Working in the religious ministries sector should be thought of as a calling more than a career. Becoming a member of the clergy, in particular, is a lifestyle. Rather than clocking in from nine to five, clergy may be called upon at all hours of the day, every day of the week, to perform ceremonies, attend to the needs of congregants, and ponder and write sermons and other messages. They must also be active members of their community and even deal with administrative needs of their church or synagogue.
There are various types of positions within the religious ministries, depending on the religion, but most individuals choose the path because they want to serve God, build community, and lead others in their spiritual journey. In the United States, the most specific job opportunities exist within the Christian and Jewish religions. Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism have no central organization and in many cases no ordained clergy. Their leaders are sometimes professionals but often are simply distinguished laypeople who supervise, teach, and preside at services.
The Christian faith is divided into the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and these are further divided into various sects. The Catholic Church has a very formal structure. Top positions are held by unmarried men. Women can serve as nuns and teachers and in some cases assist in services. In Protestant churches, women can be ordained as pastors and ministers, teach, and participate in any other function. The Jewish faith is divided into four denominations. In the United States, rabbis serve as the leaders of their congregation and are responsible for teaching the Torah, giving messages at service, and providing counseling and guidance to congregants.
Throughout history, religious leaders were considered the most revered in their community. Today, ministers in all faiths are regarded with similar respect but are subject to the approval of their congregation, which has the ultimate say. Many leaders in religion have studied extensively at seminaries and have earned advanced degrees. They must not only be scholars in their faith but knowledgeable about a broad scope of interests. In addition, they must be able to work with a variety of people and provide counseling to those who seek it.
Depending on their size and their economic means, most places of worship have the need for supporting positions, such as youth ministers, education ministers, outreach ministers, and even music ministers. These individuals might be working their way up to a top position, or they might have the desire to focus on one of these segments of the ministry.
Not all individuals who seek a career in the religious ministries work in a church, synagogue, or other house of worship. Some choose to be chaplains in the military, universities, hospitals, or other institutions. These individuals must have knowledge of many faiths and denominations. They must be able to provide counseling during some of the most trying times in people's lives. Others choose to teach and guide those who seek to join the ministry. These individuals are significant because they are responsible for instilling in others the knowledge and qualities needed to succeed as a spiritual guide.