A Complete Guide to Christian College Degrees – from Associate of Bible Studies to Doctor of Ministry

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A call to serve God is a unique thing for everyone who experiences it. Your inspiration and feelings won’t be exactly the same as anyone else who is called to serve. Your precise path may be clear to you already or yet to be determined; you may come to it suddenly or only across the span of years.

A Complete Guide to Christian College Degrees

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.

One thing you can’t do with a calling is to turn your back on it. You know, deep inside, what your purpose is. But what you might not know right away is exactly how to achieve it.

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A true calling demands your best effort.

In today’s world, many of those callings will only be fulfilled through the achievement of a higher education. A Christian degree can prepare you for all sorts of paths to service:

Those are really only a handful of examples. The flexibility and dedication of will that are possible with a Christian college degree are powerful tools for service to God.

Just as important, the very process of earning a Christian degree can help you clarify your calling and undergo the transformation you must to achieve it. Surrounded by people of faith and experienced, passionate mentors, you will find guides to your service in college.

What Exactly Makes a Christian Degree? - Today's Christian Colleges Encourage Students to All Areas of Life as Ministry

Young couple praying at tableA Christian degree is one that embraces the precepts of Christianity and educates you with spiritual as well as practical purpose.

You can earn degrees in secular subjects at many private Christian colleges, but those are not Christian degrees.

A Christian degree goes directly to the heart of what it means to serve the Lord, through ministry, through knowledge, or through worship. They give you a focus on the roots of Christianity that are at the heart of service to the Lord.

Although there are many kinds of Christian degrees with many purposes, they all share a theme of service in faith.

So enrolling in school to earn a Christian degree could be the best way to find your calling even if it’s not entirely clear to you yet. And along the way you will gain valuable skills and understanding that will benefit you in both personal and professional life as a Christian.

Christian Degrees Prepare You For Fulfillment, in Life and Career

Ancient churchThe whole idea of college is basically a Christian innovation in the first place.

The first Western universities were schools created entirely for the education of clergy. Monasteries and other church organizations had long represented the light of knowledge in Europe. A Christian leader might have been the only person in a parish who could read—they had to, in order to preach God’s Word from the Bible.

So the big centers of education in medieval Europe, and later on the Harvards, the Cambridges, the University of Salamanca, were created to offer a Christian education.

Of course, a college degree today is very much a part of mainstream society. According to 2019 Census data, about 40 percent of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s a trend that’s been steadily climbing since the 1940s, and shows no signs of stopping soon.

But Christianity still looms large in education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 1.8 million students were enrolled at private religious schools in 2019. Christian degree programs go much further than a secular education, too. While you still get a strong schooling in technical skills and knowledge related to your major, Christian schools also devote time to your soul and spirit.

As you can see, it’s a kind of holistic training that can benefit your personal satisfaction and spirituality at the same time it prepares you for a career in service.

Christian Degree Concentrations Offer Different Paths into Ministry

Even if you have been a devoted disciple of the Lord your entire life, you are bound to be surprised at the wide range of Christian degrees that are available. There are degrees for every kind of ministry, every sort of theological topic, and plenty of professional careers in and out of the church.

Although there are many kind of variations available, the most popular kinds of Christian degrees fall into these categories:

Pastoral and Christian Ministry Ministry degrees are designed to prepare pastors for work with every population and at every level of service, from high leadership positions in megachurches to small-town, one-room parishes. They offer theological and spiritual preparation for the challenges of these roles, but also practical training in the basics—writing a sermon, organizing the church, recruitment, and more. There are many specialized degrees in this area, including:

  • Christian and pastoral leadership
  • Spiritual formation
  • Evangelism and discipleship

Youth MinistryYouth ministry is really another kind of pastoral ministry, but it deserves its own place in degree programs because of its differences and its importance. Providing spiritual instruction to teens is among the most important charges of the ministry. It’s also one of the most challenging, as teens are often questioning and unreceptive to traditional Christian messages. These degrees offer both hands-on experience in the field and training in techniques to shepherd the next generation to salvation.

Bible Studies A careful focus on the Word will always be important for the wisdom and direction that comes from the writings of the prophets. Biblical studies degrees engage with the Scripture directly and in great detail, drawing from thousands of years of scholarship as well as original thinking in the field. These degrees also offer new insights for modern applications of Scripture as culture evolves around it.

