At Pangea, Kurt makes good points about the massive debt that many seminarians graduate with. He’s right, they do. And they’re headed straight into a field that pays about $40,000 per year. That’s not enough to support a family in many cities, much less to repay student debt.
But here’s the bigger question, from my perspective: Why do seminary graduates expect to earn a full-time salary for ministry?
I get that’s the norm. But lots of mainline clergy are heading to congregations that have less than 100 parishioners. It’s completely unrealistic that a congregation of that size can support a full-time salary with benefits plus all of the upkeep that their buildings demand. Not to mention that a congregation that commits so many resources to sustaining itself will almost certainly preclude its ability to be missional.
Further, I often talk to erstwhile church planters who want to figure out how they can get a full-time salary with benefits while they’re planting a church. Puhleeze. Let’s put it in other words: I’d like to do something risky, but without any of the risk.
Most of the successful church planters I know do not garner their entire income from church work. They supplement it with another source — or several sources — of income.
And an Episcopal priest I met a couple weeks ago, who pastors a small parish in rural Georgia, also runs a local franchise of an employment agency. Instead of complaining that the church wasn’t paying him enough, he unapologetically stated that this was a much better arrangement for him and the parish.
Less and less clergy in the future will draw 100% of their income from ministry. Seminaries had better prepare their students for this reality, or else they aren’t really in the business of preparing seminarians for reality.