Pastors have many responsibilities, and the responsibilities can vary with job descriptions. Most pastors have at least some counseling responsibilities, however, and some pastors spend the majority of their time providing counseling to church members.

For those who primarily counsel church members, an online master's degree in pastoral counseling may be a good degree to pursue. It's not as extensive as a full M.Div. degree, but an M.A. in pastoral counseling might actually provide a stronger foundation for counseling.

A unique marker of pastoral counseling master's degrees is how the programs approach counseling. The counseling classes are approached from a context where the Bible and church are highly regarded. Almost all counseling is informed by these in some way.

If you're considering different online master's degrees in pastoral counseling, it's important to check by what body a program is accredited. CACREP is the primary accrediting body for counseling degrees that meet state licensure requirements, but they might have a slightly more secular approach (while still being within pastoral counseling). Programs that are accredited by bodies such as ATS might have a more theological approach, but these programs won't necessarily qualify for licensure.

Consider whether you want to practice pastoral counseling as a licensed counselor, or if you'd rather provide pastoral care from a non-licensed role. The former will set you up to work as a licensed counselor in a church, Christian nonprofit organization, private practice, or secular job. The latter will allow you to provide care as an associate or assistant pastor, or a director of a parachurch ministry.

What Will I Learn in an Online Pastoral Counseling Master's Degree Program?

Online pastoral counseling master's degree programs are usually two years, comprising 60-70 credits. If pastoral counseling is taken as a concentration of an M.Div. program, then the program is usually three years and 90-110 credits.

During an online pastoral counseling master's program, you'll take classes on biblical studies, systematic theology, practical theology, and worship. A good number of classes will be in pastoral studies and counseling. These classes might include:

  • Foundations of Christian Counseling
  • Introduction to Biblical Counseling
  • Marital Counseling
  • Pastoral Care
  • Theories of Personality and Psychotherapy
  • Substance Abuse and Addictive Disorders
  • Grief and Loss in Pastoral Counseling

In addition to these, most pastoral counseling master's degrees have a sizeable practicum. This might be called a practicum, internship, ministry, or something else. It's usually 500+ hours of pastoral work, including pastoral counseling work, and must be completed sometime during your degree program. In an online master’s program, these are usually fulfilled within the student’s own community.

What To Look For in an Online Pastoral Counseling Master’s Program?

When considering an online Master’s program in Pastoral Counseling, there are several key factors to take into account. Accreditation is crucial to ensure that the program meets rigorous academic standards and is recognized by reputable accrediting bodies. Look for programs accredited by recognized organizations in the field of counseling or pastoral care, such as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or other relevant accrediting bodies specific to pastoral counseling.

The curriculum should be comprehensive, covering both counseling theories and pastoral care principles. Look for programs that offer courses on counseling techniques, theories of personality and human development, ethical considerations in counseling, group counseling, multicultural counseling, family systems, and spirituality in counseling. A balanced curriculum will equip you with the necessary knowledge and skills to integrate spiritual and psychological approaches in your counseling practice.

Evaluate the qualifications and expertise of the faculty members in the program. They should possess strong academic backgrounds in counseling or pastoral care, with experience in providing counseling services or pastoral support. Faculty members who have practical experience in pastoral counseling settings, hold relevant certifications, or have published research in the field can greatly enhance your learning experience and provide valuable guidance throughout your studies.

Access to resources is vital for an online program. Ensure that the program provides you with access to online databases, research journals, and other relevant resources in the field of pastoral counseling. Additionally, consider if the program offers interactive online platforms or virtual learning communities that foster collaboration and discussion among students. Such platforms can facilitate engagement with peers and faculty members, allowing for meaningful interactions and support.

Practical experiences are essential in a pastoral counseling program. Look for programs that offer supervised practicum experiences or internships in pastoral counseling settings. These opportunities provide you with real-world exposure, allowing you to apply counseling skills and integrate pastoral care principles while working with individuals, families, or communities facing spiritual and emotional challenges.

Consider the support services offered by the program, such as mentorship, career guidance, and networking opportunities within the pastoral counseling community. Look for programs that provide access to experienced pastoral counselors who can offer mentorship and guidance throughout your studies. Networking opportunities can help you connect with professionals in the field, create potential collaborations, and enhance your career prospects in pastoral counseling.

Admissions Requirements for a Master's in Pastoral Counseling

The admissions requirements for any online pastoral counseling master's degree are set by the specific program, and there are differences between CACREP-accredited and ATS-accredited programs. Depending on the degree you're applying for, you might need to provide:

  • Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
  • Transcripts showing completed courses and a minimum GPA
  • Personal statement of faith
  • Letter of recommendation from your pastor
  • Letter of recommendation from others
  • Relevant experience in pastoral work, ministry, or counseling
  • Interview with someone from the degree program
  • Score from a standardized test such as the MAT or GRE

Be sure to check with the school that you're applying to, so you fulfill all admissions requirements.

List of Pastoral Counseling Master’s Degree Programs

Find an online or campus-based master’s program in pastoral counseling today – our state-by-state listings make it easy to find a great program near you.

Jump to Your State Listings


6399 S. Santa Fe Drive
Littleton, CO 80120
(303) 761-2482


Master's Programs
1000 Longfellow Blvd
Lakeland, FL 33801-6034
(863) 667-5000


Master's Programs
1032 W. Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 274-3000


204 N Lexington Ave
Wilmore, KY 40390-1199
(859) 858-3581


1815 McCallie Ave
Chattanooga, TN 37404
(423) 226-4574

Are we missing your school's program or need to update information listed? Please contact us so we can make the necessary changes.

Liz Norris, LPCC
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