No matter the faith — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or other faiths — leadership requirements may vary widely, yet typically require training and scholarship.

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Seattle resident Martin Saunders, 30, first felt called to ministry at age 15. He’s worked as a youth pastor, a project manager for a church-based housing organization and as an intern at an Anglican church. Two years ago, Saunders began seminary to acquire his Master of Divinity degree, which he’ll finish at Seattle Pacific University in two more years.

It’s a time-intensive degree for sure, but there’s much to learn. “Being a pastor involves running a business and caring for people,” Saunders says, “as well as being a sociologist, historian, philosopher and, sometimes, a translator of dead languages.”

To become a church leader within most Christian denominations, students first earn a master’s degree, then coordinate ordination with their preferred denomination or church.

“The [Master of Divinity] is the ticket,” says Douglas Strong, dean at the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University. “You’ve got to have that degree.”

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But to work with youth, typically only a bachelor’s degree is needed, Strong says.

Some smaller and evangelical churches don’t require a degree, or a degree from their own affiliated universities. Catholic priests earn their training from Catholic seminaries.

No matter the faith — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or other faiths — leadership requirements may vary widely, yet typically require training and scholarship.

Seattle Rabbi Zari Weiss, 55, received her ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, which offers five-year post-graduate rabbinical programs, as well as preparation for roles within the Jewish community, including pastoral counselor, education leader and cantor.

To lead and provide services within the Muslim community, a master’s degree in Islamic Studies is typically expected, says Imam Mohamad Joban, but some communities only require a bachelor’s degree.

For five years, Joban, 63, has been the spiritual leader of Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), a Redmond-area mosque and community center. Before MAPS, Joban was an imam in Olympia and a Muslim chaplain with the state of Washington, counseling prisoners.

Daily practice

Weiss’s duties with Seattle’s Kol HaNeshamah Jewish congregation include leading the congregation in worship and study, overseeing the Jewish education programs, offering spiritual counseling and classes, meeting families to prepare children for their bar and bat mitzvahs, and fundraising to keep the congregation vital.

Weiss also helps hire and oversee the congregation’s employees — based on skills, but “their connection to their Judaism is very important, as is that they have a positive Jewish identity and relationship to Judaism,” she says.

Who’s a great fit for a job with a religious organization? “A good listener, [with] a willingness to be flexible and an openness to a variety of people and points of view,” Weiss says.

The same holds true for U.S.-based mosques.

“There are many different cultures and different dialects,” Joban says, worshipping together weekly, including expatriates and immigrants from Pakistani, Ethiopian, Indian and Indonesian backgrounds. “I’ve learned about different cultures and their customs.”

Career considerations

Those considering a religious career could look into colleges, parishes and seminaries offering a discernment process, which is decision processing with a small retreat group, Strong says. Volunteering with an institution of faith can also determine whether you have the right stuff, he says.

Many people are attracted to being a rabbi because they like the “externals,” Weiss says, such as being a leader. “They love the final product, and not what goes into it, including five years of post-graduate education,” she says.

Strong says that the millennial generation is very interested in getting degrees in religion, but less interested in church leadership positions.

“They really want to help people, and make a difference,” he says. Students end up taking jobs with local Christian relief organizations such as World Vision and World Relief.

As for Saunders, after completing his degree, he hopes to find a job as a chaplain at a private school. “I have 145,000 reasons,” he says, as to why he’s earning a Master of Divinity. But really, it all comes down to one reason: “It’s the right fit,” he says. “I’m made for this job.”