Those who are considering working in a church, teaching at a Christian school or university, or going into missionary work may want to consider getting their graduate degree in religion. A Master of Arts in Religion degree opens a number of doors for graduates. It’s a very flexible degree that will provide a strong foundation for leadership in both the church and academic pursuits, or it can provide a path for a Christian to further their understanding of the Bible, God’s word, and how the church fits into today’s world. With a variety of different concentrations, a Master of Arts in Religion is a popular degree for many people interested in furthering their understanding of religion and faith.
Common Career Paths
A Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) can be customized in several ways, allowing students to use the degree to prepare them for a number of different career paths. Some religions do accept the MAR degree as a qualification for ordination, so it can lead to a career in church leadership and the priesthood. For others, the degree's knowledge of church history, ministry, missionary work, and Biblical students prepares them for other callings. Below is a list of different careers those with an MAR degree may pursue:
- Pastor, Associate Pastor, or Youth Pastor – While some congregations do prefer full pastors hold a Master of Divinity degree, there are some that accept a Master of Arts in Religion. To be an associate pastor, youth pastor, or other church leader, a MAR is often sufficient.
- Church Education Administrator / Nonprofit Administrator – This degree provides a strong leadership foundation for those who want to go into administration and work at a Christian school, university, or nonprofit.
- Lay Leader – For those who don’t feel called to become ordained or work full time in the church, yet want to learn more about their religion and serve as a volunteer, Bible study leader, or other lay leader, a MAR degree will give them the education they seek.
- Missionary – Missionaries need to have a strong understanding of the Bible, the Christian faith, and how their faith is seen around the world, all things a MAR degree will provide them.
Master of Arts in Religion Program Information
Those who graduate with a Master of Arts in Religion will have met a number of different degree goals. Their study of the Christian religion, its place in the world, and its history will provide them with an in-depth knowledge of their faith and how it has grown and spread across the world. Specifically, a MAR program will provide the following:
- A detailed understanding of the Old and New Testaments, the culture in which they were written, and their impact on theology.
- A rigorous study, discussion, and practice of theology.
- A commitment to the understanding of the Christian faith, the church, and the ministry.
- A way of viewing today’s world from a Biblical and Christian perspective.
- A global vision of the church and the Christian faith.
Sample Masters of Religion Coursework
While different MAR programs have different concentrations and elective courses, most do have a similar core curriculum that all students study. A number of programs do require a thesis in order to graduate, but there are some that do not. The following are some of the courses a student pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion degree may need to take:
Introduction to the Old Testament / New Testament
|Students will study the books of the Old and New Testament in detail. Some programs have a basic introduction course and then several elective courses that focus on specific parts of the Testaments.|
Basic Hebrew / Basic Greek
|These courses introduce students to one of the two major languages used in ancient Biblical texts.|
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.|
|Students may take a number of courses related to the history of the church, including a survey of church history or a closer look at specific periods such as the early church, the church during the Age of Reformation, or the modern church.|
|A theology class will examine religion, its role in the world and the church, and how people approach faith.|
|The study of Christian ethics and how a Christian applies these values to the world.|
Here are some other things a student may study while working on their MAR degree:
- Leadership in the church
- Missionary work and the role of the missionary
- Writing sermons and homilies
- World religions and faith
- Applying the Christian point of view to real-world situations
- The Gospels
- How the church has evolved over the years
- Creating a religious community
- Public speaking
Those who focus their MAR degree in areas of religious education or church ministry may be required to complete a field education component that involves working either in a classroom or in a church. Some may write and deliver sermons, teach classes under the supervision of a licensed teacher or professor, or do other internships related to what they wish to do with their degree. Those who are concentrating in areas such as theology or church history may instead be required to write a well-researched thesis.
Master of Arts in Religion Concentrations
Students can select from a number of different concentrations for their Master of Arts in Religion degree, allowing them to customize their education to fit their career goals.
Focusing a Master of Arts in Religion on Biblical studies involves studying the Bible in-depth, including the Old and New Testaments, the Canonical Scriptures, the Apocrypha, and other related texts. Students learn how these texts relate to each other and various religions.
This degree provides a strong foundation for those who want to be pastors, associate pastors, or other leaders in the church. It is often accepted for ordination due to the detailed information students learn. Evangelists, missionaries, mission directors, and those who go into Christian non-profit work may also want to focus on Biblical studies.
