We can no longer afford an educated clergy


It’s Holy Week–Holy Saturday, in fact. As we sit, in longing expectation for Easter, I feel like I ought to be writing something meaningful, and… um… Holy.

But I’m not. I guess I’ve been in the midst of writing a whole lot of sacred things during Lent, and for some reason, while we remember Jesus in that cool, dark tomb, my mind is moving to practicalities.

Maybe that’s because something that my friend, Ruth Everhart, mentioned in an artice has stuck with me for many weeks. She wrote about the practicalities of many of our decisions as churches—mainly, whether we can afford them any longer. Among the many things she questioned was our model for ministry.

In the Presbyterian Church, we have an educated clergy. That’s among the main reasons why I joined the PC(USA). I wanted a pastor who was smarter than I was, and I wasn’t finding that in the Calvary Chapel megachurch that I was attending.

We love that our pastors know Greek and Hebrew. We take great pride in our seminary and ordination requirements. In fact, we have so much pride in them that we have been fighting over ordination standards for decades….

Oh, but, this post is not going to be about same-gender relationships, because there is another very perceptible shift in our ordination standards that has crept up on us, that affects far more people than we realized, but we’ve hardly noticed it. At least we’ve barely acknowledged it.

We can no longer afford an educated clergy.

The cost of undergraduate and seminary education has gone up too high, and our churches have gotten too small. And…let’s face it, my friends…in many, many cases, our congregations can be way too stingy when it comes to pastor’s salaries. Churches don’t realize the enormous debt that students take on in order to uphold those ordination standards. And with the crushing economic situation, shrinking budgets, and a sanctuary filled with parishioners who remind us regularly of their “fixed incomes,” even if they did realize it, many of them couldn’t afford to do anything about it.

I visited Texas a couple of weeks ago, where I was told that many pastors are on food stamps (I know we qualified for them in first 7 years of ministry—even with two salaries. I never used them because we were serving in small towns, and I didn’t want to embarrass my congregation. What was I thinking?). Though pastors’ job satisfaction rates are high, our burnout rate is also high, and much of the burnout is due to financial problems.

So what are we going to do? Does a congregation of less than 100 members, with 30 people in worship, really need a pastor with seminary training? If not, then we need to think about this, because about half of our churches look like that.

In rural areas, they have already made the shift. While the denomination continues to make the ordination process more and more difficult, the number of Commissioned Lay Pastor (CLP) ministries keeps growing.

Are we going to acknowledge what’s happening? Are we going to face the fact that our seminary graduates can’t get jobs, but we have more and more CLPs? Are we going to embrace the fact that we are no longer a denomination that values an educated clergy, because we don’t have the resources to pay an educated clergy? Are we going to admit where our current trajectory is leading us? That we will be a denomination that will be largely lay led? Will we admit it, and begin to be honest about who we really are? 

Or, will we begin to figure out ways to pay our seminary graduates? Will we begin to shift our resources, so that they are no longer feeding their families with food stamps? Will we stop shaming the clergy for being greedy, and calling on them to make more and more sacrifices, when they already made an incredibly huge sacrifice to Sallie Mae?

When will we acknowledge that we can no longer afford an educated clergy, and do something about it?

Photo by Sebatl 


70 thoughts on “We can no longer afford an educated clergy

  1. It’s not just in your denomination. And unless we see a dramatic economic turnaround, nearly all churches will be facing redefining choices about pastoral leadership. We can testify about the debts seminarians take on and the need to pay them fairly, but if there is no money, well. What do you do? A worsening of the economic situation (which is scary) or even a correction to spend only what we can afford (probably good for us as a culture, no?) will change the way churches do the business of their lives together. Alban’s list of how much staff you need for a congregation of a certain kind will need revision. And so will our expectations as pastors. How many of us can afford to work half-time? Or any kind of part-time? I heard recently about a church that is considering searching for a 6/7s time pastor. What does that even mean?

  2. Part of the professionalization of ministry is in the history of how clergy sought upward social mobility when the college and university culture changed in the late 19th century. The other piece is that administrative bureaucracy creeps in as organizations get bigger. Part of that is out of necessity to keep everything functioning on the same page. But part of that is maintaining social control.

    The problem with our many small churches is that we continue to assume a one size fits all bureaucracy and set of standards. Unlike colleges and universities that meet different standards based on their unique missions and classifications, we want all of our churches to function the same way whether it is 5th Avenue or Crooked Creek. Steeple church bureaucracy is not sustainable for a house-church kind of organization.

