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