Is Seminary Debt Killing the Clergy?
Like the old hymn says, "it is no secret what God can do." It's also no secret that apparently, he rarely delivers pastors from the burden of modern student debt. Whatever the theological implications of that little bit of financial theodicy (you'll get the joke if you went to seminary), one point is clear for many modern ministers—the cost of theological education—however valuable its' content—is awfully steep.
And, if current trends are to be believed, that cost is getting more difficult to pay off. A recent article in The Atlantic examines the drop in full-time pastoral jobs (and wages) and the corresponding rise in bivocational ministry. It's prompted by some sobering numbers:
Of the seminary students who graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity degree (the typical degree for a full-time pastor), more than 25 percent accrued more than $40,000 in educational debt, and five percent accumulated more than $80,000 in debt. Those lucky enough to get a full-time job as a pastor will join a profession whose median wage is $43,800, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Combined with the recession's drop in church giving, there are no easy answers for many pastors, who struggle balancing their call to ministry and their need for financial provision, especially after an expensive degree.
But there's an ecclesiological angle to this too. The Atlantic prints a great question from Cameron Lee, a Fuller Theological Seminary professor:
"What is a church willing to do to support its pastor?" he asks. "And is that willingness conditioned by a consumerist mindset or a robust theology of what it means to be the church in the real world?"
Leadership Journal is a big fan both of rigorous seminary education and of the creative possibilities of bivocational ministry. For more reading on this, check out:
- "A Case for Seminary … Warts and All,"
- "Does the M.Div. Have a Future?,"
- "Do We Still Need Seminaries?," and
- "Yes Church, We Still Need Seminaries" on PARSE.
- "The New Tent-Makers,"
- "Back to School," and
- "What Preparation do Ministers Need Today?" on Leadership Journal.
Are you in ministry and struggling to make ends meet? Have you found any solutions that work? If so, contact us with your story.
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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