In my opinion, ministry education is a mess. It’s particularly problematic in the United States, but there appear to be some of the same problems everywhere, regardless of location.
My qualifications for making this statement:
- I grew up in a pastor’s home, and I’ve spent the past thirty years in full-time ministry in churches and church-related colleges.
- As a professor, my main focus has been on preparing students for ministry, either full-time “professional” ministry or “volunteer,” lay-ministry.
- I used to describe my mission: I prepare students for vocational ministry (full-time, professional) and to minister through their vocations (volunteer, part-time), in church and non-church settings.
- Now, I’ve started working with the Biblical Institute of Zagreb, Croatia. We train Christians for ministry in a variety of settings.
Here are some of the problems I see with ministry education today:
It costs too much.
The cost of Christian higher education has risen at something like 500% the overall inflation rate. And students are taking on huge amounts of indebtedness, $40,000 to $60,000, to pay for their education.
2. It doesn’t pay enough.
I realize: saying something doesn’t “pay enough” is a bit ridiculous without context, so here’s the context.
For MOST newly-graduated ministers, ministry doesn’t pay enough to deal with the school loan payments, or to establish their families. A few newly-graduated ministers are going into megachurches, established churches that take good care of their people. Most are not.
Most newly-graduated ministers are going into small churches with little growth potential, or are taking part-time or volunteer positions at medium-sized churches at part-time or no salary.
3. The church paradigm is changing.
My impression, having lived in the Land of Religion (suburban Dallas TX) and the buckle of the Bible Belt (Kentucky) is that there are an increasing number of large churches (500+) and megachurches (1,000+), and an increasing number of small churches, and that the middle is “thinning.”
What I think is happening:
- Large churches keep getting larger. They are able to leverage technology, etc., to increase their footprint and use their operating funds more efficiently. They deliver worship, cross-cultural, and educational experiences that were unimaginable outside of Las Vegas or Disney World 25 years ago.
- The people who are in small churches generally like small churches. What they find there is what they want. They may enjoy listening to Hillsongs United, but it’s not worth more to them than the intimacy, strong ties, convenience, etc., that a small church offers.
- Churches of, say, 150 – 450 are getting squeezed. They’re big enough to try to emphasize programs, but they’re not big enough or rich enough (usually) to offer the programming and experiences that churches of 500+ offer.
And my last point, which I will have to address next time …