    Yet… If you look at CIF’s, those small churches are paying out bigger salaries than they can afford to attract ministers with 3 or up to 8 years of experience. It just won’t work.

  3. Songbird, yeah, with the economic downturn and the wave of retirements coming up in the next few years, I imagine that many churches will be restructuring their staffs. Actually… it’s happening quite a bit now….

    The congregational expectations will be a huge issue. Things I imagine will happen:

    Pastors will not be able to make home visits any longer. We will do a lot more pastoral care through technology.

    Pastors will no longer be able to keep up with the programs that we spend more time/energy trying to get people to show up to, than we do in actually running them.

    Pastors will have to excuse themselves from many of the customs of our congregations–especially the fundraising events where we don’t actually raise any funds.

    Pastors will no longer be able to attend a meeting every night. We’ll have to have less meetings, or structure our schedules so the meetings happen in one or two time slots. We may not be able to staff every committee, and the laity will need to step up more, or let certain things go.

    Continuing education models will change. It’s too expensive to fly all the pastors to one place a couple of times every year. So that may happen less frequently. We’ll take advantage of local options, technology more.

    Churches that enjoy having a male and a female pastor may not have that luxury any longer.

    Hhhmmmm… what else?

  4. Drew wrote, “those small churches are paying out bigger salaries than they can afford to attract ministers with 3 or up to 8 years of experience. It just won’t work.”

    This is such a huge issue. Often, small churches will pay the pastor out of their savings, even when their annual income is not even close to the pastor’s salary.

    It’s great when churches realize that they should spend their rainy day fund, because they are actually in the middle of a tornado. The bad thing is when the pastor goes there, and then spends the rest of his/her time trying to remind the congregation to keep spending the money. They get desperate when they are looking for a minister, but once they have one, many churches forget the promises that they made.

  5. I get the sense that we are approaching this from the wrong angle most of the time.
    I just endured a community worship service with several pastors from small, Pentecostal and Baptist churches who led the service. I was absolutely stunned by some of the really bad theology that emerged in their sermons and prayers (the independent, fundamental Baptist, for instance, who prayed for the offering and went into a diatribe about how our military needs our support and how we need to fight against our enemies).
    These churches are small (100 members or less) and cannot afford an educated clergy. They get what they pay for, for the most part. If that sounds jaded and elitist, I can’t help it. It’s the truth.
    There is a CLP in the small town right next to mine who gets $100 a week to preach. There are 4 people in the church. He’s a good man in a lot of ways, but is completely out of his element. The church people cry that they can’t have someone better, but can’t pay for what they want. And they refuse to close down on their own and find one of several PC(USA) congregations within short driving distance.
    I think the answer lies in churches joining together in communities to find the leadership that they need. Pool their resources, their energy. Rather than have one tiny church after another within a 5 mile radius, why not find a way to join together?

    It’s so easy to attack the “educated clergy” system. I would like to advocate for more education. Our laity looks to us to provide spiritual leadership, and to help them see God in the seemingly god-less moments. I learned how to do these things better through the rigors of seminary and CPE, as well as the practical ministry that I was doing.

    I do agree that a seminary education is far too expensive, and there is no reason in the world why pastors should be living off of food stamps. In my opinion that is evidence that there is a problem with our ability to truly be the “connectional church” than it is with what some might view as an elitist system of education.
    So let’s fix that. Take some resources away from some of the “pork” that the GA always seem to support and put it toward lessening the burden for potential candidates. Find ways to pool the resources of area churches, if possible to get them the leadership they need.
    I think we can get creative without sacrificing quality for quantity.
    Now, having said all of that… A seminary degree doth not a pastor make. We need to beef up our CLP training as well, and provide more opportunities for continuing ed that is affordable and perhaps comes to them rather than making them absorb the cost of travel…
    Just some thoughts.

  6. I’ve served a semi rural church in a mostly rural presbytery, and this is an issue. I think another important question is what role seminary educated clergy will play in teaching, mentoring and supporting CLP’s. Perhaps it’s time time to for the theological disciplines to once again find their home in parish ministry among “bishop theologians” and to no longer be confined to formal graduate study.

  7. I am not surprised to read this. I have seen it many times. When was graduating from seminary just last year I thought that there was no way the current denominational ministry paradigm could last without a major shift in the denominational mindset.

