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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 August 2005

Preparing to Become a Pastor

Q: I’m thinking about becoming a pastor. How many hours do pastors work? What is the salary range? What exactly does a pastor have to do? Lastly, what schooling is required?

A: “The saying is trustworthy: ‘If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.’ (1 Timothy 3:1)”

Please note a few things. First, I answer as a Lutheran pastor, a member of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. I don’t know your church affiliation, so you might have to adjust some of the things I say to fit your church. However, much of this is the same among all churches with a specially trained clergy.

Second, being a pastor does not mean the same thing as “having a job.” When congregations act according to Scripture and to the Church’s teaching, this is not a position where the pastor is “hired” or “fired.” We speak of pastors having a “calling,” an “office,” or a “vocation.” Our congregations are to recognize their pastors as set there by Christ through his Holy Spirit. We are not “employees” of a certain group of people but are servants of Christ who then serve Christian congregations through Word and Sacrament.

Pastors may have slow weeks, but if one is dedicated to his work, a forty hour week is a rare luxury. Besides the time spent with people (preaching and teaching, visiting shut-ins, and the like), a pastor is constantly preparing by reading and studying Scripture and various religious writings. Some spend upwards of fifteen hours each week in crafting their sermons. Many have multiple Bible studies each week — and each study requires preparation.

While being able to balance your time is important, if you have a week where five or six parishioners are hospitalized in two or three different hospitals, the hours can quickly climb. So also other emergencies, plus the working in of weddings, funerals, seasonal services and the like make for a full schedule before it seems that you’ve even gotten busy doing what you’ve planned to do. This connects with your question on what we do: We preach, teach, baptize, absolve (forgive sins) on Christ’s behalf, give Holy Communion, visit the sick and the hurting, marry, and bury. There may be other things that certain pastors also do, but these are central to our calling.

For all of this, the “salary” varies widely. Among Lutheran pastors, we prefer to not treat what we receive as salary, but as “compensation.” As I mentioned earlier, this is because we are not considered as “employees” of a congregation but as workers called by the Holy Spirit through the working of a congregation. We are called to “give away” the gifts Christ has given his Church, such as his Word, his forgiveness, his Baptism, and his Supper. We are then compensated so that we don’t have to take employment which removes us from our flocks for extended periods of time.

Some churches recognize the work and the stress that can accompany it and are generous in financial compensation, vacation time, and the like. Some realize also that their pastor will be better equipped if he continues in life-long learning and both encourage and financially support continuing education. Others are trapped by their own financial circumstances, wanting to do more than they can (or not realizing that they could do better). Sadly, a few don’t fully appreciate the gift of a pastor they’ve been given and treat him accordingly.

Finally, a few words about education: In my church, the normal route is to attend college, gain a bachelor’s degree, then study for at least four years at one of our seminaries. This includes a year of internship, which we call “vicarage.” Since knowledge of the Biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew) is required and Latin and German are quite helpful, studying in one of our pre-seminary programs can help with these, as well as teach you some of the basic courses in Scripture and Lutheran doctrine. As with the previous sections, these comments on education generally apply for most churches that have a specially trained pastorate.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its great, to see, how to become a pastor; and also info.....as a whole.

God protects ppl

08 July, 2007 10:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi pastor, my name is jonathan laney and i have been called to preach by God Almighty let all praise be to his name. Ever since i have been studying and praying, but any incite you could give me would be wonderful on how to continue with gods will thank you my email address is bamabullrider85@yahoo.com

17 February, 2008 21:28  
Blogger Will Elliott said...

I appreciate your post on this matter. However, I take issue with the hair splitting of "salary" vs. "compensation." I'm not sure the distinction you offered really exists... I mean, in a parish budget report, for example, it will most likely refer to a salary package. While the church is about the business of God, it seems like many churches use the vocab of business. Not sure what to think of that. Secondly, being a pastor is a job. It's more than a job, but it is a job. There are standards that are held up, professional and personal, that pastors must respect... else she or he will end up being fired. The church might come up with a nicer word than "fired," but when the bills are laid on the table, "fired" is what it will feel like.

