Master of Divinity | Online MDiv

Masters of Divinity Overview

Do you feel the Lord's call to ordained ministry? Perhaps you want to teach religious studies at a college or university? If you are choosing the path of ordained ministry or have career aspirations that include teaching at a post-secondary level,  a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree should be part of your educational plans. The M.Div. is a professional degree that takes approximately three years to complete. Students enrolled in M.Div programs explore the theological knowledge, practices and skills of religious leadership. In addition to filling positions in their choice of ministries, students often combine their degree with other professional degrees (M.A. in Social Work, M.A. in Pastoral Counseling, M.S. in Psychology, or M.A. in Clinical Psychology), to practice psychology, psychiatry or counseling with a spiritual emphasis.

Common Career Paths

There are several career paths open to graduates of a M.Div. degree program. By studying the Old and New Testaments, church history, theology and ministry, graduates are prepared to pursue careers in the following areas and more:

  • Ministry - An M.Div. degree program fulfills the basic requirements for ordination by many U.S. Christian denominations.
  • Chaplain -  The U.S. military, hospitals, corporations and correctional facilities all employ chaplains, many of which hold M. Div. degrees.
  • Pastoral Counselor - By combining an M.Div. with a master degree in the social sciences, it is possible to work as a pastoral counselor, christian counselor, christian psychotherapist and many other positions that help people face personal and spiritual challenges.
  • Educator/Researcher - A Master of Divinity provides the necessary knowledge and experience to work in academia. Whether teaching religious studies courses at a college or seminary or conducting biblical research, there are many opportunities in the field of education.

Master of Divinity Program Information

Master of Divinity programs are designed to foster a student's understanding of the church and ministry in the contemporary world. Students learn to integrate theological and historical concepts with leadership practices to engage with real world challenges. Common program objectives of an M.Div. include:

  • Build a foundation in Christian texts, traditions, theologies and practices.
  • Competence in biblical theory and interpretation.
  • Proficiency in practical ministry skills.
  • Develop the capacity to use intellectual tools in the study of religion.
  • Formation of reflective practices of leadership.
  • Knowledge and experience of a multi-ethnic, intercultural, ecumenical and religiously diverse world.

Sample M.Div. Coursework

The core curriculum developed by Master of Divinity programs will vary depending on the institution. However, there are many classes shared by most programs. The table below is a sample of the courses you may find in a M.Div. program, and is not meant to represent any program in particular.

CourseCourse Description

History of Christianity

Concentrated study of key events in the history of the church, giving special emphasis to the persecution of the early church through the thirteenth century.

Christian Theology

An investigation of the origin, nature, and function of the Christian Church.

Spiritual Formation Foundations

Traces the work of the Holy Spirit through the Old and New Testaments and identifies specific spiritual practices that encourage growth in the spiritual life.

Biblical Hermeneutics

Instruction in various parameters for biblical interpretation and how specific methods are applied to study.

Graduate Academic Writing

Provides graduate students with formal instruction in the genres and mechanics of academic writing at the graduate and professorial level.

Additional potential topics covered:

  • Research into the roles and rubrics of effective preaching and sermonizing
  • Involved pastoral care for individuals, couples and groups
  • Understanding the leader’s role in a variety of pastoral settings and dynamics
  • Reading and speaking biblical texts
  • Engaging pastoral charges through effective homilies
  • Fostering community relationships with existing and new parishioners
  • Advanced study of the Hebrews and what they offer today’s church
  • Global Christian history - understanding cultural and geopolitical pressures
  • Understanding worship through theory and praxis
  • Fostering a vocational drive and spiritual discernment in parishioners
  • Research into the Gospel texts, focusing on historical accuracy of one of the following: historical timelines, characteristics of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, or cultural influences at the time of writing
  • Jesus’ life as fact, as fiction, and as an archetypal model for counsel in the modern world
  • New Testament research, making new connections between biblical construction, history, themes, archetypes and influences
  • Christian biblical influences from Jesus to present; understanding cultural and historical pressures and contexts
  • World religions through history and at present, with their effects on each other and their discipleship
  • Using theological reflection to connect with self, God and parishioners
  • Viewing feminist theory and critique in the Christian context

Field Education

The field education requirement is an integral part of a M.Div. degree program. It allows students to practice the skills of ministry, contemplate God's calling on their lives, and share theological reflections with a supervisor who has experience in the field. Placement opportunities depend on the institution's location, but usually include non-profit ministry settings, churches, and international locations.

Master of Divinity Concentrations

Most M.Div. degree programs offer students the opportunity to select an area of concentration. This gives students a chance to explore an area of interest in-depth. Some examples of the options open to students are:

Biblical Studies

Biblical studies is an umbrella term for studying all aspects of the Bible, including the Old and New Testaments, the books of the Apocrypha, and how the biblical texts can relate to other religions and to the world around us.