    When will we embrace the small faith community models of new emerging churches? It is not about saving the denomination. The denomination is dead. We need to die well and seed the future into what God is calling us and the emerging generations into. The only way PCUSA or any other mainline denomination will be able to ministry to the emerging generations is to change and meet the population where they are. Gone is the ivory tower of privileged and power. Here are the masses of compassionate, hunger, faith-seeking foes to the days gone bye.
    I pray we die well and “Let our life speak.”

  8. A locally-trained “tentmaker” pastor makes the most sense for rural congregations. You’re dead on about your assessment of where things are going there, Carol. For presbytypes, that means continuing along the Certified Lay Pastor route, and embracing it as equally legitimate. A congregation is not somehow “lesser” if it can’t afford to shoulder the burden of someone with seminary debt.

    In the context of many congregations, I also find myself wondering about the utility of a seminary degree. If you’re leading a community of folks who have undergraduate and graduate degrees, being able to articulate the Gospel through the terms of art often used in seminary is important. But for communities comprised of folks with less formal education, that way of expressing the faith can be actively counterproductive. That doesn’t mean it can’t be progressive, open, and affirming. It’s just that a focus on exhaustive formal education might have the unfortunate side effect of branding our denomination as an upper-middle-class moderate/liberal anglo ghetto.

  9. As a bankruptcy lawyer I see the student loan debt issue from another side, and it isn’t a clergy issue. I am basically the same age as Carol Howard Merritt. I am 44. I graduated from High School in 1982. I graduated from school with a Juris Doctor and $1,500 in debt — and no, my parents did not pay my way. So, I know that, at least when Carol and I were in school it could be done; but you had to consider price first in school choice — not last.

    Then, as a denomination we do need to do something about the price of seminary. Frankly, I think every Presbytery should fully support at least one seminarian at a time. However, I don’t think anyone should start seminary until their undergraduate debt is paid. Otherwise, they are putting themselves in an impossible financial position. The last thing that I would want to have to do if I were to go to seminary would be to choose my path after graduation based on money.

    Again, this comes down to the Presbyteries. Before we choose to support a seminarian make sure that their undergraduate debt is retired. In the meantime, our prospective candidates can gain some real world business experience that will be invaluable to them when they do take jobs in pastoral ministry. By the way, all Catholic religious orders that I know of do exactly this. So, it isn’t exactly a novel idea.

    Norman, Oklahoma

  10. I’ve only been in (local, non-ordained) ministry about 8 years and have already found I do a lot more pastoral care and committee work / communication via technology. My experiences is just about everyone under about 60 prefer this change anyway.

    Is mine the only church where people are too, too, busy and we in the church haven’t quite figured it out yet that sometimes the most spiritual and family-building thing we can offer our congregants is a night home with each other? A quiet meal with friends? We are so off the mark running 90-to-nothing all the time, and the church is as guilty of this as anyone.

  11. The current financial crisis is the leading edge of a paradigm shift. I think that over the next few years we will change our expectations about a lot of things — including not worrying about student loan debt until after graduation (which I certainly saw a lot of 25 years ago and still see it in my clients who never dreamed paying their loans back would be a problem). We are going to have to change the way we do business. We are going to change a lot of the things about how we live.

    Hopefully, we are going to give up this idea that the 1950’s church model is worth saving. For once, it would be really nice if the church would change first rather than last — but I’m not holding out any great hopes.

    Norman, Oklahoma

  12. I won’t make generalizations about all small churches, but as a seminary trained, pastor who jumped through all the hoops to ordination and now serving a small church they don’t want to pay for what they get. And what a small church gets in a seminary trained pastor isn’t what they want anyway! There is a sense of pride for a church in small town overwhelmed by churches with “Bible college” pastors, to have a pastor with a “real degree” (words I have heard over and over again, they are not my own).

    To the core of my day day duties, I don’t often feel that I needed my fancy seminary degree to do what I do. Visit lonely elderly people in nursing homes, make small talk around coffee any given afternoon, move tables and chairs around for the next fellowship event at church, be the cheerleader telling the congregation “you can do it!” attend meetings the folks want me to pray at, bless food and babies…Even worship. A strong desire for what is comfortable and familiar. Sermons that are biblical yet have a warm fuzzy ending to them.

    It isn’t just that churches can’t afford educated clergy, the disconnect between what seminary trains us to do and what the church actually wants continues to grow. And just because I have more than 2 years of experince in the parish doesn’t make me any better of a fundraiser… though I can say my muscles continue to grow as I move around more tables and chairs. Perhaps that needs to go on my next PIF… yet it still won’t earn me any extra money to pay off the $30,000 in student loan debt I have. Unless I go the tent making route… I can move your stuff and bless it at the same time. Holy Roller Moving Company… there is an idea.

