As churches close and budgets shrink, the new ministers who hear the call to serve must adopt new roles in changing communities

Minneapolis Star Tribune (re local seminaries): Fewer entering seminary

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Ed Vasicek's picture

The situation is bad across the board.  It used to be that just the liberal mainline schools were down.  But now it has hit the fundamental and evangelical world.  We have witnessed Bible colleges close and seminaries decline.  

But the statistics are not always truly revealing.  Although things are down in the more conservative world when it comes to schools, we need to also take into account something that is very big here in Indiana (and I am not proud of it), ministers who are not formally trained.  A lot of churches in our area -- like Baptist churches and non-denom -- are led by pastors who maybe graduated from high school.  Then you have mega-churches that train their own pastors.  Not factored into the equation are the many pastors who take all their training online.

Things are dropping in the evangelical/fundamental world, but not nearly as extensively as in the mainline protestant and Catholic world.  We certainly have a slow leak, theirs is not a blowout, but is a bigger slow leak than ours.  Of course that could change.

The only seminary mentioned in the article that is evangelical is Bethel.  But the reasons Bethel is down might not be the same reason that the liberal/Catholic seminaries are down.  Half of Bethel's decline (using them as an example) could be because fewer men are interested in vocational ministry, but the other half could be because men interested in vocational ministry are being trained in-church and/or online.

Is there a shortage of pastoral candidates for evangelical and fundamental churches?  Doesn't seem to be that way in central Indiana.


"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

I see them all over--and even the guys who've been to Bible college sometimes appall me by stating that their knowledge of Greek comes from a gyros shop downtown.  But let's be blunt about the matter; what do we expect for the pay churches want to pay pastors?  The guy who is an untrained pastor is more or less saying that the hours & pay for that job is better than he was getting at Wal-Mart.  

Contributing to the issue are guys who want the respect without doing the work--and not surprisingly, a lot of educated people are taking a pass on that one as they hear sermons and say "that isn't what this passage is about at all."  It's a vicious cycle, really--don't support your pastor, so you don't get a guy who's seminary trained, so you get someone who's not, the congregation loses its professionals who see through the hireling, have far less ability to support your pastor.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Jim wrote:


You have others like SBTS that have continued growth.

While this doesn't list all seminaries, what is interesting is that some are dropping and some are rising.  Overall, between 2016 and 2017 it is basically flat, with a 0.1% decline.


Jim's picture

Wiki says of Central: "As of the fall of 2016, 39 graduate students were enrolled."

Counting is EZ here:

  • Say company X (this is where my son works) has 13,200 FTE's.
    • They no-doubt have some part-timers 
    • The part-times are combined by HR to make one FTE and that's how the FTE's are counted
    • No doubt they have some contractors and other temporary workers (eg the night cleaning crew might work for a vendor and are not include in the FTEs
  • Or a High School (mine) with an enrollment of 2,716.
  • Or a Christian Day School. I think that 4th Baptist has about 270 tuition paying students (and they are all there daily (minus the sick ones)

Counting is harder at a seminary:

  • Take an DMin program. These guys take 6 2 week on-site classes and then are offsite the rest of the time reading & writing papers. Factor in the ones who start and have taken a hiatus. Is it a hiatus? or have they given up?
  • Or an MA program. This is typically a two year program. Few do this straight through in 2 years. Some are 6 yearers! Then the hiatus issue.
  • Then the MDiv. A three year program. Very few do it in three years!
  • How does one define a full-time student? One who takes 16 semester hours? Few take that load!

Observation but this is anecdotal. When I was in seminary (I started 40 years ago):

  • An MA (mine was an MRE) was completed in two years by the vast majority
  • An MDiv was completed in two years by the vast majority

It's a different day for the seminaries!

I personally support two Navigators campus ministers. These guys are very sharp. All of their training is ex-seminary. While their training is different ... both of these guys could easily pastor a church!

Ed Vasicek's picture

Larry said:

 The guy who is an untrained pastor is more or less saying that the hours & pay for that job is better than he was getting at Wal-Mart.  

This is true.  When a church wants someone with an M.Div and they are only offering to pay him 30K a year, something is wrong with that picture.  I say it tongue and cheek, but pastors need to unionize!

Bert, some mega churches hire someone from the business world, for example, and put them on staff.  In turn, they take courses online.  

Here in my town, there are several large, seeker-sensitive non-denominational churches (and even an Assembly of God church that isn't so large), and they have a training program.  The new staff are mentored by experienced staff, perhaps given books to read and be tested upon, etc.

Here are just a few churches in our area that have pastors who have had no formal theological training:

I don't really know the pastors at the churches above (met one of them), but the pastor at the church below is self-taught, and knows his stuff:

In my experience, most self-taught men are very weak in the details of theology and hermeneutics.

From a Christianity Today article:

While seminary may be an important component to many people’s theological education, Dave Ferguson of Community Christian Church in Chicago says one of the most effective ways to train a pastor is through apprenticeship. Both he and Osborne have had success recruiting from the ranks of their volunteer leadership teams and moving them into pastoral roles.

“In an apprentice model, you educate through teachable moments. You throw them in the water and stand on the edge of the pool,” Osborne explained. “No one drowns in a good apprentice model.”



"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

Ed, I deserve the blame for the Wal-Mart crack.  If Larry wants it as well, that's fine with me, but if he doesn't, I get the blame.  :^)

Seriously, thanks for thoughts.  I'm all for local church training, and I think it would do a lot of pastors a TON of good if they did seminary-level training of a few men as a matter of course.  We can debate whether that's more appropriate for deacons or pastors, to be sure, but a lot of good could come of that.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.