Students in this concentration will take courses in the Old Testament, New Testament, scripture, church history, ethics, theology, ministry, evangelism, and individual books of the Bible.
When Christianity comes under attack by those of different religions or from non-believers, some Christians feel the call to defend their faith through interviews, books, or articles. These individuals often seek a degree in Christian Apologetics. This degree gives them the skill needed to tie together religion, philosophy, history, and even science to provide a rationality and reason for their faith.
The MAR with a focus on Christian Apologetics prepares students for work in the church as a pastor, but it also gives them the knowledge and skills necessary to become a missionary or a chaplain. Some also go into education or become a professional writer and write books on religion. Whatever they do, they can bring their in-depth knowledge of the Bible and Christianity as a whole into play any time someone has questions about the faith or puts forth an argument against Christianity.
Students in this concentration study the Bible and the scriptures in detail plus discuss the Christian church and faith overall. They study church history, theology, critical thinking, and debate.
Those with a degree in church history are experts in how the Christian church was formed and how it has evolved over the years. They see how the church fits into the world around us and how it has changed governments and countries. They read different texts written by church officials and by those outside the church plus discuss various decisions and directions the church has gone in.
This degree is mainly sought by those who want to go into Christian education either in private schools or at universities or by those who want to write religious textbooks. Some also become librarians or historians. While there are some who do go into church leadership, graduates with a church history degree mostly work on their own instead of pursuing a visible career in the ministry.
A degree in church history requires students to spend a number of courses studying the history of the Christian church in detail. While many other concentrations require only a survey or introduction course that gives a brief overview of the church, these courses tend to focus on specific time periods. Students may also take courses on Christianity and the world or study the texts of specific figures in the church.
A community chaplain concentration provides students with the foundation needed to lead a congregation or work as a community minister. Those who obtain this degree may work in the church, but many work in hospitals, in the military, or with corporations and other organizations. They often work with small groups or individuals more often than they lead a large congregation.
A community chaplain will serve as more than just a worship or congregation leader. They will offer counseling services and help to those in the organization they serve. These organizations include the military, veteran’s groups, police/fire departments, and hospitals. They aren’t licensed counselors, but many do work with those who are going through tough situations or who have emotional wounds. Others may work as administrators or other church leadership roles.
Students in community chaplaincy programs will take courses in ethics, church history, Christianity, theology, leadership, and faith-based counseling. Some may also take courses from the psychology department.
Discipleship & Church Ministry
A graduate degree in religion provides a strong foundation for those who want to go into the ministry and serve as leaders in their church. This degree is accepted by a number of denominations for ordination, especially if the student concentrates on discipleship and church ministry. The courses taken in this area prepare graduates for a life of service to their congregations and faith.
Besides going into the ministry, those who focus on discipleship and church ministry may also work as a missionary. They may do field work abroad, bringing non-Christians into the church, or they may serve as missionary coordinators. Some may also become leaders of new churches either in the U.S. or in countries around the world. Others with a discipleship and church ministry degree may become chaplains or provide religious counseling services.
By focusing on discipleship and church ministry, students will gain an extensive knowledge of the scriptures and what it means to be a leader in the ministry. Courses in discipleship, evangelism, and counseling are also offered.
Evangelism & Church Planting
Those who have been called to missionary work will find that a Master of Arts in Religion degree with a concentration in evangelism and church planning will prepare them to teach the Christian faith to others around the world or at home. This degree can also prepare a church leader to found their own congregation and lead it successfully. It’s also a good degree program for anyone who wants to strengthen their own faith and then share it with others.
Because it can be used to focus on missionary work, many programs allow students to focus their evangelism and church planting degree on specific countries or regions around the world. Students learn about how the Christian church is seen in these regions and around the world, discuss the best methods of spreading the Christian gospel to those of no or different faiths, and practice leading a congregation. In addition to missionary work, this degree also prepares graduates to lead local churches or to go into mission coordination and administration.
Students with this concentration will study the Gospels, the Old Testament, New Testament, and church history. They also learn about missionary work, how to spread the Christian faith, how to minister to others, and what it takes to found a new congregation.
Religion students who want to play a part in international religious discussions or undergo missions to other parts of the world may want to focus on global studies. This MAR concentration will provide them with a background in church history, world religions, intercultural communications, and missionary work. They will learn what part the Christian church plays in the world today and what role it has had throughout history.
