In recent years, religious degree programs have been propelled into the limelight, thanks to a number of high-profile events focusing on the lifestyles of the clergy in America. There are a wide range of degree programs available for people who wish to enter the clergy, including both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Some of these degrees do not possess requirements as strict as those of traditional academic programs, but many high-profile religious positions still require an intensive education; a Catholic bishop, for example, may have more than one graduate degree, depending heavily upon which order he is a part of.
Despite this, it is still possible to find a jobs in ministry without any degree at all. Most ministries and other religious organizations rely predominantly on experiencing a spiritual calling to the profession. They also rely upon demonstrable abilities relating to leadership, spiritual guidance, and other qualities important to most religious organizations.
Experience is Important
There are pastors in many denominations across the United States who do not have a college degree. One of the ways in which they go about obtaining their position is to gather experience ministering in another capacity. Some individuals may take on missionary work, traveling to foreign countries (or even parts of the United States) where religious involvement is low. They will attempt to spread their message, often while simultaneously working in a charitable or relief capacity, frequently with religiously aligned charities. Classically, these organizations don't require much more than the will to serve, coupled with the ability to endure basic conditions for months — if not years — on end. The experience earned in such pursuits is considered very valuable, particularly by smaller religious denominations and unaligned organizations, many of whom do not specifically require college degrees for their pastors.
Working as a Youth
In some organizations, it is possible to work one's way up to a position as a minister or a pastor without a formal college education — and without spending substantial time overseas, or otherwise engaged in missionary work. This is typically accomplished through lifelong involvement in an organization. There are many opportunities available to young people to serve in a spiritual capacity, either within churches or charitable organizations. Young people in attendance at a church can help out with charitable works, administrative assistance, and community events. They may also provide limited assistance within summer camps, and at other events designed to further spiritual and practical growth among young people. After functioning in such a capacity for most of their life, many aspiring ministers will find a range of organizations willing to accept them in a pastoral role, provided they feel a calling (and can demonstrate the necessary practical skills for their role, such as leadership and communications).
According to some estimates, there were as many as 36,000 non-denominational churches in the United States as of 2010. The irony of the non-denominational Christian faith is that, if it were to be seen as a denomination in its own right, it would represent one of the fastest growing Christian sects in the country today. Non-denominational churches maintain their own requirements for a position as pastor, and may offer alternative career paths. For example, some churches regard every member of the church as a member of a de-facto ministry, with members even taking turns reading sermons and conducting other pastoral duties. The individual who "runs" the church is more of an administrator, with no more or less of a pastoral responsibility than any other member of the congregation. An individual who wished to establish their own non-denominational church could set their own requirements for what was required to join the ministry, without having to be concerned with meeting administrative approval.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage of a clergyperson in America today is almost $50,000. This includes individuals with and without college degrees, but — while a degree does make entering a career as a minister or a pastor easier, it isn't a specific requirement. It also doesn't have as much of an impact on salary as it would in a secular field, where people without a degree often find themselves handicapped regardless of their experience and abilities. Many religious career paths are open to those who demonstrate the right inherent qualities, but finding the right one will require research into individual organizations' requirements. Most jobs in ministry will require a degree.