More seminary students leave the Master of Divinity behind

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Bert Perry's picture

I was going to make a comment--or maybe wisecrack--about the driving factor being that you can't pay off the loans on an MDIV with preacher's pay, but the article is quite different.  The author connects pay with the issue, yes, but the bigger issue in her view is the decline in mainline churches.  Having grown up in one of them, and having experienced the mainline experience in a number of denominations, I'm not quite sure I can portray that portion of the plunge in MDIVs as a huge loss.

And I say that as a huge proponent of academic training who laments the lack of academic rigor in "fundagelical" circles as a whole.  There is a certain point where either the training does not matter as much as I'd like to believe, or perhaps something else is preventing that rigor from being expressed in a meaningful way.  I'd guess part of it is academic elitism turning people off to any benefit--and perhaps even preventing the training from becoming used.

But that said, a general anti-academic mood in fundamental and evangelical churches, along with the refusal to pay young pastors enough to match their student debts, most likely have a huge impact as well.  

TylerR's picture

A few random thoughts:

  • The MDiv isn't an academic degree; it's a professional degree. That's not to say it isn't academic in nature, but it prepares you for a profession, not a career in academia. 
  • You can't pay off the MDiv student loan debt with a pastor's salary; not in Baptist circles
  • A pastor likely already has student debt from his undergrad. You're kidding yourself if you believe it's an easy decision to go into more debt for the MDiv
  • If your default response is that a pastor should suck it up, and go into debt, and sacrifice for the Lord, then you're being foolish and unrealistic. 
  • The seminary industrial complex (my own term) is committed to preaching a "go to bible college, get your BA, then come to Seminary and get your MDiv, and serve the Lord" model. This isn't nefarious and evil, but it's a model that keeps them in business. The typical student who follows this model ends up with a MDiv at 26 (or so), with mountains of debt, and little or no formal training for a decent secular job, so he subsists on perhaps $40k per year (if he's lucky), while his wife works to provide medical insurance. Meanwhile, with their meager combined salaries, they struggle to survive and pay off his (and perhaps hers!) student loan debt. All told, this is not a blueprint for long term success. 
  • Online education is where it's at. People can whine and moan as often as they wish. If your institution does not embrace virtual and/or online education, it will die. 
  • The MDiv will continue to wane as long as good MAs are offered, coupled with virtual and online options. 
  • The MDiv is known as the Cadillac degree for a reason. If you go to a good school, it gives you the tools you need for sustained success in ministry. An MA can't replace it. 

My advice:

  • A pastor should be realistic, get an MA, and chip away at an MDiv with virtual or online education over several years. This is what I've been doing; I graduated with my MA five years ago, and I've been in ministry continuously before, during, and since that time. I just have a few semesters of Hebrew left, and I'll be done.
  • Don't do the "move my family to XYZ city, go to school fulltime for three years, and be done" model. Take it slow and take your time. One class at a time. Patience. Apply your new skills gradually, as you do ministry and serve in your church. You may be on the 10 year MDiv plan, but what's the hurry!? If Jesus returns tomorrow, will He rebuke you for not having your MDiv? "Depart from me! I never knew you; thou has not an MDiv! Behold, you have been faithful over very little, for tough hast only an MA!"
  • Take it slow, and take several years to chip away at the MDiv. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

John E.'s picture

I'm reading God's Ambassadors: The Westminster Assembly and the Reformation of the English Pulpit, 1643-1653 by Chad Van Dixhoorn, and it's amazing how stringent the academic requirements were for ordination (moral requirements too, but that's not what this thread is about). While I don't believe that we should wholesale mimic the Westminster Divines on this, academic rigor and accountability is a good thing for pastors.  

The Reformed Baptist Seminary is budget friendly. Currently, I'm weighing pursuing an Mdiv at RBS or at the RTS here in DC. By God's grace, our church pays for the seminary education for those in our congregation who meet certain qualifications, including how the individual plans on using the degree. Contributing to the SBC Cooperative Program means that our members also receive steep discounts at SBC seminaries.   

