Everything You Need to Know About a Master of Arts in Religion (MAR)

Old book

If you’re looking to be better equipped for ministry or just learn more about the Bible, a Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) may be the right degree for you. Here’s everything you need to know about MAR degrees.

Old_bookWhat is it?

The Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) is a graduate degree designed for students with a wide range of ministry and professional goals. Students study Bible, theology and doctrine, and church history.
While some students may have studied the Bible and theology in their undergraduate studies, others have not. People from various backgrounds and degrees can pursue this degree–not just those who studied something like Bible or Theology in undergrad.

Who is it for?

The MAR is for lots of people: people who wish to serve in vocational or lay ministry; those planning to pursue an MDiv or doctoral program; or those who simply want to learn more about the Christian faith and how to apply it to their lives. Essentially, the MAR is for those who are looking for a grounding in Bible and Theology, a greater grasp of the Scriptures, and knowledge of the history of the Christian church.

Vocational Ministry
Many people pursue an MAR because they either want to get involved in ministry or they want in be better equipped for their current ministry. Those who are already involved in ministry often serve in children’s, music, or sports ministry.
As an example, here at Cairn about half of MAR students have a vocational goal in mind. They understand that graduate-level training in Bible and theology is a critical component of their preparation and growth for ministry.
Lay Ministry
But what about those who aren’t preparing for vocational ministry? The MAR is good for everyone. It makes perfect sense to pursue an MAR even if you aren’t thinking about a vocational path in ministry. Ultimately, it’s about a deeper understanding of Bible and theology, and this is important in whatever profession students end up pursuing.
Cairn’s MAR program has seen small business owners, stay-at-home parents, and church volunteers who simply want more training in Bible and theology. This encourages their personal development and their involvement in their jobs, churches, families, and communities.
The Word of God applies to all of life, and a knowledge of the Word of God prepares you for almost anything you’re going to do.

What will I learn?

Every program is a little different, but an MAR program should center on the Scriptures, doctrine and theology, and the history of the church. All of these elements should be combined with character development and spiritual formation to help you grow in your knowledge and faith.

Learning Objectives
Here are the program objectives for Cairn University’s MAR degree:

  • Build a foundational knowledge of the inerrant Word of God
  • Study the history and doctrines of the Christian church
  • Develop a ministry philosophy
  • Prepare to serve in the ministry role of your choice with electives that you can focus in a particular professional or ministry area of study.
  • Learn how to examine the biblical text and theology and apply what you’ve learned to everyday life and ministry
  • Gain the tools to study Scripture for yourself as a lifelong learner
  • Focus on a particular professional or ministry area of study or explore a variety of fields using the program’s elective course options

Some programs might have opportunities to focus on aspects of ministry and leadership that students are interested in, such as counseling, education, organizational leader, and biblical languages. Basically, the MAR gives a certain amount of flexibility for students to make it their own.

Can I get the same education at a church?

In short, the answer is no. While many churches do an excellent job at equipping people to study the Scriptures, theology, and doctrine, seminaries and religious institutes prepare students to serve in ministry and offer programs and specializations that churches do not.

Different perspectives
The classroom environment with other dedicated students in the same field creates interaction with a diverse set of students whom you might not normally come in contact with in your local congregation. And at a church, you might just hear from one pastor or teacher all the time. At a Christian university, you’ll study under a variety of teachers with different viewpoints, different specialties, and different experiences.
The level of depth at a university is also different compared to the level you get at church. You’ll dig deeper into Scripture with discussions, readings, lectures, and assignments.
Breadth of Understanding
In a strong MAR program, you’ll study the Scriptures – both the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as specific books in the Bible. You’ll also study doctrine, church history, philosophies of ministry, and disciplines of Christian life. An MAR is a degree covers a broad number of topics, so you’ll be equipped for a variety of contexts.

Is it worth it?

If you want to learn more about the Christian faith and be equipped to serve in ministry, whether vocationally or as a volunteer, the answer is a resounding yes.
“I’ve never had a student who finished an MA, including students who weren’t planning on ‘using’ the degree vocationally, that said it wasn’t worth their time, energy, or effort,” Dr. Master states. “They always say the same thing, which is that the program was life changing. They tell me stories about all the ways in which their education, what they studied about the Bible and theology, now has a great bearing on their home life, their work and how they treat their employees, and how they look at themselves in the world.
“In that sense, the proof is in the pudding. Our students have gone through the program; they’ve made the investment, and they universally say it was worth every minute of it.

What kind of job can I get?

The possibilities are endless. In religious organizations, you can obtain a job as a…

  • Pastor
  • Youth director
  • Educational pastor
  • Worship leader
  • Retreat or camp worker
  • Administrator
  • Counselor
  • Teacher/professor

And with a focus on developing critical thinking, writing, and research skills, an MAR degree will provide you with the credentials and the knowledge to succeed where you go.
So whether you’re called to be pastor, missionary, worship leader, elder, or layman, consider a master of arts in religion to be better equipped to serve Christ in a variety of fields and vocations.
If you want to learn more about the Christian faith and be equipped to serve in ministry, whether vocationally or as a volunteer, the answer is a resounding yes.
For many students, an MAR program is life-changing. The concentrated study and intentionality create an experience of spiritual and intellectual development unlike any other.
Cairn University, located in Langhorne, PA, offers an on-campus and online MAR degree. To learn more about Cairn’s Master of Arts in Religion, check out our webpage. Not sure if the MAR is for you? Learn more about our other graduate programs. 


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