  13. Leon,

    The shift that’s happening right now seems a lot like the shift that happened during the pioneering days in the US. From what I understand, the Methodists went ahead with planting churches, even when their clergy were not educated. And over the last couple hundred years, the UMC denomination has figured out ways to support lay ministry, encouraging education while pastors serve churches.

    I’m sure that there are many deficiencies in the Methodist system that we can point to, but we have to admit, they have a much larger, and much more diverse congregations. They seem to be doing a good job of reaching out to African American and immigrant populations.

    Meanwhile, we made the choice of quality over quantity. But was it the right choice? Now that we are again at a pioneering moment, should we rethink this? We’re not facing vast land that needs to be settled and explored, but we are facing so many opportunities– like a huge, largely unchurched generation and many immigrant communities. Are we reaching out to them effectively?

    Any Methodists out there? You want to weigh in?

  14. I am a CLP for a small city church in Buffalo, NY. I sometimes miss the fact that I didn’t attend seminary only because I would have loved to had the exposure to Greek, Latin, Hebrew and deep theological discussions. But I don’t know that the congregation I serve would care about all that. I have a BA in English, an MA in International Politics, 20 years as a Toastmaster and trainer, 40 years as a Girl Scout leader and trainer, and 40 years of experience teaching and leading Sunday School.
    I know three Ministers of the Word and Sacrament who no longer work in churches. I don’t think it was the money, but that the reality of congregational work did not match their expectations.
    I read about a different way to pastor churches in a publication from PCUSA some years ago, one that I think would work for planting new congregations as well as sustaining older, smaller ones in the city: have a Minister of the Word and Sacrament shared by these communities, with a CLP, seminarian or “just graduated” minister in each community to be there for an “every Sunday” and pastoral care presence. The team would meet regularly together to share experiences, needs, study and prayer.
    I have heard some places have tried this. I’d love to know if it could actually work.

  15. Pingback: Sarx » Blog Archive » Can we afford seminary?

  16. Two thoughts:

    Lay pastors seem a good model. That’s how the church in New Testament times did it… not that there’s anything magic about that, but it is how things started out — without a professional guild of leaders, and without formal church buildings, which is another whole issue.

    How educated do clergy have to be? It’s more than biblical languages now — it’s organizational management and conflict resolution and visionary leadership and family systems theory and a bunch of other things. I never feel educated enough in what I’m asked to do.

    I agree, the current model is unsustainable.

  17. A lot to think about here, Carol. Our pastor, BJ, was a CLP until he finished seminary, which is rarely done in an urban setting, (The Open Door in Pittsburgh) but the Presbytery felt that having him ordained was important enough. Both he and John are now fully graduated from seminary. These are not easy issues to bring up, thanks for writing them out.


  18. I come from a different journey than you. I come from a long line of Presbyterians and Presbyterian pastors.

    I became an Assembly of God pastor. I do have a Masters but not a Masters of Divinity. I do have a little Greek but no Hebrew. I am in a Para Church ministry and my Masters program served me better.

    I think educated pastors are important. I have a high view of scripture and think we should highly train those whose primary responsibility is proclaiming the Word of God. If I understand church history correctly the Presbyterian tradition resisted the circuit riders of the Methodist church because of the need to have trained clergy.

    That being said, there also seems to be a correlation between better paid clergy and slow growth (and now negative growth). Why do so many large churches have poorly trained clergy? I have respected the historically black denominations where many of their pastors held down full time jobs while leading their congregations. I wondered how many of my white colleagues would have the dedication that these pastors do.

    That brings me back to why I am Assembly of God and not Presbyterian. Sure there are theological issues, but none that could not be over come. I have friends that are Presbyterian pastors that are more conservative than I. What was it that caught my interest in this Assembly of God church? It was a small, humble church with an uneducated hick pastor. But there was a passion that I had not found in my Presbyterian upbringing.

    I would be less than honest if I did not add that the lack of training of some of our pastors has worn thin. Most of my closest friends in ministry come from mainline denominations. I do find myself pulled by both traditions. I do think in my early adult years I was looking for what was missing from my Presbyterian upbringing. I value my Presbyterian upbringing, but I do not see myself going back. Maybe I have hooked myself to a dying group, but I do not think so. I think that churches that have leadership that have a passion and commitment to historical Christianity will grow.