Jonathan Charles's picture

I went straight from Christian college to seminary.  Got married before seminary. My wife taught school while I was in seminary, she was gone from 7-4. I was in class 8-11 or 12, depending on the day, then I worked 1-9 or 10, depending on the day.  My next to last year of seminary, our first child was born. I completed a M. Div.

I had very little time to spend with my young family, I missed out on a lot.  While I appreciate my degree, I totally understand a young man finding another way. 

My recommendation is that seminaries need a 5 year B.A./M. Div. combo. A few have it. One past seminary president I talked to (BBS) said they'd accommodate it but most undergrads were not academically capable of it, so they did not market it. 

Larry Nelson's picture

TylerR wrote:

  • You can't pay off the MDiv student loan debt with a pastor's salary; not in Baptist circles

I have my own thoughts/opinions, but I'm interested in others:

  • Why can't/don't (most) IFB churches pay their pastors better? 
  • What might be done to change the situation/circumstances, so that more would be able to pay higher salaries?
Larry's picture

Why can't/don't (most) IFB churches pay their pastors better?

IFB churches are not alone in this. Most churches are this way. But various factors:

  • Size and demographics in many cases. 
  • Unwise decisions in the past such as selling parsonages so that the cash salary now has to be eaten up by housing expenses.
  • Having too large a missions' budget can be a factor.
  • Spending priorities.
  • Wrong view of pastoral income (on both sides).

What might be done to change the situation/circumstances, so that more would be able to pay higher salaries?

Grow churches larger, but realistically, accept that for many churches (IFB and non-IFB), a full-time pastorate is not possible. Bi-vocational is going to be the way of the future for many churches. It's not a bad idea. Take a team approach to ministry that intentionally spreads out responsibility.

Bert Perry's picture

....is the assumption that a BA from Bible college is sufficient.  There are a lot more young men who can make it through Bible college than can make it through a masters' degree program of any type, and hence it's a simple issue of supply and demand.  I would guess that if we were able to get churches to take "apt to teach" seriously without risking academic snobbery, a whole lost of troubles in churches might be mitigated.

"If", as the Spartans told Philip of Macedon, and "maybe." 

dgszweda's picture

Larry wrote:

Grow churches larger, but realistically, accept that for many churches (IFB and non-IFB), a full-time pastorate is not possible. Bi-vocational is going to be the way of the future for many churches. It's not a bad idea. Take a team approach to ministry that intentionally spreads out responsibility.

I say it is more about poor choices/priorities and the lack of giving.  I have been in some extremely small churches that have paid the pastor well and I have been in some larger churches that have not paid the pastor very well.  One of the key bad choices churches make is setting the priority of a building over the pastor.  Don't get a building if you can't pay the pastor appropriately.  If you have 10 giving families there is no reason why the pastor can't be paid properly.

There is also no reason why a pastor has to graduate college with debt.  I graduated from a Bible college without an ounce of assistance from either the school, government or my family and I graduated without debt.  Not easy, but can be done.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I must confess that there are some aspects of the SBC that look pretty good to me, and the support available for seminary students is one of them.  I'm not ready to take the plunge, but I think others would benefit from following certain SBC practices.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Another thought; if the pastor is indeed the "elder", then we might infer that a younger pastor (e.g. Timothy) ought to be the exception rather than the rule, and that for most, pastoring ought to be a second career--and the training for the equivalent of an MDiv can then be spread over decades instead of years.

Granted, we're going against two millenia of history--it is said that rabbinic training of the 1st Century was 12 years starting at age 18--but if we value the definition of Strong's #4245 as much as we emphasize the definition of Strong's #907, we might yet come to the conclusion that another approach would be wise. 

And if many come to that point, we would then find people arriving in the ministry with a long, good track record in the secular world and their college debts paid off, and with their kids largely grown.  

