What You Can Do with a Seminary Degree (It Isn’t Just for Pastors)

by Tobin Perry

If you’re holding off on pursuing a Master of Divinity degree because you can’t see yourself in a suit and tie preaching to the masses each week, you shouldn’t let that stop you. A seminary degree isn’t just for pastors of traditional churches.

While many people still get a seminary degree because God has called on them to lead ministry efforts in traditional church environments, those opportunities simply aren’t for everyone. John Ragsdale, Ph.D., associate dean at Azusa Pacific University’s School of Theology, said most seminary students feel led into ministry from one of two directions.

Some come from more of an academic perspective. They enjoy theology and studying scripture, and have an interest in teaching it to other people. Others pursue a seminary degree because they love people and want to see them experience God’s transformational power for themselves. These individuals “want to be a conduit of God’s grace that they have received and they want to help others to get there,” Ragsdale explained.

If you’re interested in working toward a seminary degree, here are four non-traditional career paths you could pursue upon graduation.

1. Creative Arts

You can use many of your artistic talents in ministry pursuits (like singing, drama, comedy, movie-making, painting, etc.). Through the field of creative arts, you can take the Gospel outside of the church and minister to people who may never walk through church doors.

Rene Colon, an Azusa Pacific Seminary graduate, currently serves as the CEO of Creative Flow Arts & Entertainment. The organization aims to use the arts to engage people in social issues and foster a wider sense of community. “People don’t go to church like they used to,” Colon said. “You walk into a room right now and everybody in that room is on their cellphone. If you’re not going to get them to church, then you need to bring the church to them.”

2. Chaplaincy

Chaplaincy might be the most common non-traditional job accessible to those with a seminary degree. Military branches, hospitals, police departments, sports teams, and even private companies recruit chaplains to minister to the spiritual and religious needs of their organizations. Many of these positions focus on pastoral care, so they work well for people who like assisting others (particularly in times of pain and stress) but aren’t interested in a traditional church role.

3. Para-Church Ministries

You’ll find a variety of great ministries—outside of local churches—that focus on specific issues in the broader society. Because they work with local churches on a regular basis, these ministries need personnel with seminary degrees who understand the unique challenges facing churches and can minister from a theological framework. If you have a particular passion for a specific group of people (college students, immigrants, senior citizens, etc.), this line of work may be ideal.

4. Non-Traditional Churches

If you believe God is leading you toward local church ministry but you don’t want to serve in a traditional church environment, there are a growing number of churches in unique venues that may be a better fit.

Before earning their graduate degrees, Azusa Pacific Seminary alumni Alex Aguas and Matthew Veling both started thinking how they could reach people who wouldn’t normally step into a traditional church. Eventually, those conversations turned into Restoration Abbey, a church they started inside a pizza restaurant.

“I think the idea that we can claim sacred space in a restaurant each Sunday, and then have worship flow into a lingering conversation around a meal after, provides unique opportunities for interactions with people who may have no concept of church, or who have been Christians for years,” noted Aguas.

Are you interested in pursuing your ministry calling? Looking to learn more about the steps you’ll need to take? Explore the Azusa Pacific Seminary programs and begin charting your course toward graduation.