Those who are considering becoming ministers or moving into a leadership position in their church may wish to enroll in a Biblical Studies program. By studying the Bible in depth and learning how to apply it to life, students will be ready to enter the ministry or move into areas such as pastoral counseling. Chaplains, mission directors, evangelists, and social work ministers may also benefit from a degree in Biblical Studies.

If you choose to focus your Master of Divinity degree in Biblical studies, you’ll gain a detailed knowledge and understanding of the Old and New Testaments and the lessons they can teach. You’ll study the scriptures in detail as well as the overall Bible and how it guides Christianity. You may take courses that focus on Hebrews, John, Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah. A study of church history, theology, and ethics is also required. Some programs also offer focused courses in ministry, biblical teaching, worship, and evangelism for those who want to specialize in a particular area.

Community Chaplaincy

Community chaplains often serve as leaders of their churches or provide ministerial support and leadership in an organizational or institutional setting. They are often ordained ministers in the church and promote emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness to those in their congregation.

A Master of Divinity degree that focuses on community chaplaincy prepares you to work as a chaplain in a corporation, nonprofit organization, or in the military. Community chaplains also work in a number of public safety areas, including the police and fire departments, and in emergency services agencies. In this role, community chaplains may work with those who have PTSD or are in need of assistance working through traumatic events, although community chaplains are not pastoral counselors per se. This degree can even help you gain a position in human resources or as a supervisor in some organizations, especially religious nonprofit groups.

Studying community chaplaincy involves learning about spirituality and how a person forms and maintains their spiritual core. This involves learning about the Christian faith, its history, its ethics, and how it has changed over the years. Students will study the Old and New Testaments, take courses in leadership, and may take some courses in faith-based counseling.

Healthcare Chaplaincy

A healthcare chaplaincy specialization prepares students who are in a Master of Divinity program to work as a chaplain in a healthcare setting such as a hospital or hospice facility. These chaplains perform many of the same duties as a pastor or minister in that they are the leader of a spiritual community. They perform funerals, offer last rites to the dying, and lead regular worship ceremonies.

Most students who get a MDiv with a focus in healthcare chaplaincy go on to work in a healthcare facility, assisted living facility, or nursing home. They oversee hospital chapels and are a part of the hospital staff. However, some also work with crisis and first responder units, as a crisis counselor, in prisons, and may even go on missions.

Students in a healthcare chaplaincy program will take many of the same courses as those who want to become church leaders. They will take courses related to biblical history, theology, and worship, including courses that focus on counseling and on chaplaincy. Because many chaplains console those who are in poor health and the families of those who have lost a loved one, many also take courses in grief counseling.

Military Chaplaincy

Military chaplaincy involves leading a congregation of military members. Often, military chaplains travel abroad with units that are deployed to war zones, potentially putting their own lives in danger to minister to the men and women of the military. Military chaplains are considered commissioned officers in the branch of the military they serve in, but they do not carry weapons and are non-combat officers.

A Master of Divinity with a focus on military chaplaincy prepares students to work with military officers as a chaplain. As a deployed officer along with military units, a military chaplain may find themselves holding church services in unlikely areas such as military bases, bunkers, and tents. When not holding services, they provide counseling and comfort to the men and women in war zones or, for those serving on bases in the U.S., may provide help to those suffering from PTSD. Military chaplains comfort the dying and may perform funerals or, in happier times, weddings.

As a student in a military chaplaincy program, you will study spiritual, theological, and cultural issues related to ministering to those who may potentially see combat or who are in a combat situation. You will study theology, leadership, counseling, and ethics.

Christian Apologetics

Many in the church find themselves defending their faith from those of different religions or who have no religion at all. Those who have studied to specifically write articles or books defending Christianity are classified as working in the field of Christian Apologetics. Their works involve using historical and scientific evidence, philosophical arguments, and even scriptures and books from other religions to craft a reasoned basis for the Christian beliefs.

A Master of Divinity degree with a focus on Christian Apologetics can prepare you for work as a pastor or head pastor of a church, a chaplain, a missionary, or a professor. All of these areas may require an intense knowledge of scripture and a developed reasoning ability to defend Christianity when members of a congregation or class have questions. This knowledge is especially useful for missionaries who minister to those who are not Christian. Christians who want to write religious texts or arguments will also find a degree in Christian Apologetics useful.

This program will begin with an intensive look at the Bible and the doctrine that drives the Christian church. This includes a study of the Old and New Testaments, theology, and church history. Studying argumentation and critical thinking are also necessary.