Larry's picture

One of the key bad choices churches make is setting the priority of a building over the pastor.  Don't get a building if you can't pay the pastor appropriately.  If you have 10 giving families there is no reason why the pastor can't be paid properly.

I am not sure it it this simple for two reasons. First, you have to have a building or there is no real reason to have a pastor. If you can't meet, you can't be a church. It may be that the building is an unwise choice for one reason or another, but I don't think it is "building or pastor." Second, ten giving families may not be able to pay the pastor depending on the families, which goes back to my point about demographics. What is 10% of a bridge card? Or any percent of what's leftover after housing and food for a low income family? In some neighborhoods, the money simply isn't there even if they are mature enough to be committed to giving. 

John E.'s picture

I'm curious about the 10 giving families being enough to financially support a full-time pastor.

The median household income in Arlington, VA is around $108K. Let's be generous and say those ten families give 20% to the church. That comes out to just over $200k a year. Half of that church's budget is going to be taken up with the pastor's salary. Unless that church is meeting somewhere for free, I don't see how a church with only 10 giving families can support a full-time pastor (and that's even taking into consideration my bad use of statistics meeting my bad math).

I understand that the cost of living and salaries are abnormal where I live, but I'm assuming that the numbers won't work out in other parts of the country either.   

Bert Perry's picture

John E. wrote:

I'm curious about the 10 giving families being enough to financially support a full-time pastor.

The median household income in Arlington, VA is around $108K. Let's be generous and say those ten families give 20% to the church. That comes out to just over $200k a year. Half of that church's budget is going to be taken up with the pastor's salary. Unless that church is meeting somewhere for free, I don't see how a church with only 10 giving families can support a full-time pastor (and that's even taking into consideration my bad use of statistics meeting my bad math).

I understand that the cost of living and salaries are abnormal where I live, but I'm assuming that the numbers won't work out in other parts of the country either.   

What I've bolded is about how it works.  If you have 10-11 families in the church, say 30-40 people there including children (we'll assume they're not all homeschoolers, in which case the number would be 70-100, of course), you can meet, albeit snugly, in a generously sized living or family room.  Aren't we told that a lot of ancient churches were indeed house churches?  A discussion of "what is really needed in church" might be very profitable--sometimes we are better at building buildings than at making disciples, it seems. 

Larry Nelson's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

What I've bolded is about how it works.  If you have 10-11 families in the church, say 30-40 people there including children (we'll assume they're not all homeschoolers, in which case the number would be 70-100, of course), you can meet, albeit snugly, in a generously sized living or family room.  Aren't we told that a lot of ancient churches were indeed house churches?  

In reality, you'd have a very hard time (in any church I've ever seen) getting all ten out of any given ten families to each give 10%, let alone the 20% that John E. optimistically proposes.

At best, you'd end up with a church of ten families struggling to pay a full-time pastor---with no margin left in the church's income to fund anything else.  And what happens when a couple of families move away, or a couple of the breadwinners get laid off?

Then again, does a church of ten families really need a full-time pastor?  Besides preaching & teaching, there would be only so much counseling, visitation, and the like to be done.  We're talking about a need for a bi-vocational pastor, at most.

AndyE's picture

I'll vouch for what dgszweda said since we were both part of the same church plant that basically did exactly what he said.  Just as an example, 10 years ago the church had a budget around $220k, with a $60k/year mortgage, and we paid the pastor a bit over $80k. At that point we had 100-125 people in the church, if I remember correctly.  The killer for most church plants today are building costs.  We were very fortunate in that regard.

John E.'s picture

You wrote:

I'll vouch for what dgszweda said since we were both part of the same church plant that basically did exactly what he said.  Just as an example, 10 years ago the church had a budget around $220k, with a $60k/year mortgage, and we paid the pastor a bit over $80k. At that point we had 100-125 people in the church, if I remember correctly.  The killer for most church plants today are building costs.  We were very fortunate in that regard.

Did that church plant have more than 10 giving units? That's the part of dgszweda's statement that I'm curious about. 

