November 16, 2011

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

There’s a lot of really good stuff on the Patheos symposium, maybe the best stuff that’s ever been collected on this subject, and from a very wide range of perspectives.  You’ve got everything from an evangelical saying that seminaries need to doctrinally retrench, to a former evangelical who runs an inter-faith seminary.  I don’t think it’s even possible to have a wider range than that.

The robustness of the conversation has, I must admit, surprised me.  It seems there are still lots of people who really care about graduate theological education.  I think that’s a good thing.

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November 8, 2011

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary made news last week, when they announced that beginning in 2015, they won’t be charging tuition anymore:

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) will not charge tuition for students in its master’s degree programs in divinity, marriage and family therapy and religion beginning in 2015. Tuition is currently a little over $10,200.

“As a result of this bold decision, Louisville Seminary is poised to make not only a difference in the future of this school and in theological education, but also a difference for the future of the church,” said Pamela G. Kidd, chair of the Board of Trustees, following the trustees’ unanimous and enthusiastic vote.

The trustees also committed to raising about $17 million toward the program. The seminary’s current endowment is about $70 million. By 2021 the seminary intends to offer an additional stipend to every student to cover living expenses.

Total master’s degree enrollment will be capped at 130 ― down from about 150 currently ― to make the tuition-free program affordable and more selective. “Capping the size of entering classes will make full funding of each student an achievable goal within a relatively short time frame,” said Patrick Cecil, LPTS’s vice-president and CFO in a statement released by the seminary announcing the historic program.

Interesting, don’t you think?  I imagine that LPTS will suddenly become a very competitive place to get in to in 2015, which will inevitably raise the competency of of the student body.  How they’ll make it work financially is another question.  But at least if they go down, they’ll be going down in flames.

My only question is this: How many LPTS students are already going for free? I know from my experience at Princeton that most of the students who were on the PC(USA) ordination track didn’t pay for their education.  If most of their current students are already going for free, then I don’t know what the news is.

HT: Patrick Marshall

October 27, 2011

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

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.

October 21, 2011

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.

I got tweeted at yesterday by Robert.  He asked:

What I thought is, I should be asking you that question!

There are several seminaries from which Robert can choose in the Twin Cities.  The majors are Bethel, Luther, and United. Then there’s John Piper’s Bethlehem Seminary and several other minor league options.

Although I’m qualified to teach theology at a seminary, none of the majors would hire me.  I’m too liberal for Bethel (and I wouldn’t sign their lifestyle statement), probably too conservative for United (plus, they’re small and not growing), and too anti-denominational for Luther (plus, several of their recent hires have Princeton PhDs, so they won’t likely hire another Princeton PhD for quite some time).

I’m guessing that John Piper won’t be offering me a teaching position either.

If seminaries are to survive, they need to find a place for non-traditional scholars like me.

Thankfully, there are several other seminaries and theological schools around the country who will occasionally hire me to teach a class — and I am grateful to each one of these schools — but at each I’m relegated to the role of adjunct professor, a.k.a., the slave labor of academia.

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