Bible and coffee laid out on table
Religious/Christian Studies The mysteries of Christianity and of religion in general provoke many questions. Degrees in religious or Christian studies explore those mysteries as well as help to define discipleship and what it means to live a life in Christ.

TheologyTheological studies offer a more general exploration of religion and spiritual mysteries. While they may focus on Christianity, they also bring in both major and minor belief systems of other religions as a point of comparison. They use both psychology and history to discover the fundamental truths of belief and worship in society. If biblical studies focuses primarily on the biblical text itself, a degree in theology zooms out slightly and looks at the structures of beliefs formed by our interactions with the text as well as our own philosophical frameworks. A degree in theology involves a broad range of disciplines as you gather insights from thousands of years of reflection and attempt to form coherent systems of belief.

Divinity Divinity degrees are highly specialized courses of instruction designed for one purpose: to prepare pastors for ordination in their denomination. These are almost exclusively offered at the master’s degree level, and are longer and more intensive than other master’s programs. As the first professional degree for the ministry, they are a key Christian degree.

Missions Missionary work takes the Word of God to people and populations who have not yet heard the good news. Those can be down the street or around the world, but in both cases, special skills and techniques are required for success. These degrees train you in missionary work that will make a difference in lives wherever you go.

Counseling Of course, it’s possible to get a counseling degree from a secular college. However, Christian colleges are increasingly offering counseling degrees which combine the best of modern psychology with Scripture’s deep insights into our fundamental human needs. In so doing, these degrees prepare Christian counselors to offer holistic spiritual and mental healing.

Biblical Languages Scripture for most Americans is something to be studied in their native language. But it was written in ancient languages like Greek and Hebrew, and the importance of accurate translation and interpretation are key to understanding God’s Word. Studying these ancient languages continues to be an area where Christians can better understand their mission and beliefs.

Worship Arts Arts and music have long been important ways of expressing praise and worshiping His glory. Degrees in worship arts revolve around the ways in which music can be used in ministry. Artists improve their skills and producers and directors develop expertise in technical and evangelical uses of music in worship arts degree programs.

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Christian Apologetics Apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing for Christianity. It has everything to do with providing logical arguments, supported by the best evidence, to support a belief in God and Christ. Apologetics degrees are specialized studies in building and articulating strong arguments to justify Christian beliefs both inside and outside the church.

Because many of these subject areas are closely related, you’ll find plenty of Christian degrees with a major in one, but offering concentrations in others. For example, it’s very common to find divinity degrees that offer concentrations in mission work, or pastoral studies degrees with specializations in worship arts.

By putting together compatible courses of study, you can tailor your Christian degree to exactly the right emphasis to match your calling.

Christian Degrees for Undergraduates and Grad Students

Not only is there a vast range of Christian degree majors to choose from, but there are also plenty of choices to make over what level of detail you want to study them at. Christian colleges have programs ranging from certificates that may only take a few months to complete to doctoral degrees that can take more than a decade to earn, including all the study that leads up to them.

Your decision about what level of degree to pursue will depend on your finances, your calling, and your availability. But there is an option for almost everyone in various levels of Christian degrees:

Christian Associate Degrees

Associate degrees offer a two-year course of study that are about half general education groundwork and half focused on your major area. They are typically:

…than bachelor’s programs. At the same time, they are more comprehensive and more foundational than certificate programs. That general studies piece of the curriculum has two big effects:

There are some Christian degrees that aren’t available at the associate level, like Biblical languages, or those that an associate degree really doesn’t qualify you by itself for a job, like Christian counseling. But they still offer a good starting point for anyone considering further studies in those areas.

Christian Bachelor’s Degrees

A four-year bachelor’s degree is the essential, entry-level building block of most careers in modern society. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks 174 different occupations that require a bachelor’s as the minimum requirement for entry.

Over the next decade, employment in areas requiring a bachelor’s degree is expected to increase by 10 percent versus only 7 percent for all jobs overall.

That’s equally true when it comes to Christian degrees, and for the same reasons:

Bachelor’s programs also offer a solid foundation for master’s studies. For many Christian careers, including pastors, counselors, and professors, a bachelor’s degree is just one step on a long path to a master’s degree or higher. But having got the basics out of the way here, you can really focus your studies to develop your expertise through more advanced degrees.

Christian Master’s Degrees

Christian teen girl holding bible in fieldMaster’s programs help you develop expertise in your field of study. And there are many, many fields of study in Christian master’s degrees. Not only do they cover the broad range of degree types laid out above, but they also dive deep into complex sub-topics in those areas. For example, a master’s degree in theology is likely to lead you not just through a study of the basis of religion and spiritual beliefs, but down some highly detailed rabbit hole such as New Testament studies, comparative religions, or the foundations of social justice.

