How to Become a Chaplain: Training & Requirements

Before beginning ministry in settings like hospitals, prisons and military bases, aspiring chaplains complete chaplain training programs and chaplain certification programs after earning a graduate degree in divinity or theology. Keep reading to learn about the qualifications to be a chaplain and see if this career path speaks to you. Schools offering Pastoral Ministry degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Chaplain?

A chaplain is a representative of the church who ministers to a very specific group of people. Pastors typically have a church where the congregation gathers for worship and fellowship, while a chaplain generally goes to where his congregation is. With an endorsement from a home church, chaplains might focus their energies on helping people in secular institutions like prisons, hospitals and military bases. Chaplains may also minister in universities, large companies and police departments. In these settings, chaplains provide spiritual support, counseling, emotional care and religious guidance to anyone in need, including people from other denominations or faiths. As a spiritual leader, a chaplain might walk someone through a life transition, help them overcome a major life hurdle or offer comfort at the end of their life.

How to Become a Chaplain

Chaplain Degrees

The degree you need to work as a chaplain can vary from organization to organization. Many employers (and chaplain certification boards) want someone with a master's degree in theology, divinity or religious studies. For instance, the certification board for the National Association of Catholic Chaplains only accepts candidates with a graduate degree.

Schools with divinity programs can be found across the country, and some Catholic theology degrees can be completed online.

Chaplain Training Programs

There are a number of chaplaincy programs out there offering the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) needed to qualify for certification or find employment as well as continuing education and seminars. Examples of organizations offering this training include the Association of Professional Chaplains, the University of California - Davis and the Evangelical Chaplains Commission. Each CPE program has different requirements, but most offer spiritual instruction and on-the-job training working with chaplains in a particular field such as hospice, the armed forces or prisons.

Chaplain Endorsement

Because chaplains are often asked to represent their faith in a secular setting, they usually have to be ecclesiastically endorsed by a religious organization. In fact, for some organizations, an endorsement may be a prerequisite for getting certified. These endorsements ensure that a chaplain has the spiritual maturity, education and background to carry out their calling. Endorsements must be maintained throughout the chaplain's career. Some of the organizations mentioned above also offer endorsements.

Unique Chaplain Qualifications to Consider

Anyone who feels called to help people can be a chaplain. Most chaplains have a strong faith. Many are catholic or evangelical Christian, though there are chaplains who come from Jewish, Buddhist and other traditions. The exact qualifications might differ based on a number of factors, including where the aspiring chaplain wishes to serve. For instance, a military post may require an Armed Forces physical fitness test, a criminal background check and an adherence to a code of ethics. The best way to understand what's required is to find a certification board for chaplains in your faith group.

How Much Do Chaplains Make?

As with the qualifications and requirements, the salary for chaplains depends largely on their field. According to, chaplains working in hospitals made a median salary of $49,991, while hospice chaplains saw a slightly lower median salary of $47,900. Experienced chaplains brought home $51,342. Median salaries for chaplains working for the U.S. Air Force were quite a bit higher - $65,000 as of August 2019.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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