A certificate in theology is a university designation that is conferred upon casual, usually part-time learners who want to learn about core elements of faith, teaching and ministry. Certificate programs usually do not lead to degrees, but in some cases, credits earned can be applied toward a master’s degree or doctorate. Students typically pursue a certificate in theology to prepare themselves for careers in churches or church-based schools. A certificate usually is not sufficient to prepare a person for church leadership, particularly as a priest or pastor, but it is often useful for lay ministers or more general staff members.
Although the term “theology” can describe any broad study of God, in an academic context, it almost always refers exclusively to Christian teachings and tradition. Even under this umbrella, however, theology programs can look very different. Universities that are aligned with a particular denomination usually offer theology courses exclusive to their faith traditions. A theology certification program at a Catholic university is likely to be very different from one at a Baptist college, for instance.
The primary goal of most of these programs is to give participants a chance to take in-depth theology courses and have access to cutting-edge thinkers without having to commit the time and expense that are required for a more formal degree program. A certificate in theology can sometimes be completed on a part-time schedule, often with class meetings once a week, over summers or during evenings. Online theology education also is an option in some cases. Courses usually are geared toward curious adults who have no reason or desire to go to school full-time but who nonetheless want to augment their religious education by learning theology, or an aspect thereof, in more depth.
Depending on the school, different types of theology certificate programs are often available at any given time. Some programs might be focused on adult ministry or teaching theology to young people, and others might look at faith through music or might be geared more toward healing prayer. Still others might be devoted to a strictly academic study of church thinkers and religious documents.
Despite this flexibility, the contours of specific certificate programs are likely to be fixed. Unlike a student in a theology degree program, who might have some latitude in choosing electives and courses, a candidate for a certificate in theology generally must fulfill a strict set of required courses. The credit threshold generally is low, which more often than not limits the available offerings.
Very few jobs actually require a certificate in theology. The certificate is nonetheless an asset, however, and can set candidates apart when applying for positions within churches or religious organizations. A student who holds a certificate is also often able to show dedication and passion for faith-centered work that might not be overtly clear from a résumé or work history.