Seminary Life Today 2

Following up on Monday’s post, another one from Northern Seminary’s Greg Henson:

81% of all incoming seminary students do not expect to have a parish ministry position.
Less than half of all incoming students plan to be ordained.

School websites account for more incoming students than all traditional advertising combined.

Below is the second of three infographcis based on the 2011-2012 ATS ESQ. During the most recently completed academic year, 6,900 incoming students at 161 different ATS schools completed a survey. All three infogrphics are based on that data. In the first infographic we looked at “who” the incoming students were. Today, we look at why they came.

After reviewing this inforgraphic a few things jumped out at me. First, seminaries do much more than train pastors for the church. Only 19% of incoming students expect to have a full-time position in parish ministry upon graduation. I see the need to consider what that means for curriculum design and implementation. In addition, students come to seminary seeking fulfillment and guidance. The “opportunity for study and growth” is equally as important to incoming seminarians as “experiencing a call from God.” What does that mean for he formation programs at schools? How should that impact the services we offer students? How do we define and measure outcomes if a student isn’t coming to seminary in order to get a job (as was the case many years ago)? I think it requires us to consider the Great Commission as our measurement tool. Are we equipping disciples to “go and make [more] disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” Finally, financial aid is a huge factor for students. What can we do to make theological education more accessible and affordable? According to ATS data, the average tuition rate for the MDiv in ATS schools has increased by 350% since 1988. It’s no wonder financial aid is significant.

What stands out to you? What am I missing? Any questions? Where should I dig deeper? Next post we will look at what students “bring” to seminary with them (Spoiler Alert: they bring a lot of debt!).

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  • Two quick notes…

    The statistic about “81%” refers to full-time positions (it is related to the “19%” mentioned in the text).

    “Parish Ministry” is the phrase listed in the ATS survey. In my conversations with students, many equate that phrase with “traditional local church pastoral ministry.” However, the survey question does not list that phrase as an option.

  • Kent Haley

    The 81% that do not expect to have a full time parish ministry was quite shocking to me. I understand there are many other ministry roles for seminary grads, but what does this mean for the local church in the next generation?

  • dwight stinnett

    Confirms statistically what I have experienced in interviews with seminarians for nearly 20 years.

  • David LaDow

    I was just wondering why they didn’t show the percentage of incoming MDiv students planning on going on to parish ministry, as distinct from the percentage of all incoming students. This distinction was drawn for those expecting to be ordained, so it seemed puzzling that this was not done for parish ministry as well.

  • Jim W.

    Two things that stand out ate the 59% that decide before and during college to go to seminary. And the 25% that decide after 2 yrs of work. What percent of them are entering with degrees in bible, theology, ministry etc…? Is there a way to streamline, and or enhance their seminary experience while still meeting the needs of students with no prior training? If you can read or test your way out of Greek or Hebrew why not theology or ministry classes you have already paid for, taken, and passed? This seems like an easy way to stream line costs and enhance the educational experience.

    I’m not really sure online classes are the answer, at least personally they seem to water down the experience. While distance learning might work for some, I see the class room experience as key.

    Also aside from cost, work, family, nobody has mentioned internships/residencies, which while being valuable learning experiences, often come with vast amounts of time outside of class some up to 20hrs a week and in most cases very little pay.

  • It is a staggering # to think only 19% plan on FT work in a local church (assuming that is what ‘parish ministry position’ means).

    However it would be interesting to know what % are other/undecided. I could not tell from the graphic. It does seem like a large % of students plan on going into ministry – just not as pastors.

    As a current seminary student, teacher and lay elder (open to FT pastoral work) I think that getting more education and study is great. Seems lots of other students think so too.

  • I have to think that the world of mega-churches may be influencing this some. Many staff at mega-churches have seminary degrees but do not serve in traditional pastoral roles. What is an appropriate degree for a coorindator of adult singles small groups or the cooridinator for the web team or the operations director for building. But I know people that hold all three of those jobs that have seminary degrees.