Church History

Studying church history involves looking at the history of the Christian church in the context of the larger history of the world. Church history does include looking at the various publications and the scriptures of the church as well as the decisions made by the church leaders and world leaders that affected the course of religion over the centuries.

Those who complete their Master of Divinity with a focus in church history may go on to become religion professors and church teachers. They may also become historians or librarians. Some do become pastors, but many tend to focus on doing work that requires less publicity or public visibility. Others become authors or researchers, working on discovering and sharing information about the church that may have been lost over the years.

Students in this area of study will spend many courses looking at the history of the church and the world. They will study theology and the testaments, too, plus will look at how Christian theology was developed and changed over the years. Specific courses may focus on the history of the Christian church in specific countries, Christianity in literature, and the works of specific Christian leaders or historians.

Discipleship & Church Ministry

By focusing your Master of Divinity in discipleship and church ministry, you’re taking the first step into church leadership and in helping others grow spiritually. Many leaders in the church choose to specialize in discipleship and church ministry because it teaches many of the skills needed to be ordained to lead a congregation.

Those who graduate with an MDiv in discipleship and church ministry are in the perfect position to become a pastor or other type of ordained church leader. They may also become a ministry worker or a missionary, helping to share their faith and their religion with others. Some also become military chaplains or church planters, founding their own churches in areas where there are none. Some programs focus more on counseling than others—those who attend these programs may also be prepared to go into pastoral counseling.

A concentration in discipleship and family ministry requires taking courses in youth and family ministry, family counseling, Biblical counseling, church leadership, and discipleship. You will learn how to help others work through personal questions of faith, lead small church groups, and how to grow your church.

Evangelism and Church Planting

Evangelism and church planting involves discussing the Christian faith with those of other or no religious preference and helping bring them into the Christian church. Church planting is the practice of starting a new church in an area where none exists and goes hand-in-hand with evangelism. Evangelists often become church planters when on mission trips, especially those that are highly successful and result in the conversion of a good number of locals.

Those who complete a Master of Divinity degree with a focus on evangelism and church planting will be prepared to journey abroad or to other areas of the U.S. on mission trips. They will have the biblical knowledge to present Christianity to those unfamiliar with it and answer questions about their faith. In addition to missionary and church planting work, those with this degree may also become church leaders or become ministry coordinators.

A degree in evangelism and church planning will require you to take courses in scripture, Old and New Testament, and the history of the church. You will also learn about the ministry and how to lead a congregation, how to preach, study evangelism, and learn about church planting and how to create a congregation.

Global Studies

Global studies is the study of the world and how the church fits into that world. This area of study focuses on how you can serve your church in an international setting. It also discusses how religion and the Christian church are received in other cultures and can prepare graduates to serve as church leaders and missionaries abroad.

While a Master of Divinity in global studies is a solid choice for those who want to be missionaries or preach to non-Christian individuals, it’s also a good option for associate pastors, pastors, church planters, and educators. This program provides a look at the world, other religions, other languages, and methods of communication between faiths and cultures that can be extremely useful in a number of different areas.

If you go into a global studies program, you will learn about various faiths, intercultural communication techniques, and take courses in cultural anthropology. You will learn about the history of religion around the world, plus strengthen your own biblical and theological knowledge by studying scripture and biblical languages such as Hebrew and Greek. Courses such as global Christianity, the Christian worldview, and Christianly and world religions are also required.

Homiletics

Homiletics as a course of study is similar to Biblical Studies in some ways—both programs focus on in-depth studies of the Bible and the biblical texts. However, Homiletics specifically focuses on homilies or sermons, speeches that are intended to help build up the spiritual beliefs and strengths of a congregation instead of providing instruction or some sort of moral.

By pursuing a Master of Divinity in Homiletics, you will be ready to not only write and deliver homilies to a congregation, but also answer questions and discuss them in more detail with individual members of the congregation. Those with degrees in Homiletics also often lead Bible studies or Sunday school courses, work as evangelicals, and visit other countries to spread the message of the church.

Students who elect to focus their MDiv in Homiletics will take a number of courses that focus specifically on the Bible, ministry methods, and biblical leadership as well as learning how to deliver speeches and lead a congregation. They will take courses in writing and delivering Homiletics as well. Many programs require students to visit partner churches to deliver homilies to the congregations, several times before they finish the program.

Leadership

Leadership in the church often involves leading a congregation as a senior pastor. Those who take on leadership positions are ordained ministers often have to expand their knowledge beyond the Bible and theology—they may have to have a solid foundation in administration and finance. Some may even rise beyond leading a single congregation and become regional, national, or world leaders in the church.