As you stated, your low building costs was essential. In God's providential grace, my church was given a building four years ago. We're able to do things that other churches our size can't because we have no mortgage. We are very mindful of that and very thankful. 

AndyE's picture

John E. wrote:

Did that church plant have more than 10 giving units? That's the part of dgszweda's statement that I'm curious about. 

As you stated, your low building costs was essential. In God's providential grace, my church was given a building four years ago. We're able to do things that other churches our size can't because we have no mortgage. We are very mindful of that and very thankful. 

I don't remember exactly how many giving units we had at the very beginning.  It was close to around 10, though.  We added families, of course, through time.  We were not officially self-supporting right off the bat but I remember looking back at the numbers and thinking we could have been.  I was treasurer for first 10 years of the church's existence.  The numbers I gave were not at the beginning, and we had way more than 10 giving units at that time, but the budget number was close to what you estimated and that's why I posted it. At the beginning, with the ~10 units, we were only paying around $1000/mo for our rented facility, so those costs were way down, and our overall budget wasn't nearly $220k.

John E.'s picture

Thank you, Andy.

While trying not to think of my small sample size as normative, I'm not sure that I'm willing to give up on having full-time vocational pastors in our churches. If churches lose tax exempt status, that will change, of course.

One thought could be having conservative Christians invest half a billion dollars in churches and not tourist traps in DC :) 

Bert Perry's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

<my note snipped>

 

In reality, you'd have a very hard time (in any church I've ever seen) getting all ten out of any given ten families to each give 10%, let alone the 20% that John E. optimistically proposes.

At best, you'd end up with a church of ten families struggling to pay a full-time pastor---with no margin left in the church's income to fund anything else.  And what happens when a couple of families move away, or a couple of the breadwinners get laid off?

Then again, does a church of ten families really need a full-time pastor?  Besides preaching & teaching, there would be only so much counseling, visitation, and the like to be done.  We're talking about a need for a bi-vocational pastor, at most.

Might be right.  On the other hand, we might find out how much spiritual growth a pastor might see if he had the time to interact with his entire flock.  

Jim's picture

https://centralseminary.edu/its-not-a-cadillac-part-one-a-bit-of-history/

by the 1950s Baptist fundamentalism was producing pastors who were strong opponents of modernist theology, but who tended to be poor thinkers with a fairly weak ability to study the text of Scripture for themselves and a relatively sketchy knowledge of the system of faith. This weak preparation of fundamentalist leaders resulted in poorly-taught churches led by pastoral impresarios whose ministries more closely resembled circuses and theaters than New Testament congregations. It eventually left the movement open to such debilitating influences as the sham scholarship of a Gail Riplinger, the demagoguery of a Jack Hyles, the ecclesiastical politics of a Carl McIntire, and the sharp decline of skillful expository preaching. Clearly something needed to be done.

To be sure, a few seminaries existed outside of Baptist circles. A young man graduating from college could go to Dallas or Talbot, or later on to Carl McIntire’s Faith Theological Seminary. But the Baptist alternatives were few. By the late 1940s, there was a little school in Los Angeles, and another was meeting in the basement of Wealthy Street Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. Conservative Baptists established a seminary in Denver in 1950, but it quickly abandoned both fundamentalism and dispensationalism.

By the mid-1950s, certain fundamentalist leaders began to see the need to offer seminary-level instruction for the coming generations of fundamentalist leadership. Over the next two decades, fundamentalists established several seminaries, including those in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Clarks Summit, Lansdale, and Detroit. Others were added later on.

...

Seminary instruction is not a guarantee of effective ministry. Nevertheless, ceteris paribus, a man with seminary behind him will be more effective in ministry than the same man without it. Some men will become useful who would otherwise have been failures in ministry. Furthermore, a good seminary will help to keep some men from becoming effective at doing the wrong things.