    I also have a Mdiv but work in program evaluation for church based non-profits. Never intended to work in pastoral ministry but I always intended to work in context of church based ministries.

  • Thanks for the great comments and questions. DavidL, the data I had did not breakdown employment expectations by degree. However, I can tell you that less than half of MDiv graduates expect to have a FT position in parish ministry (according to a presentation by Helen Blier from ATS).

    MikeB, 20% of incoming students are undecided. It is the biggest single category. You might be interested to know that 30% of MDiv graduates are undecided as well.

  • Thanks Greg.

  • Brian


    I’ve been thinking about this post in connection with the Missional DMin post from earlier in the week. I’ve been pastoring a church for 14 years and although I love working in a small church context and working to facilitate a shift to missionally engaging our community, I feel the tension between working within the traditional model of church and a heart for other models which put more emphasis on team leadership and bivocational ministry, allowing the focus to be more on community and less on bricks and mortar and staff —

    (there is a question in here) — how do you see Seminary education helping to prepare students for bivocational work that can dovetail with ministry callings in a nontraditional parish setting?

  • Many expect to be in “Specialized ministry (including youth and music ministry)”–about the same size as “Parish ministry.” Is that “specialized ministry” in the local church or in parachurch organizations? If about 40% expect to be ordained, I would think that all of those “Parish ministy” and “Specialized ministry” people expected to be in the local church.

    I also left this on Greg’s website:

    Good work, Greg. I guess I would just comment that I think it is great that most seminarians do not envision being a full-time traditional parish pastor/preacher immediately upon graduation because there are not many jobs out there like that. As someone recently told me, the “entry level positions” in the church are in youth and children’s ministry. Now that oversimplifies it a bit but the mix of parachurch positions, missions, church planting, and chaplaincy envisioned by the incoming seminarians I think accurately corresponds to the “market.” The exception to this are denominations which place all seminary graduates as pastors of local churches–the United Methodist Church basically does this–what they call “guaranteed appointment.” I think other Episcopal church structures also place their MDiv graduates (Roman Catholic, Episcopal/Anglican, Lutheran). However, the rest (Presbyterian and Congregational forms of church government) force MDiv graduates to “win a job search.”

    As an example of the scarcity of traditional preacher jobs, I see on the PCUSA website that there are currently 128 positions available for those just starting out for their “First Ordained Call.” 79 are solo pastors at small churches broken into these categories: 59 are “pastor (solo),” 6 “pastor (head of staff)” or 14 “designated pastor.” 29 more are “Associate Pastor” positions at larger churches–7 which are youth pastor positions. 9 are part-time “Pastor (Tent Maker/Part-time).” Princeton Theological Seminary (PCUSA) has 130 MDiv grads a year, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary 50 MDiv grads a year, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary 30 MDiv grads a year, plus there are 7 more PCUSA seminaries; therefore it is a good thing a number of the graduates are not PCUSA and a number are planning to do things besides take a “First Ordained Call.”

    I also think it is good to note the importance of the website for students judging their fit with the school.

    I also think it is interesting how important the “the academic reputation of the school” and “quality of the faculty” is to incoming students. They want to make sure they are getting their money’s worth. It seem most do not just want the “degree” or “credential.” They sense the need for something beyond “self-study / reading independently” or “Sunday school” or “conferences”–they want a strong dose of rigorous theological education. They don’t want to hear later on that their seminary degree matters little to employers because it was an inferior school; nor do they want to hear that they could have learned much more if they had chosen a better school.

  • Great comments, Andy. I think the variety is good, as well. However, I believe the MDiv has not (historically) taken into account such a level of variety. Some of that has changed with the growing number of emphases schools offer as part of the MDiv. I just want us to make sure we are developing programs which are not built on the assumption that we are exclusively training senior pastors for the church – we are doing much more!

    The 81% also speaks to MDiv enrollment is flat to declining. More and more students choose professional MA degrees.