Frankly, while I appreciate your attempt to address this gentleman's question, I feel some frustration with the lofty reframing you've offered him. It's not a job, it's a calling. It's not a salary, it's compensation. It does not smack of reality for me. In fact, it puts a burden on the clergy. For example, how does one negotiate compensation? Is that even appropriate, given that one is responding to a calling, and that the congregation is essentially gifting you with means to be unemployed? Would you follow your call into a parish that would gift you with 25 or 30 thousand a year, or would you require more? Man cannot live by bread alone, but families cannot live without bread, period.

Of course, we may all be called to a simpler life... Still, insurance, housing allowances/parsonage, retirement plans... this is a part of life in professional ministry.

Anyway, all the best as you continue in your work. May your calling be richly rewarding, and may your parish gift you with love and appropriate compensation.

12 November, 2008 19:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will, I agree with you! I f you could email me sometime to help me find my way into ministry... The scary thing that I foresee if I were to believe all that's in this page is ... I would be looking at nearly ten years of school before I would be "worthy" of compensation ... wow

-- James Raines


21 November, 2008 02:14  
Blogger J3R3MY L1GHT said...

Greetings. I appreciate that you have this page, but am confused about something. Why would one need a bachelor's degree (in anything other than biblical studies) in order to gain admittance to seminary? Is that "industry standard" (yes, I am aware that is a poor choice of words). I am currently a nurse for a retired Lutheran pastor and his wife and want to begin working with Christ, but am not quite sure how and where exactly he wants me. If you ever have a chance, please send me an email at jaeluxx@gmail.com. Thank you so much.

01 February, 2009 20:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, ten years. Thats a long time. thanks for the advise and it will probably really help for the near future.Please pray for me all of you that read my comment that God will help me on my journey to become a pastor. Thank you so much and may God bless you all.

05 October, 2010 19:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel that if god called you to be a pastor then he will lead you in the path of where he needs you to be and the level of education that he feels you need. God will open the door for you that give you the proper education needed to do his will. I disagree with anyone saying that you need a B.A to preach the word of god. Look at Moses he didn't have a B.A nor could he speak well but God still used him to get his message out

20 January, 2011 00:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to the last post, yes; I agree that if God truly has called you to do His will by preaching His word, it is His direction and teaching that you should follow most and will benefit from. The Holy Spirit will fill you with exactly what to say, how to say it etc. However, you have to understand that while Moses didn't have all he needed in the beginning, God used all the circumstances Moses had to go through to turn him into a very profound leader and orator. You have to realize that going through the desert and having to deal with multitudes of people turned Moses into what he eventually became. So to get to a finer point, it will always be more beneficial to acquire more training in how to deliver God's Word and to obtain a deeper understanding of it; mainly by way of college/seminary. Basically put, the more well prepared you are the better you are for your congregation. God uses many, many things to prepare you for your everntual service for Him. While we can always look to the grandious of God, we must always look most to the practical things in this life He uses the most. Relationships, time, experience; all of which you gain in abundance by furthering your education with the lives whom you will be touched by in seminary and in your being a pastor. I hope this may shed at least a bit more light on this subject. May the Lord our God fill you with abundant mercy, grace and above all else His love and understanding.

31 January, 2011 10:41  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am 13 and i think i am called to be a pastor, but im not for sure yet. I go to a non-denominational church. but the thing is, I'm a girl. And some people believe that girls cant be pastors/leaders. But they can right? Cuz look at Joyce Meyer, or Gloria Copeland. They're really good. God still speaks through them. I'm still praying about this, though. But I am 80% sure its what i am called (and want) to do.

07 September, 2011 22:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My calling to minister is strong.My purpose on this earth is to gain souls for Christ.It is not I who speaks when I minister, but Christ through me.When you accept christ in your life you put everything in his hands."Salary and or Compensation"are the last thing on my mind, if that.When one is called they will know it.There is no "im not sure", or any questions at all.Pray for wisdom and guidance and the lord will show you the way.Do not lean on your own understanding.Peace


17 November, 2011 22:11  
Anonymous Shannon Michael Weiss-Osborn said...

Why be compensated for giving Gods word to the masses. God asked for nothing in return. Why should we be Compensated for simply fullfilling the wish that God has for all believers. Man cant live by bread alone, But by the word of God he shall be saved.

