The Seminary Bubble

18 Jun
June 18, 2012

Sean Matthews (running for state rep in Delaware – vote!) pointed me to a couple articles the other week and I’ve still been thinking about them. Fascinating stuff questioning the logic behind our current American trends in how we prepare people for ministry. In his two articles, The Seminary Bubble and Bursting the Seminary Bubble, Jerry Bowyer points out the disconnect in expecting men and women to take on 6-8 years of college and seminary at current educational costs and the resulting debt load in student loans that accompanies that level of education with the minimal pay levels most ministries offer.

Imagine an institution that requires its leaders to attend not only college, but graduate school. Imagine that the graduate school in question is constitutionally forbidden from receiving any form of government aid, that it typically requires three years of full-time schooling for the diploma, that the nature of the schooling bears almost no resemblance to the job in question, and that the pay for graduates is far lower than other professions. You have just imagined the relationship between the Christian Church and her seminaries.

He’s right on. He also points out the challenge of entering a field with that level of education knowing you are ‘competing’ against others with none of it – no other field that expects 6-8 years of schooling can have people in it with none (doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc., have very strict requirements), but the reality is if you are in a room full of pastors, there will be a room full of varying levels of education and training. Some have doctorates, some have no formal training.

I think he’s asking good questions. I remember being shocked at Gordon College when one of my fellow classmates, a Bible major, told me he was already $60,000 in debt for that bachelor’s degree and he planned on borrowing his way through seminary next. Having grown up a pastor’s kid, I literally felt my stomach clench as I asked how in the world he thought he would ever pay that off on a pastor’s salary. The problem is, my friend isn’t unique. And with the reality of shrinking churches, and the budget crisis that most churches seem to be experiencing – the odds of that salary picture changing are not good. If anything, the trends paint a picture of things getting tighter. Ultimately, though, his point is questioning the seminary model all together – not just the cost of it.

Christ was not, Himself, a seminary graduate, nor did He establish an institution of higher learning. He certainly knew about such establishments. He grew up near a cultural center, the Hellenized city of Sepphoris. And almost certainly spent some of His formative years near an even greater center of Greek learning, the great library city of Alexandria (where else would one hide a little Hebrew boy in Egypt if not in the massive throngs of diaspora Jews?) He appears to have been not only a Hebrew and Aramaic speaker but a Greek and perhaps a Latin speaker as well. He quoted Aesop and Aeschylus. He knew about the Greek model of the Academy.

The above quote from the second article leads into some compelling thoughts on the apprenticeship model as a more logical and practical option, never mind the reality its the one model Jesus gave us. Imagine the freedom to minister wherever God calls because there is no student debt hanging over your head. And the thing is, part of me wonders if part of the reason churches are becoming more like businesses, with the lingo and processes of corporations, is because of the unrelational reality of institutional training vs. following someone as they minister to people and learning from their example hands on.

Just a few of my random musings triggered by the articles. Find them here: The Seminary BubbleBursting the Seminary Bubble.

2 replies
  1. Adam West says:

    The sad thing is that most seminaries seem to be out of touch with most forms of ministry. I had a very hard time trying to find a seminary that would help me do youth, children, and family ministry as a career and not only a stepping stone. Most schools seem to prepare students to be pastors, or train youth ministers to stay in youth ministry till they feel a calling towards becoming a pastor. Hopefully, the seminaries will wake up and prepare not only pastors, but ministers of every group more effectively. I’m very thankful to be able to take online classes and get an M.A. in Children and Family Ministry.

  2. Matthew McNutt says:

    I have wondered a lot over the years if it’s really effective to have professors teaching people how to do ministry … who have been removed from any direct church ministry leadership for decades. It’s very easy to lose touch with the realities of day to day ministry when you’re not in it.

    I’ve never understood why people think someone gets too old for student ministry or isn’t ambitious enough if they want to stay in it … while at the same time having tons of respect and celebrating teachers that work in high schools until retirement. Why is it strange to want to invest in teens spiritually for an entire career, but honorable to invest in them intellectually?

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