A Master of Divinity in leadership can prepare you to become an ordained minister and leader in the church. You may serve as a pastor, a chaplain, a missionary, or even go into education, teaching the next generation of church leaders. Some with this degree do move into more administrative roles in the church, working to help further the overall church goals instead of ministering directly to a congregation. Even those who do not aspire to these higher positions will learn a lot from studying leadership.

Enrolling in a leadership program involves taking both core Master of Divinity courses such as Old and New Testament, Hebrew, church history, theology, and Christian ethics and taking leadership classes. These leadership classes will focus on how the church fits in with the rest of the world, ministry, conflict management, organizational leadership, and team relations.

Pastoral Counseling

Pastoral counseling involves using biblical, scriptural, and spiritual methods to provide counseling to those in need. These methods can help heal and restore those who have difficulties with their marriages, family relationships, addictions, PTSD, and many other troubles. Pastoral counseling filters psychological techniques and teachings through the lens of Christian belief to lead patients to mental and emotional solutions.

A Master of Divinity in pastoral counseling can prepare a student to become a counselor in the church, a chaplain, a pastor, or a missionary. Many pastors and other ordained church leaders are called upon to provide counseling to those in their congregations, so those who wish to lead their own congregation may find courses in pastoral counseling helpful. In some states, those with an MDiv in pastoral counseling can become licensed therapists and offer their services to those outside of their local religious community, while in others an additional degree may be required.

If you enter into a pastoral counseling program, you will take courses in both theology and in psychology and counseling. You’ll study the scriptures with an eye as to how they can be applied to a number of different situations. You may also take sources on family counseling, the foundations of pastoral counseling, addiction counseling, ethical issues in religion, and other courses that focus on counseling.

Pastoral Ministries

Pastoral ministries includes everything needed to lead a church and to serve in the professional Christian ministry. It includes everything from understanding and applying scripture to recognizing the issues that churches in the U.S. face on a daily basis in today’s modern world. Those who are considering becoming ordained or playing any role in church leadership may wish to pursue a Master of Divinity in pastoral ministries.

While a MDiv in pastoral ministries is a good foundation for pastors, associate pastors, and other ordained positions, it is also a good foundation for anyone who wants to go into missionary work or serve as a ministry worker. Another use for a degree focused on pastoral ministries is teaching. A number of graduates with this MDiv specialization go into the education field.

Completing a degree with a pastoral ministries specialization involves learning about biblical leadership, congregation leadership, and studying in-depth the Bible and the essentials of the Christian faith. Students will take courses in ministry, expository teaching, speech, counseling, and theology. They will be prepared to understand and apply the knowledge gained from and the values of their faith in order to lead their congregation.

Theology

The basic definition of theology is the study of religious faith, theory, and of the concept of God. Some see it as the science of the divine. The study of theology itself often focuses on the analysis of faith and the formation of arguments that help others understand, explain, test, defend, and promote religion and belief.

Those who focus their Master of Divinity degree in theology will be equipped with the knowledge, understanding, and training needed to become pastors, missionaries, college professors, and church leaders. They will be ready to be ordained and lead a congregation by understanding the various issues related to the church and through a deep study of the scriptures and the Bible. Theologians may choose to teach religion at the college level or become instructors at a seminary. Others may choose to apply their talents to writing academic articles focused on religion or penning full-length books on the subject.

Those who elect to study theology will spend a number of courses in studying the Bible and looking in-depth at the scriptures and the various other publications that play important roles in Christianity. They will also study the church’s history, Christian ethics, and ministry, plus students may elect to take liturgy, pastoral counseling, and other related courses.

Resources for Divinity Students

Student organizations that provide learning and leadership opportunities for divinity students can be found at virtually every college or university across the country. Seeking out groups that facilitate events, activities and special programming can be extremely beneficial for rising divinity students in need of peer support and opportunities for reflection. Other notable organizations who operate outside the collegiate sphere include:

OrganizationDescription

The Colossian Forum

Facilitates dialogue on divisive topics within the church and approaches differing perspectives of Christ-given opportunities to build community, expand knowledge and deepen faith.

Focus on the Family

Global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive by providing help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God's design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.

Academy of Parish Clergy

Voluntary and self-governing association of clergy persons with pastoral roles in congregational settings that sets standards for effective service.

American Association of Christian Counselors

Association committed to assisting Christian counselors, licensed professionals, pastors and lay church members with biblical truth and psychosocial insights for ministering to hurting persons.

Association for Clinical Pastoral Education

Multicultural, multi-faith organization devoted to providing education and improving the quality of ministry and pastoral care offered by spiritual caregivers of all faiths through the clinical educational methods of Clinical Pastoral Education.

Read about about Bachelor in Divinity and PhD in Divinity programs.