  19. A good friend of mine just entered the first stage of the Episcopal inquiry process. As part of that process, he has to give a detailed report of his finances and how he intends to pay and emerge from dept. If the church is not satisfied with his plan, he doesn’t move on.

    Since the PC(USA) has a plethora of pastor-types, how about CPMs carefully limiting the numbers of candidates and then getting them more funding?

  20. I am not a Methodist, but my friend would love to be one but he can’t. Why not you ask? He is attending seminary at an evangelical institution (Bethel Seminary – pretty good as go evangelical schools) and in order to be ordained in UMC he has to have a degree from a ‘mainline’ school. Not sure if they changed their standards or what, but my friend is distressed about it.

    I have been thinking up a post on this subject for quite some time and I am going to weigh in with a longer essay. I’ll comment when I do. I personally think that a trained clergy is a must in this age of skepticism. But schools will have to be smaller and teachers paid significantly less.

  21. adhunt,

    Ah… yes, that’s why I usually just talk about Presbyterians. When I venture off into explaining other denominations, I get into murky waters. Maybe the standards vary in different districts.

    I look forward to your post.

  22. Perhaps the issue is how we educate rather than the cost, requirement or congregations we serve. I graduated with no debt because I married an RN.

    [Background: I’ve served in a large church where I received aid from Presbytery because my salary was below the median. I had an elder ask, “you’re not going to take that are you?” I did take it and the next year I was above the median for the Presbytery. I’ve also served in a small rural church which has a CLP in place and am currently in a small urban church.]

    With the advent of technology and the number of good tools out there [Logos Software, textweek.com and others] why can’t a presbytery, regional body, synod or town put together a group of people with a guided online study system.

    You miss the “society” of seminary but not the information or even the deep theological discussions. With a localized group you could still have time together. Support and accountability.

    Cost… Software/subscriptions; One or two professors for leadership who could resource more than one group of students; hardware for computing, video conferences and the like; some travel expenses for those who had to attend from a distance.

    The distance learning program at Fuller Seminary started out as a way to educate lay people but quickly became a cheaper alternative for those of us who wanted to attend Fuller without breathing LA air. If we could follow the same sort of program with a greater technology focus I think it would a partial answer to the problem.

    Have a great Easter all.
    He is Risen!!!

    Alan Wilkerson
    Portland Oregon

  23. We don’t need seminaries, but we do need pastors. We also need congregations to live up to their calling of providing for their pastors.

    Also, this is what we end up with when we promote a liberal seminarian theology. There’s no escaping that fact.

  24. Crazy idea: what if being a pastor became more like a vocation and less like a career?

    That is, what if we PLANNED for pastors to be tentmakers–assuming they’d be working part-time or full-time in some breadwinning occupation, and giving their ministry time as a gift to the church? What if we then strengthened the roles of elders and deacons (the roles they’re supposed to have anyway) to be part of the administrative and pastoral ministries that typically take up much of a full-time pastor’s time right now?

    The cost of seminary remains a sacrifice; but larger wealthier churches could donate whatever they’d otherwise spend on a >70k pastor salary to scholarship funds. Plus, alumni gainfully employed in non-ministry fields have more income available to donate back to the seminary, honestly.

    It’s so hard for congregations (esp. small ones) to be tied to the need to provide lots of $ for staff and building. As someone involved in planting a very new church (for free) I keep coming back to this problem. Freeing up congregations from the constant need to pay staff would be very valuable.

  25. PS to Stushie — Is study of the Bible in the original languages “liberal seminarian theology”? What about study of the history of theology, or the history of the church? I’m all for making it possible for people to study that stuff outside of a seminary, but it’s certainly not trivial… it is really important for religious leaders to know that material, no matter whether they turn out to be liberal or conservative at the end of it.

  26. We need an educated clergy but we also need an educated laity. A seminary degree does not guarantee ordination to ministry of word and sacrament. Imagine elders and deacons with a seminary education serving as lawyers, teachers, social workers, artists, and musicians, owners of small business and managers of corporate offices.

    Let us rethink how we recruit and educate clergy. Imagine a “Peace Academy” approach similar to America’s military academies. Top students apply and are sponsored by larger churches or presbyteries and receive three years of free seminary education in a PC(USA) seminary and upon graduation are assigned to serve four or five years in a small church at minimum call. Once their service is fulfilled and they are free to leave the pastorate or to search for a call more to their liking.