12 December, 2011 15:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prince is my name,am twenty years of age.am in ghana west-african.am member of methodist church of ghana.i have got a prophecy from man of God that i will a pastor and all so i have dream that pastoring vision,am now studing the word of God and praying.i need your advice pastor.Apostleofprayer59@yahoo.com

28 December, 2011 17:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i know pastoring is my calling...had enough neon signs,and things come naturally for me...i was wondering how to go about it,though.far as a girl/woman pastor?...i dont see why not,we need mothers and fathers in the faith,especially in a day and age where the family system has been crumbling and falling apart.

31 December, 2011 15:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...additional commenting...im not denominational...im just a believer in Jesus Christ,just as the original disciples...the idea of spending 4 years in a college though?...im already well trained in Gods word,so,such things do concern me because it seems that these days,we could have wolves in sheeps clothing,if whats required now is a document that says 'i have a brain'...so,its a bit of a predicament.

31 December, 2011 15:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You all need to realize that he did not say the ONLY way to becoming a pastor is to go through 10 years of education. He said TYPICALLY for the LUTHERAN CHURCH MISSOURI SYNOD the path is NORMALLY to go this route. In the LMCS, you receive a Masters degree in Divinity. You cannot have a Masters without a Bachelors. Splitting hairs with terminology totally misses the point. We should be encouraging those who want to spend their lives dedicated so serving Gods people. Nit picking over verbiage only further shows how divided our faith has become.

01 January, 2012 10:52  
Blogger Chaplain Tom said...

I Like what Paul wrote to the CHURCH who were wanting his failure more then the prize he was called to
Gal 1: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

(Galatians 1:6-12 ESV)
If You were not called by God and feel only led to become a pastor then shame on you for prideful selfish desires, but If God indeed called you then without your own doing He is the one to win Soul's through you, not you. You belong on your face in repentance submitting to the only Holy God who in His Glorious Kingdom would he share such amazement and power with such a dirty soul as we are. He is the Baptizer, the Initiator, The Redeemer, We are only His servants.
Remember If "I" be lifted up I will draw all men unto Me.
We are not worthy, yet because of Christ who lives in us, He will use these rags to bring in the lost.
Education is not of value without the Holy Spirit or Why did Jesus call fishermen to be disciples?
Wait in the upper room for the true Baptism. For nine years I entered the super-max prisons in prayer asking for His Leading His guidance His revelation to the men and I was shocked every time How His Spirit brought men to repentance not me. I was not born with such words but through these lips I went asked and saw his working. Finding the real relationship with Jesus is truly wonderful. I am a non paid servant of God, He is my provider.
Chaplain Tom.
Bro. Tom

27 January, 2012 19:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't be discouraged by the ten years of school. I am a evangelist with an associates degree in Biblical studies. Nothing more! Always remember this: God will always prepare the call!! If He has called you, He will prepare you. And to be prepared by God is better than any degree man could ever give you. The only thing you have to do is 2Ti2:15 "study to shew thyself approved unto God". God bless you and may He light your path.

17 February, 2012 08:39  
Anonymous J said...

I agree with fully you dont have to have a ba to know god because theres people with masters degrees that never have spoke in tongues or had the holy gost

14 March, 2012 00:31  
Anonymous Jordan said...

Please just do it for the right reason if you got to ask how much a pastor makes then its not for you

14 March, 2012 00:35  
Anonymous Jordan said...

I am in the ministrie and it really gets to me that so many people get this mentality that pastoring is a job just because you are a pastor dont save you from hell as a pastor you have a higher standered to set and you are a servent if you go by the bible its not about money or education

14 March, 2012 00:43  
Blogger Stephen said...

Hello Pastor...My name is Stephen and I'm not a Pastor but a born again believer..I have been brought up as a Pastors son..but growing up I learned about Jesus but never actually EMRACED knowing Christ on a Personal note until I went through trials growing up in my life and I've learned to lean on God for more comfort and protection becoming more mature in Christ...I've had thoughts about becoming a Pastor and I have had Pastors within the church advice me on becoming a Pastor and I have friends and family calling me a Pastor...my question is, can this be a confirmation? Thank you Pastor and God bless.