A master’s degree is usually the minimum level of education required for highly professional occupations such as counselors or pastors. For pastors, the key degree in most denominations is the Master of Divinity.

Studies at the master’s level can range anywhere from two to five years depending on what you are studying.  Most require a thesis or capstone project that requires original research and thinking in the field. All will develop a level of expertise that can make you a trusted resource in your organization, or a leader in your field.

Christian Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral degrees in Christian fields come in different flavors, generally split into two types:

Professional degrees – These degrees are intended to increase the practical expertise of individuals who are actively working in the field. Students often come to the programs after a period of professional practice, and their studies are designed to hone their applied skills. Professional degrees are typically called Doctor of Ministry (DMin), Doctor of Theology (ThD), or whatever the subject area is. They may require a dissertation for completion but also frequently offer capstone projects that involve a practical expression of your skills instead.

Academic degrees – These programs are designed to build your theoretical knowledge and research and writing skills for academic careers. Most people heading toward teaching will take this path. The degrees are typically called Doctor of Philosophy degrees, or PhDs. They almost always require a written dissertation for graduation that involves original thinking and in-depth research.

With such high-level expertise, though, there aren’t real restrictions on how you choose to use your expertise—many PhDs actively work in their fields, while DMin and other applied degree grads can be found teaching and conducting research.

Studies at this level are both academically rigorous and personally fulfilling. Students work together with professors, exploring a subject in enormous detail and sometimes outstripping their instructors in expertise. The coursework and research you take on will be extensively tailored to your individual calling and interests.

Christian Certificate Programs

Christian certificate programs are offered at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels. Some colleges offer certificate programs in various Christian and Biblical studies. While you won’t become qualified to enter the ministry with only a certificate, they can deliver valuable and focused training in a specific subject.

The graduate and post-graduate certificates are aimed at individuals who have already earned a relevant degree, but who want to specialize without returning to school, or shift their career into new areas.

Certificate programs are almost always less than a year in length, and usually much cheaper than any sort of degree. They have a limited number of classes, and almost all narrowly focused on their subject matter.

The kind of subjects you can find in certificate programs is vast, though. There are probably even more areas of study in certificates than in degree programs, covering everything from the Old Testament surveys to Christian counseling.

Nearly All Christian Degrees Are Offered at Private Christian Schools

It’s not impossible to find a degree in theology, or even Christian studies, at non-Christian universities. There are legitimate, secular investigations into the phenomenology of religion and the structure and beliefs of Christianity.

However, most people will look to Christian schools or seminaries when it comes time to earn a Christian degree. You might find it more rewarding and more focused to pursue your studies among those who share your faith, at an institution that supports Christian values.

Your Church and Your Faith Can Help Narrow Down Your Search for the Right Schools Offering Christian Degrees

If pursuing a degree at a school where the Christian worldview holds sway is important, then it may be equally important that the crucial beliefs that anchor that university align with your own. While some private Christian universities are affiliated with various denominations, many are non-denominational, accepting students and professors from any church.

But you can unlock the core tenets of how these schools present Scripture and doctrine by viewing their Statement of Faith. These documents lay out in some detail the exact doctrinal choices that each school supports. Your church leaders can help you parse those to see how they align with your own faith.

What Are the Differences Between Seminaries and Bible Colleges?

Woman's small group bible studyAs you are looking at Christian colleges, you will find that some identify themselves as Bible colleges, while others are called seminaries (or theological schools), and other still just call themselves colleges or universities.

What’s the difference?

Colleges and Bible colleges offer undergraduate degrees. Most of these schools, no matter what they are called, offer both explicitly Christian degrees and degrees in majors that might not have any explicit connection to Christianity—nursing, accounting, computer science. You will still receive a Christian education in those programs, but that’s not the focus.

Seminaries deliver graduate-level degrees. These are advanced studies that are entirely about Christianity… Master’s in Divinity, Doctors of Ministry, Doctors of Philosophy in Theology, and the like. 

Bible colleges aren’t restricted to only undergraduate programs—they also may offer advanced degrees, including the MDiv and DMin. Whether you receive a degree at a Bible college or seminary your credentials will be good either way.