    Let us rethink what a seminary education looks like. Rather than centralized campuses where students come together to learn and occasionally go out to do “field education” and “internships” lets decentralize theological education and have students spend most of their time in the field clustered in small groups and meeting with local experienced clergy only coming together in larger groups on central campuses once or twice a year.

    Let us not forget that ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament is not an ordination to a local church but to the larger church. If the majority of our pastors are not theologically educated teh who will become the next generation of college and seminary professors of religion, theology, NT, OT, etc. Without an educated clergy we will descend into another dark ages.

  27. I think it’s a shame that we don’t pay the way for seminary students. The sending church and presbytery ought to cover the full expense of seminary. They ought to believe at least that much. And let’s help those called – by providing good jobs for a couple years between college and seminary.

    I recommend holding out for an educated clergy.

    No food stamps here. I don’t pay income taxes, though the Self Employment taxes are tough.

    Second-career pastor – uprooted family (wife and 3 kids) to answer the call. Nearly used up funds from a 401k for three years of living expenses while attending seminary. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

    Approaching 4 years ordained, full-time in a small, rural congregation (attendance in mid to upper 50’s, so in top half of congregations in the state).

    This congregation continues to amaze me. They haven’t complained about my compensation even once. I’m probably close to the median, and quite happy with it – even with three teens. Each Christmas there is around $1000 cash gift for me (well over that this year). My wife does work part-time, but it’s basically just spending money. I did have student loans after my first Bachelor’s degree, but payments didn’t seem difficult or problematic.

    My wife and I are headed out for a three-week mission trip to Asia, and the money has been pouring in to take care of every little thing – about the same amount as we received at Christmas. And that is above and beyond airfare which has been generously donated.

    The congregation has been growing fairly slowly – in a climate of people moving away from this sparsely populated area. One of our biggest mission fields currently is sending kids to the Presbyterian Camp (3 hours away). Our attendance is now around 20% being kids in 5th grade or younger. It was around 1% when we were called here.

    There is no way I would be capable of leading here if it weren’t for what I learned in seminary. I received extraordinary training, including lots of electives in pastoral care. (Going in I figured to study theology mainly.) I came out of seminary with an intercultural immersion trip, CPE credit in a huge hospital, a wealth of experience in internships, and a very well-rounded theological education.

    Within a couple months we will be starting a more contemporary worship experience – which will be mostly lay led. This is part of the spiritual care needed for parents who are bringing their children now.

    Within a year I will be a tent-making pastor, still serving here. This is something to which I’m called. It isn’t at all necessitated by low giving, because that’s not the case. Giving has remained strong – increasing each year, even in the wake of deaths of good givers. The change is necessitated by my sense of call. For right now, I need to be full time to get some things started and lined out.

    Seminary is very formative. And it’s very important for the future of the Church.

    Full-time pastorates are not a requirement. They may even be holding back the Church. Paul had some great thoughts about not being a burden…

  28. One way that Presbyterians could reduce the amt of student debt would be to rethink it’s attitude toward “student pastors.”

    It’s been more than 2 decades but most of the folks I went to school with had little debt wne they finished. I attended a seminary with students from many denominations and almost all of them were preaching every sunday in one or more small congregations. That provided a salary for living expenses. The most important benefit was the manse. Yes they lived 25, 50, 100 miles from the school and commuted.

    Classes only on T, W, Th. It required those folks to make good use of their time. Study while on campus between campus. Hospital visits between classes for parishoners who were sick enough to be in the big city.

    There was no campus life beyond after the class day. No sports leagues, no pig cookouts, no TV/movie watching parties etc. And preaching at a funeral was an excused absence from class.

    I also think that the admin put pressure on the faculty to limit the number of required textbooks in order to keep costs reasonable. I have been amazed at the number of required texts I have noticed when I have been in other seminary bookstores.

  29. In my opinion, far too many of our PC(USA) pastors are graduating from seminaries with liberal perspectives on theology. They may be educated at what are thought of as the best seminaries, but when it comes to preaching and teaching in their local churches, they do not preach the Scriptures. Amendment B is just and example. But, then their are the pastors who preach that God is a woman or that some of the stories in the Bible are myth. I would rather have a lay person that knows and preaches the Bible than a Princeton Theological Seminarian that does not.

  30. That’s twice now that, out of the blue, someone’s tried to turn this thread into an argument against liberalism. I fail to see how the liberalism (or conservatism) of a would-be pastor’s theology is relevant to the topic of this thread.