29 March, 2012 16:56  
Blogger tribal tattoo artist said...

Scary to think how closely denomination sounds like division .. an we wonder why there is so much confusion amount new believers to the point they turn away from god again.. denomination also sounds like dominion .. as in the Christian faith being split into many dominions where there should be only one an that is in Christ alone, one post spoke of business like talk used in referance to church dealings, others concerned with salary or time it takes to be a pastor as far as education ... such things I find disturbing .. I have been called forth by god to spread his word, he has shown me what I am to do an spoken to me that I should do it, an I will obey without question or doubt, I stumbled across this page in research of my calling, to find only division in the church and malice disguised as advice,

the spreading of gods word is rewarded by the promise of the cross, be careful he say to you who secretly seek the life of a pastor believing it to bring yourself glory an fortune for such things will leave you in the enemies hands

If you are righteous in the Lord an are following your calling in true faith He will provide your path , His will be done. Not yours, if He see it fit you be paid in anyway for the path He chose for you that is what you shall have , if it is Gods will, your teaching may be spread out from behind bars,

Beware yourself, beware your motives, a believer you maybe but here I see self righteousness, self fulfillment, an greed these are of the flesh, these are the things adored by men, who are any to lay claim to that which qualifies another to do Gods will, what knowledge does you piece of paper grant you that be greater than the knowing passed down by The Almighty unto those He has called forth

For all those who claim to be studied in the Bible an so well versed so many have forgotten what it says

That which is adored by men is an abomination to God

To those who are truly following the call of God , I say this, worry not, pray for your path an He will guide you, He is the Great Shepard an the provider of all things, if it is Willed for you to attend 10 20 50 years of school that is what you must do, don't be concerned with time for this life in the flesh is but a moment compared to all eternity in His kingdom, Do as the Father commands, for His word tells us that we will be justly rewarded for the works we put forth. But remember always to tend to your relationship with Christ first an always, the lost can not lead the lost, and in your studies don't allow the words in the Book of Life become just text you memorise as so may of our leaders today have

In closing, I have to agree, No its not a job its a spiritual crusade against the enemy, its Gods Will, to be called upon to spread the Word of He Who Is Most High, is the greatest honor a mortal being could want, for those of you who thought it anything less if you are a true believer fall upon face an beg your forgiveness for such a thing is to disgrace your Savior!

30 August, 2012 02:35  
Anonymous Erica, Australia 14 Sep 12 said...

Hello all, pastors as well as fellow brothers and sisters.

I have tried to read most of the comments as published and I find that one of the basic requirements for becoming a pastor has been omitted. That of living a life that would set an example, not with a lot of hot air and bragging about the scriptures and how well one can recite them.

Certainly it is important to know as much of the scriptures as passed down to us, but life is very real and must be lived with both feet planted firmly on the ground, and there is no room for fairy stories, because ultimately, people who are preached to are more than often, not fools.

Scriptures are based on the lives of very ordinary people, people whose faith in God has elevated them to a level to which we can now look upon for guidance.

Let us not forget one very important thing: Congregations are made up of people, and people are human with human needs who may sometimes need commonsense guidance on how to help them live better and happier lives, complete with spiritual guidance.

Many people believe that they should strive to become 'holy' (for the lack of a better word) because they have been misled into thinking that because they are human, they are worthless and sinful rather than be reminded that "GOD made man in His image" and wants us to enjoy all of His Gifts which includes accepting oneself as a good and useful being!

If I have offended anyone then I beg to be forgiven, but I am sick and tired of coming across people who declare they are God's chosen, and act as if they are better and more important than anyone else, when a little tolerance and humility should be in place.

14 September, 2012 09:18  

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