A MAR degree focused on global studies will prepare students to become a leader in their denomination on a global level. It also prepares missionaries to travel around the world preaching the word of Christ. Those with a global studies degree may also go into education, become church planters, or take up other leadership roles in the church.
Students in this degree program will study different cultures, world religions, the history of the church, interfaith and intercultural communications, and scripture. They may also focus on the testaments, other languages, and leadership.
A degree in Homiletics prepares students to write, deliver, and discuss sermons. They will study public speaking, hermeneutics, leadership, and writing. Specifically, students with a degree in Homiletics will have a detailed knowledge of the scriptures and homilies that make up the Bible. They will study the history of sermons and discuss famous sermons in preparation for writing their own to in order to help members of their congregation strengthen their faith.
A MAR degree with a concentration in Homiletics will certainly prepare students to serve as pastors, associate pastors, and other leaders in the church. It’s also a good degree for those who want to teach, serve as Bible study leaders, or undertake missions to other countries.
Studying Homiletics involves mainly focusing on the Bible, the scriptures, and the homilies. Students will also take courses in leadership, public speaking, ministry, and writing. Many Homiletics programs require students to give their own homilies to local congregations as part of their field work.
Individuals who want to become associate pastors or pastors of a church will find a Master of Arts in Religion with a concentration in leadership very useful. This degree provides them with all of the necessary knowledge and skills to lead a congregation. In addition to learning about the Bible and the church itself, they will also learn about how to run a church and how to lead.
While graduates with a leadership degree to often become pastors of a local church, some also take on leadership roles on the regional or national level. Some may become top administrators in Christian schools or at non-profits, while others become mission leaders. Some lead congregations while others take on roles that are more administrative and aren't as often in the spotlight.
A leadership degree does include courses that focus on the Bible, including Old/New Testament, theology, ethics, and church history, but it also includes courses such as leadership, public speaking, and team building.
For those who are considering a degree in religious counseling, a MAR with a focus in pastoral counseling will introduce them to psychology, psychology, and Christian therapy techniques that they can apply when helping members of their congregation deal with issues related to relationships, family, faith, addiction, and more. While those who get a MAR with a concentration in pastoral counseling may not qualify for a license to practice counseling outside of the church, it does give them the skills they need to work within the church.
This degree will give individuals the knowledge they need to serve as an associate pastor, pastor, counselor, chaplain, or missionary in the church. While some may find full-time work in the church, others may pursue a second graduate degree in psychology to become a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Studying pastoral counseling requires students to take courses in both psychology and religion. These courses include leadership, ministry, theology, scripture, ethics, counseling, addiction counseling, and other courses related to mental and emotional health.
With a degree in pastoral ministries, a graduate can lead a congregation and teach theology and Bible study courses. This degree provides students with in-depth knowledge of theology, scripture, and leadership. Students learn about various parts of the church and how to serve in a leadership role.
In some denominations, graduates with a pastoral ministries degree can work as a pastor, associate pastor, or other church administrator. It’s also useful for those who may want to go into teaching, missionary work, or work in a non-profit or other Christian organization.
Students in a pastoral ministries program will take courses in scripture, Old/New Testament, theology, leadership, ministry, and evangelism.
A degree in worship studies readies a student to go to work as a pastor, worship leader, or other position in the ministry. The primary focus of this degree is on how to lead worship services, which includes writing and delivering sermons, leading a congregation, and working one-on-one or with small groups of fellow Christians.
Obtaining a Master of Arts in Religion with a concentration in worship studies involves learning what worship means to different people and the different ways of worshipping. Students learn about individual worship, group worship, and organized community worship, what the role of a worship leader means, and what it takes to lead a congregation.
Courses in the worship studies concentration include church history, faith, philosophy, evangelism, leadership, worship, and public speaking.
Resources for Students of Religion
Students enrolled in a MAR program or persons who are considering it may find the following resources helpful. Students may also find resources through their church or through various university religion departments.
|A list of websites providing information about religious of all faiths from around the world. This site is particularly useful for missionary or academic research.|
The Yale Divinity Library offers many different online resources for those in the church and for students.
|Educational resources for Christian teachers and administrators.|
|An online source from the Master’s Seminary.|
|A website with sources for educators, Bible study leaders, and church leaders.|