Online Christian Degrees Are Available at Many Christian Colleges Today

Christianity may have ancient roots in the world of higher education, but that doesn’t mean that Christian schools haven’t entirely kept up with modern technology and culture.

Just like the printing press was instrumental in the Protestant Reformation and spreading Christianity even further around the globe, remote learning technologies are opening up Christian degrees to more students in more places than ever.

Not everyone needs or wants an online degree. But for students who have a tough time finding the time or a nearby school for a traditional degree, online Christian degrees are a Godsend.

Online Christian degree programs come with a number of different advantages:

These factors can make the difference between being able to earn a Christian degree or not for some people. With high-quality online programs, however, the convenience alone is worth a look from anyone.

Accreditation Can Ensure You Get the Best Quality Christian College Education Available

One of the things that makes any college degree from an American school so powerful is also true for Christian degrees: they have to be awarded by a college that has been accredited by an organization that is recognized by either CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) or the Department of Education.

These organizations dive deep into academic and administrative standards at universities so you don’t have to. They check basic elements of modern college quality such as:

There are dozens of accreditors recognized by the Department of Education alone. General accreditors offer a broad qualification of school standards, covering the basics. But there are also specialty accreditors that look specifically at programs in one field of study.

For Christian degrees, the most common specialty accreditors are the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE). Each is recognized by both CHEA and the Department of Education. For some denominations, ordination isn’t possible if you don’t get a degree with their stamp of approval.

Costs for Christian Degree Programs May Be High, But So Is the Value They Offer

That’s because they are offered by Christian schools, which are private schools by nature. Public funding isn’t available for religious programs, so these schools have to fund themselves. That means they aren’t subsidized by states, and have to charge the entire cost of a first-rate education.

That’s not cheap: NCES shows the annual cost of tuition and fees at private universities in 2020 averaged:

  • Two-year schools (associate degrees) – $15,828
  • Four-year schools (bachelor’s degrees) – $32,769
  • Graduate studies (master’s and doctoral degrees) – $26,500

You can do the math for the degree you plan to pursue, but in all cases the absolute minimum will come to more than $30,000. Certificate programs will be much less expensive, but also won’t qualify you for the same roles as a full degree.

But it’s not all bad news. Driven by faith and charity, many Christian colleges make extensive scholarship programs available to students. In many cases, these are more generous than those available at public universities. And fully accredited Christian schools are also eligible to receive Federal student aid, such as Pell grants, or student loans offered at low interest rates.

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Coursework in Christian Degree Programs Build Faith, Scriptural Expertise and Practical Skills

Coursework for Christian degree onlineThe kind of subjects you will study in Christian degree programs will vary by both the level of the degree and the major you are focused on. But there are some things that are pretty universal to most Christian colleges, no matter what your field.

Spiritual Formation – A key difference between secular universities and Christian schools is a real emphasis on your spiritual health and relationship with God. This is so important that most Christian degrees include classes in spiritual formation to help you explore your individual spirituality and beliefs. Through lecture, discussion, and prayer, you’ll become a more fully-formed, more devout Christian as a result of this coursework.

Theology – The philosophy of belief and the basis of spirituality are subjects that all Christians benefit from exploring. Understanding how Christianity fits into world religions and even more informal systems of belief is an important part of your education.

Scripture – Christianity provides the ultimate answers that many people seek: the Word of God, recorded by the prophets in the Old and New Testaments. You are sure to have some coursework in reading and understanding Scripture, as well as classes that are more specific to your major that are rooted in Scriptural understanding.

Church History – Christianity has a well-documented path from the birth of Christ to the present. Understanding the modern church and how it has come to be is valuable knowledge for all Christians, and your degree is likely to have some courses in church history.

Of course, the greater part of your studies at any degree level will be in the subject of your major. In some cases, those classes may just be doubling down on those listed above—a Biblical studies degree, for instance, will take you even further into the world of Scriptural studies than most students. In other cases, you’ll branch off in entirely different directions, such as psychology and counseling skills in Christian counseling degrees.

Christian Degrees Enable Your Calling to a Career in Ministry, as Well as Other Work in His Service

Church listening to sermonChristian degrees are a requirement for many jobs in the church or with faith-based organizations. Just like any other profession, special expert knowledge is necessary if you want to become a pastor, or run an overseas mission, or deliver counseling from a Christian worldview.

There are clear pathways from some Christian degrees to the jobs that they qualify you for. But many other Christian degrees are more like a toolbox. You can use them to build all kinds of different careers.