  31. Mark let me suggest this connection. Ms. Merritt attended a large Calvary Chapel. She considered herself smarter than the pastor there. Assuming this is true and she is not just proud why then are Calvary Chapels growing and the PCUSA shrinking? Is there something wrong or missing in the training and education that Presbyterian(USA) pastors are receiving? I think the problem is you can not replace passion with education, training or technique. There is something about conservative theology that changes the hearts of people. We may not like the fact that the PCA is opening churches where we are closing churches. Or that the Bible is not always politically correct. Or that most large and growing churches are conservative churches. Or that conservative church inspire people to give more enabling them to support their pastors.

  32. Good point(s), Carol, et al. I wonder though, if we looked at some of our international denominational partners if we might not see another valid model. How about paying pastors from a central point? Each pastor receives the same pay based on number of years of experience and education (formal and cont’g ed’n). It’s not quite the Bishop appointing positions style of ministry but it does move us closer to a more centralized, socialized and egalitarian style. It also removes the “good old boy” and the “pretty boy” aspects of ministry where the glamorized, stylized, politically saavy pastor manages to “progess” into the cushy position and where those committed to smaller congregational ministry (the backbone of the denomination) or those having difficulty breaking the stained glass ceiling are able to seek the kind of churches they desire without necessarily worrying about the financial implications. It removes the false rubric that bigger is more challenging, or more responsible, or a sign of success. It’s the way our denomination manages its mission force and I believe it has merit (or “Merritt”). Blessings,

  33. I’ve been out of town today, so I’m a bit behind on the comments…

    CC Pastor,

    I was going to a Calvary Chapel church, and attending Moody Bible Institute, and yes, I was frustrated that my pastor had only gone to a six-week seminary. By the time I had put four years of biblical study in, it made irritated that he was a pastor and I wasn’t. Of course, there were so many things that were happening within me at the time… mainly a call to the ministry that was growing sure and strong, and had nothing to do with my pastor.

    But. I was going to MOODY. I was very conservative, and I assure you that it was not a liberal vs. conservative thing. If anything, I was more conservative than my CC pastor.

    I am progressive now, but I do not think that liberals are smarter than conservatives, and (although I slip into them from time to time) I have fought against those stereotypes many times in my ministry and career.

    I also don’t think we can make the stereotype that liberal churches die, and conservative churches grow. Trends are showing that a new generation of Christians are fleeing conservative churches, just as their boomer parents fled the mainline.

    I am an educated pastor at a growing, progressive congregation. In fact, I have been the pastor of three vital and growing congregations. I can point to many, many of them.

    I don’t really care if a church is progressive or conservative. Both movements fed me at different times in my life. What I care about is that people find a way to God.

  34. Robin wrote,

    “But, then their are the pastors who preach that God is a woman.”

    Robin, I think you might have to take this one up with Jesus. He’s the one that said that we must be born of the Spirit. Take it literally? The Spirit is giving birth to us.

    Being born-again–that’s the most female imagery for God I’ve ever read!

    If you feel more comfortable with a lay-pastor led than a Princeton grad pastor, that’s fine. There are plenty of churches you can choose from.

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  36. Carol, I realize you may have moved on from this thread, but I’d like to go back to your comment way up the page about the wave of retirements coming. I don’t believe we will see it in the way we expected just a few years ago. Pastors will not be able to afford to retire, unless they spent a forty year career in the largest churches. In the UCC, our pension is rated to our salary, and our salary varies by church size. The part-time jobs that are appearing now where the calls used to be full-time (happening all over Maine already in my denomination) will be filled by people who might otherwise have retired, unless we can move in a direction of doing something much more creative, in which churches share pastoral leadership. In a state such as Maine, which is not densely settled in many places, simply combining churches and closing some will not resolve the problem; the distances are too great, especially up north. But I like the idea of an ordained person working on a team with students or what we call Licensed Pastors, providing collegiality that is desperately needed, especially in rural areas.
    This will not be limited to rural areas, though! The five UCC churches in Portland (two of which are already part-time calls) will be meeting to discuss ways they can combine programs/ministries. I’m sorry I’m not serving one anymore, because I would love to hear the discussion. But that is the future, whatever we do with the buildings, and I think it’s a future clergy need to support and promote, unless we want to become more isolated (or unemployed!).

  37. I think we’ll have better luck yoking than merging, at least initially. Sharing staff and possibly programs is an easier sell than giving up buildings. We’re not that desperate yet, even if we ought to be.

