation Job Description, Career as a Religious Vocation, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Advanced degree

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Varies—see profile

Definition and Nature of the Work

Clergy serve as spiritual leaders to the millions of Americans who follow religious faiths. Their main duties are overseeing sacred activities and nurturing their congregations. They may also participate in interfaith services and work with community leaders on nonreligious matters such as raising funds for hospitals.

Many duties of clergy are common to all denominations. They preside over religious services, conduct weddings and funerals, counsel members of their congregations, and deliver sermons. Some aspects of their work differ because of the beliefs of their individual religions. Jewish rabbis, for example, read the Torah, while Catholic priests hear confessions from parishioners.

Not all clergy work with congregations. Some priests and rabbis are teachers or scholars, while ministers may be missionaries, providing religious and social assistance to societies in other parts of the world. Chaplains serve people's spiritual needs in the armed services, hospitals, and schools.

Members of the Christian clergy and the Jewish rabbinate constitute the majority of religious leaders in the United States. This rabbi dresses himself before conducting a religious service. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Many people with religious vocations are not clergy. Roman Catholic nuns and brothers, who are members of religious orders, frequently work as teachers, counselors, nurses, and social workers. Lay employees—people who have no formal authorization for their religious vocations—often assist in social work and administration.

Education and Training Requirements

Educational requirements vary by faith and specific vocation. Most clergy have bachelor's degrees, but many denominations require additional theological study. Rabbis must complete four- or five-year courses of study, while preparation for the priesthood includes four years of seminary training. Many Protestant denominations require bachelor's degrees and study at theological schools, although some have no formal education requirements. All ministers, priests, and rabbis must have thorough knowledge of the rites and beliefs of their groups.

Training for religious vocations may begin in high school. Prospective priests study Latin; those interested in Jewish vocations study Hebrew. Many attend high schools and colleges with religious affiliations, although they are not required to do so.

Lay employees require the same training as those performing similar tasks without religious affiliation. For example, the educational requirements for leaders of Christian youth groups would be the same as those for secular social workers with similar responsibilities.

Getting the Job

Clergy are often "called" to their vocations; they believe they have been blessed with opportunities to serve their religions and their communities. Following their training, they are often assigned to parishes and temples. Students who are interested in religious vocations should contact their religious leaders for career counseling; many begin by working as assistants in their own congregations. Lay employees, such as social workers, generally find jobs the same way their secular counterparts do.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

As priests, rabbis, and ministers become more experienced, they take on greater responsibilities. Priests, for instance, may be elevated in the church hierarchy, becoming bishops or cardinals. Religious teachers may advance to more prestigious colleges or seminaries, while lay workers sometimes assume top administrative jobs in religious institutions.

The employment outlook for both rabbis and Catholic priests is very favorable through 2014 because of shortages of ordained clergy. More competition is expected for Protestant ministers because of slow growth in church membership and large numbers of qualified candidates. Graduates of theological schools will have the best prospects. Social institutions with religious affiliations may provide additional opportunities.

Working Conditions

Clergy who have been called to their vocations choose lifestyles as well as careers. Priests, for instance, are not allowed to marry, while ministers and rabbis usually do. Some laypeople may have limited hours, but rabbis, priests, and ministers are usually on call twenty-four hours a day. Wherever they work—in majestic cathedrals, ghettos, jungles, or hospitals—clergy and others with religious vocations are held to strict moral standards set by their faiths and their communities.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries and benefits vary by denomination, location, and experience. In 2004 the average salary for Catholic priests ranged from $12,936 to $15,483 per year. They also received room and board in parish rectories. Rabbis' salaries ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, plus benefits. Salaries of Protestant ministers varied substantially.

Where to Go for More Information

Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada
10 Summit Park Dr.
Pittsburgh, PA 15275-1103
(412) 788-6505

National Council of the Churches
475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 880
New York, NY 10115-0050
(212) 870-2227

Salaries differ not only among the religious groups but also within them. For example, larger, wealthier churches or temples can afford to pay their clergy more than smaller congregations can. Priests, ministers, and rabbis sometimes earn extra income by performing special services such as marriages.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service