In short, seminary instruction—which includes all the components of the traditional M.Div. program—is not a Cadillac. It is not a luxury to be enjoyed only by those with wealth and leisure to acquire it. No, seminary instruction is more like a box full of tools, each of which is essential for the pastor who wishes to lead a church in God’s way. To neglect any of those tools is to cripple some aspect of vital, New Testament ministry.

That is exactly what happens when a future pastor refuses the M.Div. program in favor of the M.A. It is also what happens when seminaries, for the sake of enrollment, drop requirements so that they can shorten their M.Div. programs. It can even happen when a seminary cheapens its M.Div. by shifting the emphasis away from those tools that are more difficult to learn to use skillfully.

Craig Toliver's picture

So why does Central offer a MA?

https://centralseminary.edu/programs/master-of-arts/

You want to minister more effectively in your church, but you don’t know how. You’ve had some opportunities to counsel, but you struggle to know what to do. Things get so complicated so quickly. All you know is a few well worn cliches and a pat on the back.

You know the Bible has answers; you’re just not sure how to provide them. Maybe you’ve been given the chance to teach. It’s been exciting, but you are discovering that it’s difficult to present anything with depth. You’re just not sure how to make the connections and present the truth.

The Master of Arts could be the solution for which you are looking. With two tracks, one in Biblical Counseling and one in Theology, it is customizable, so that you can prepare for the ministry God has given you. The Master of Arts is a great start. You will begin obtaining the tools you need to make use of the power of the Word of God.

Why "sell" a Chevy if everyone needs a Cadillac

TylerR's picture

This essay is excellent. I agree the MDiv should the goal for any Christian minister. I also agree Baptist fundamentalism needs men who have MDiv training. I contend the best model to make that happen is to take your time, pay for your classes as you go, and take several years to get it done. Avoid student loan debt at all costs. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Rolland McCune's picture

Dr. Bauder:

Thanks for the article. I agree. Good reasoning and conclusions that are pointed and true.

Dr. R. V. Clearwaters often said that if he would have known he only had ten years of ministry he would study for seven and preach for three. The inimitable A. H. Strong, I think it was, quipped that if God wanted to grow an oak He took three years; if wanted to grow a squash, He took three months.

I would only add to your analysis Grace Theological Seminary, begun in 1937 as an unashamed fundamentalist school born out of the struggles with theological Liberalism and Arminianism in Brethren circles. In due course Grace developed high academic standards, sound theology, respectable scholarship and a bulwark against Liberalism and the  developing New Evangelicalism. When I was there, and before I came in 1957, Baptist students (GARBC, CBA mainly) often outnumbered Brethren students.

Rolland McCune

Joeb's picture

The Founder Of Princeton Evangelical Fellowship at Princeton University Donald Fullerton steered all Princeton students wanting to go into the ministry or missions to Grace.  I know this for a fact because he said it in my presence.   If it’s good enough for an Ivy League Grad I would say that’s one heck of a recommendation.  

I also checked Appalachian Bible Colleges Profs out and  a lot of them got their M Divs at Grace.  I’d say that speaks very well for Grace Seminary.  

Joeb's picture

When did you graduate College  dgsz.  BJU and Clark’s Summit run $25,000 at least for everything.  Now there may be some cheap Bible Colleges out there but most of them are unaccredited.  Now that BJU is accredited it’s price will probably go up some due to its great reputation for academics.   So your talking $100 grand for a BA or a BS and that’s a bargain 

Unless you have wealthy family members there is no way one can pay as you go and work ones way through college in four years.  That’s an unrealistic expectation for our kids today.   

I would think as a parent we all would like to see our kids do at least two years living on campus at a Christian College just for the experience if possible.  

When comes for paying for Christian Colleges I know I paid for two of my kids to go to Gordon. It didn’t kill them but it almost killed me.

I think Tyler’s way of getting an M Div is the best suggestion.  Take your time pay as you go or the vocational Pastor track   

 

josh p's picture

Craig, I could be wrong but I think Central offers the MA as the graduate preparation for a post graduate degree. 

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