  38. Carol

    I know you have a new topic…..but I think your last comment really is on target for the future. We need to vision differently. My last call was a multi-parish situation with a team of pastors. The pastors served all six congregations. I think merging those churches would be a challenge, but allowing them to function independently and together was wonderful. It allowed one pastor to make hospital visits and see people from six different churches.

    I would love to hear some of your thoughts on new models for ministry.

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  41. Pingback: Can We Afford Educated Clergy? « theophiliacs

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  43. Pingback: On Bi-Vocational Ministry . . . « Poiesis Theou

  44. adhunt:

    Please do not confuse Methodist with non-evangelical. Please do not confuse mainline with non-evangelical.

    The United Methodist Church has a university senate that regularly and rigorously evaluates institutions so that a large variety of institutions are available. I attend Asbury Theological Seminary. We are evangelical.

    The process is always more complicated than a UM not being able to be ordained because of a blanket, incorrect idea.

  45. Hi Carol

    I read a portion of this post at the close of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Board of Directors meeting. I challenged them to work toward making PTS a tuition-free seminary. It’s a bold goal and Im not sure if it’ll gain support, much less happen, but it was my last board meeting skI had nothing to lose. It would go a long way toward making an educated clergy a continuing reality.

  46. Jim,

    Sorry if this is late, I don’t get email updates on this comment thread.

    The language was a bit imprecise to be sure. Let me rephrase:

    My friend who is studying at a generous Baptist seminary would have to re-do his degree almost from scratch because it is not a seminary which apparently the UMC (in the area or in general I do not know) deems acceptable.

    It was not meant to be insultive of the UMC, merely descriptive of lived reality for my friend.


  47. Pingback: Toward a Teleological Theological Seminary « theophiliacs

  48. For my (mid-twenties) peers, student debt is a potent issue for every helping profession, especially those who require graduate education (teaching, social work, counseling, etc). As churches, student loans are not simply an issue for clergy, but many young people who are called to service in our community.

    And now for my very “down to earth” question, can clergy who work for 501(c)(3) churches qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (Passed last year, after 10 years of income-based repayment, all remaining debt is forgiven). http://www.finaid.org/loans/publicservice.phtml

    With all the complexities of clergy tax law, I have been having trouble finding information.

  49. Thank you so much for checking! I am trying to get in touch with the Financial Aid office at my seminary. If clergy do qualify, it could make a big difference to myself and many of my young-clergy peers.

  50. Pingback: Towards a Teleological Theological Seminary III « theophiliacs

  51. Hello To All,

    I do not mean to offend anyone, nor do I claim to have the answers. However, I am considering devoting my time and energy into serving God, possibly as a minister. I have a Bachelor’s Degree, and was a member of the Presbyterian Church. After a job relocation 2 years ago, I have been attending a church that is closer (in proximity) to where I live. In the past, I have considered entering the seminary, and so I wanted to share my concerns with you

    * I do not want to impose a financial burden on anyone, including my family, congregation, or myself. Attending seminary for 8 years is going to cost alot of money.

    * I do not think it is necessary for a minister to attend 6-8 years of seminary study. I feel that 1-2 years of focused study on scripture is acceptable. Additional education in foreign language, church history, psychology, etcetera, is fine. But I don’t think that these additional studies should be a pre-requisite to serving as a clergy member.

    * I naively envision a seminary system that is free to those who are selected to serve in the church. Prospective students would need to be screened in order to determine the suitability of their application as a clergy member. However, once the suitability and sincerity of an individual is determined, the religious institution should subsidize that person’s indoctrination.

    * To facilitate this subsidy, the person entering seminary would be required to participate in money-making ventures, as well as being a responsible student. For example, the seminary would require the student to attend classes for 20-30 hours per week, and work for another 20-30 hours per week. Work could be done in groundskeeping, preparing food, maintenance, housekeeping, assisting in church services, etcetera.

    I guess my model would be similar to how the military attracts enlisted recruits. The military provides food, lodging, education, and training to new recruits. In return, the enlisted men and women must participate in activities that provide a service. I don’t know if other denominations have seminaries that are setup like the one I have proposed here? Thanks for your comments, and may God lead us all to a path that leads to salvation.

  52. Thanks for this post. Though we may not be able to afford a clergy that is educated in a traditional seminary, we can teach clergy at the local church level and produce pastors who will be effective. I have written a book to that end. Published by Crossbooks, the book is entitled, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. You can find out more about it at this link:

    God bless you and keep up the great work.


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