What can I do with a Master of Divinity?

Last month, I talked a bit about what the Master of Divinity (or M.Div.) entails, who is a good candidate for this degree, and why it might be useful. This month, I’m expanding a bit more on what you can do with a Master of Divinity once you graduate.

The Master of Divinity is a broad and adaptable degree. This is partially because it is longer than many other master’s degrees (and thus is able to cover a lot of material), and partially because it provides a mix of academic and practical studies. With this flexible degree, you can apply what you’ve learned in a variety of ways.

Obviously, the main use for a Master of Divinity is in a pastoral setting. The M.Div. is almost universally required for ordained parish (church) ministry across many denominations. Ordained ministers with an M.Div. can serve in a dizzying number of contexts, based on their individual interests and qualifications.

They can step into the roles of associate (and eventually senior) pastor, working in teams of clergy-people with larger congregations. Ordained ministers may become solo pastors instead, serving in a smaller context with fewer parishioners. This also means, however, that your role will be more varied because you’re the only pastor around. This has its benefits and drawbacks.

Or you could be a more specialized pastor, working as (for instance): an evangelism-focused minister, a minister dedicated to counseling and pastoral care, a minister focused on worship, or a church-planting minister. Church-planters build congregations from the ground-up, with each denomination selecting candidates for this job in their own way.

People who have earned a Master of Divinity can also become chaplains. Your denomination may have special steps you need to take before you can become a full-time, certified chaplain. Those who enter this field may work in a variety of contexts, including schools, hospitals, police stations, the military, nursing homes, addiction rehabilitation centers, and more. It can take extra effort to break into this field, but it can be rewarding.

The M.Div. also opens doors to work with youth. Campus ministry affords the chance to minister with and to people who are entering their adult years. For those who like younger kids, church camps employ people with M.Div. degrees to help kids experience their faith in an outdoor environment. Graduates of an M.Div. program who prefer to work with young people of all ages may enjoy pursuing a vocation as a youth pastor in a church, walking with kids year after year as they grow up.

People who love to evangelize, preach and serve in new places may be good candidates for missionary work. An M.Div. equips those who hope to be missionaries with an education to back up their drive to share the good news. How you become a missionary (like any of these other fields I’ve described) is going to depend on your denomination, as well as your personality and background.

If you have a passion for justice (and especially a history of engaging in social justice work on your own time), consider earning an M.Div. for the purposes of advocacy and community organizing from a faith-based standpoint. Some churches and denominations have justice-specific organizational arms, or have even fully integrated justice into who they are from a religious standpoint. Interfaith and ecumenical groups also bring on theologically educated people to work for them as they advocate for positive change.

I’ve talked previously about dual degrees, but it’s worth mentioning again: the M.Div. can be combined with other degrees, like a Master’s in social work or a Master’s in counseling or psychology. Though you can be easily certified to do basic marriage counseling with an M.Div., and may engage in informal counseling with parishioners, an M.Div. does not qualify you to be a therapist. It can, however, add a unique faith-grounded perspective to counseling if you earn a secondary degree in tandem with the M.Div. If you have an interest in both, this may be worth exploring.

Though I acknowledged previously that the M.Div. isn’t strictly an academic or research degree, it can be the first step toward a Ph.D. and a career in teaching. It’s possible or even likely that you’d have to earn another Master’s before going on to Ph.D. work, but the M.Div. can be a helpful stepping stone on the journey to earning a doctorate. (People who earn the Ph.D. often want to become professors, but it is a degree in its own right that opens many doors, in a professional sense.)

Finally, the M.Div. can lead to a career working for all kinds of organizations that benefit people. I know graduates of this program that have gone on to work in the offices of schools, nonprofit organizations, and religious groups. The adaptability of the M.Div. makes it a helpful degree in a variety of fields, especially when coupled with a bachelor’s degree in a field related to your ideal profession.

I hope this is helpful for those of you who are considering enrolling in an M.Div. program, or are currently in one. Whichever direction you choose, I hope that it is one that fits not only you but also the needs of the world and God’s calling for you.