Careers in Christian Ministry With or Without Ordination

Work in ministry is obviously one of the major destinations for anyone earning a Christian degree. Many of these programs are offered to develop your skills in discipleship and pastoral skills, allowing you to minister to both believers and non-believers in a wide range of settings.

You can broadly separate ministry careers into two types:

Ordained

Ordained pastors and church leaders holding other titles are the Christian leaders people most closely identify with the ministry. And they may be the most important, offering important leadership, guidance, and organization to shepherd others toward salvation. The degrees they earn, almost always at the master’s level and above, equip them to provide comfort and wisdom as well as compassion and understanding that is vital in ministry work.

They make work for churches directly, both large and small, or in faith-based organizations, or as chaplains in secular organizations. With their advanced training, they may even work independently, engaged in their own ministry efforts outside of other agencies, following their calling where it leads.

Un-ordained

The larger part of Christian jobs are filled by people who never become ordained, and may not want or need that level of formal blessing from the church in order to pursue their calling. Every large church has many important positions in ministry that don’t need either the advanced education or the sacrament of ordination.

Those roles range from worship ministry, with performers and musical directors choreographing musical services, to children’s directors, organizing daycare and education for youth.

Because there are a wide range of skill levels and types of ministry work, these jobs can be had with Christian degrees at all levels, from associate to doctorates.

Christian Degrees Can Lead to Careers in Education and Research

If you do happen to have a doctoral Christian degree, however, you are probably much more likely to end up in a career in education or research. The kind of advanced academic skills you can acquire with a Christian degree in Biblical languages, apologetics, theology, or religious studies are designed to allow you to pass knowledge and skill to others. Or you can continue to apply those skills in advanced research and theory that expands the nature of understanding of Christianity in general.

But there are also plenty of jobs in education for those with lower level Christian degrees. A bachelor’s degree, for example, is all the qualification you need to become a teacher in a Christian school. Stack on courses in Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) that are designated by your state, and you can also easily qualify even for public school teaching positions.

And those with associate degrees will find plenty of work as teacher’s assistants or even leading Sunday School or other basic religious education classes.

Social Services Careers are Accessible with a Christian Degree

Christian charity is a powerful force for good in the world today. According to the Social Capital Benchmark Survey, Christians are about 25 percent more likely to donate money and 23 percent more likely to volunteer for civic reasons than their secular neighbors. Faith-based organizations run homeless shelters; they send food and medicine overseas; they help addicts recover from drug addictions.

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Christian degrees are a perfect preparation for many kinds of careers in social services and charity. With moral as well as practical instruction, ministry degrees offer in-depth preparation at almost any level for a wide variety of jobs in social and community services:

These are all positions that may or may not be with a faith-based organization. But an associate, bachelor’s, or higher degree gives you the basic problem-solving and organization skills you need to get that work done. And the Christian ethos you bring with you makes you the right kind of person for the job.

A Christian Degree Can Open the Door to Careers in Counseling

Support group counseling sessionChristian counselors are in high demand with not only Christians, but even with patients who may have other beliefs, but appreciate the approach that blends spirituality with psychology. With a master’s degree, a Christian counselor can be licensed to perform independent counseling services in any state.

But even Christian degrees at lower levels can be useful in mental health services. The kind of understanding and compassion that comes with ministry training is a good way to get into jobs such as:

Of Course, Christian Degrees Can Lead to Careers in Evangelism and Missions Work

You don’t have to be ordained to evangelize and bring the gospel to people. There are many Christian degrees that empower you to testify and evangelize more persuasively and effectively. Degrees at all level in apologetics, theology, worship ministry, and religious studies equip you with the knowledge and arguments to help spread the Word and convert non-believers.

Evangelists find work directly for churches and also for evangelical organizations, many operating both in-person and online. The degree of technical knowledge that comes with college degrees is a great preparation for these jobs as well. And recording artists and their support teams are a great gateway for reaching new audiences with the message of Christ.

And many missionaries head out into the field with a Christian degree backing them up. Hard, practical work supporting communities and offering everything from medical care to agricultural advice takes a college education, but doesn’t require ordination. A Christian degree in missiology may be all you need for this career.

Some Christian degrees are slices of knowledge that you can stack with a secular studies degree for your own personal enlightenment and enrichment. You don’t have to have any career at all in mind. A Christian degree may just be your personal effort to better understand your faith, the Bible, or the nature of religion in general. Only you need to know why you should earn a Christian degree. But you will be glad to have it.