Many denominations require that clergy complete a bachelor’s degree and a graduate-level program of theological study; others will admit anyone who has been “called” to the vocation.
Individuals considering a career in the clergy should realize they are choosing not only a career but also a way of life; members of the clergy typically work irregular hours and many put in longer than average work days.
Opportunities are expected in all faiths, but in some denominations competition is likely for positions leading large urban worship groups.
Religious beliefssuch as Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, or Moslemare significant influences in the lives of millions of Americans, and prompt many to participate in organizations that reinforce their faith. Even within a religion many denominations may exist, with each group having unique traditions and responsibilities assigned to its clergy. For example, Christianity has more than 70 denominations, while Judaism has 4 major branches, as well as groups within each branch, with diverse customs.
Clergy are religious and spiritual leaders, and teachers and interpreters of their traditions and faith. Most members of the clergy serve in a pulpit. They organize and lead regular religious services and officiate at special ceremonies, including confirmations, weddings, and funerals. They may lead worshipers in prayer, administer the sacraments, deliver sermons, and read from sacred texts such as the Bible, Torah, or Koran. When not conducting worship services, clergy organize, supervise, and lead religious education programs for their congregations. Clergy visit the sick or bereaved to provide comfort and counsel persons who are seeking religious or moral guidance or who are troubled by family or personal problems. They also may work to expand the membership of their congregations and solicit donations to support their activities and facilities.
Clergy who serve large congregations often share their duties with associates or more junior clergy. Senior clergy may spend considerable time on administrative duties. They oversee the management of buildings, order supplies, contract for services and repairs, and supervise the work of staff and volunteers. Associate or assistant members of the clergy sometimes specialize in an area of religious service, such as music, education, or youth counseling. Clergy also work with committees and officials, elected by the congregation, who guide the management of the congregation’s finances and real estate.
Other members of the clergy serve their religious communities in ways that do not call for them to hold positions in congregations. Some serve as chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces and in hospitals, while others help to carry out the missions of religious community and social services agencies. A few members of the clergy serve in administrative or teaching posts in schools at all grade levels, including seminaries.
Members of the clergy typically work irregular hours and many put in longer than average work days. Those who do not work in congregational settings may have more routine schedules. In 2002, almost one-fifth of full-time clergy worked 60 or more hours a week, more than 3 times that of all workers in professional occupations. Although many of their activities are sedentary and intellectual in nature, clergy frequently are called on short notice to visit the sick, comfort the dying and their families, and provide counseling to those in need. Involvement in community, administrative, and educational activities sometimes require clergy to work evenings, early mornings, holidays, and weekends.
Because of their roles as leaders regarding spiritual and morality issues, some members of the clergy often feel obligated to address and resolve both societal problems and the personal problems of their congregants, which can lead to stress.
Educational requirements for entry into the clergy vary greatly. Similar to other professional occupations, about 3 out of 4 members of the clergy have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. Many denominations require that clergy complete a bachelor’s degree and a graduate-level program of theological study; others will admit anyone who has been “called” to the vocation. Some faiths do not allow women to become clergy; however, others, mainly in Protestant churches, do. Men and women considering careers in the clergy should consult their religious leaders to verify specific entrance requirements.
Individuals considering a career in the clergy should realize they are choosing not only a career but also a way of life. In fact, most members of the clergy remain in their chosen vocation throughout their lives; in 2002, almost 10 percent of clergy were 65 or older, compared with only 3 percent of workers in all occupations.
Religious leaders must exude confidence and motivation, while remaining tolerant and able to listen to the needs of others. They should be capable of making difficult decisions, working under pressure, and living up to the moral standards set by their faith and community.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition,
Clergy, on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).