I read something in our local paper on, of all mornings, Easter Sunday. The article, Debt risks ministry careers, looks at the student loan debt burden taken on by aspiring minister to achieve the professional educational requirements the church has decreed are required to "minister" in the church (a requirement that none of the original apostles would have met, BTW). The article looks at our local Lutheran semimary, Concordia, but it speaks to a bigger issue in the church. The economics of ministry is on a dangerous path as higher education gets more and more expensive, saddling would be ministers with ever greater amounts of debt, while fewer local congregations are able to financially support full time clergy. Unlike other professions where there is a more or less direct payoff for that additional debt, in ministry you take on more debt to make less money than you could in the private sector.
What is interesting to me is that most of this unnecessary debt being taken on by sincere brothers and sisters is where that debt comes from. From the article...
About 90 percent of Concordia students end up borrowing through federal student loans, he estimates.
Do you get why that seems so wrong, so contrary to what we see in Scripture?
Can you picture this in the first few centuries of the church? A young man goes to his local church elders and says he wants to serve Jesus. They tell him he needs to attain a particular educational level in order to really minister. In order to do so he will need to go to a special school and it will be very expensive. The young Christian is crestfallen. How will I pay for this schooling he asks? Easy, exclaim the elders, you can just go into debt by borrowing money from Caesar so you can serve Jesus! The young man is understandably confused but the elders know best so he fills our his Free Application for Imperial Financial Aid, or FAIFA for short and starts visiting seminaries.
Silly, right? Well yes and intentionally so but why is it so silly given the reality in the church where we demand as local congregations that the relative strangers we will hire to be our "elders" must have a degree from a seminary, a degree that will cost them dearly in terms of time and money (and probably debt)? Once again we see the church is, perhaps unintentionally, relying on Caesar to finance the church. Whether it is tax breaks or student loans for ministry students, the church is awfully reliant on the state to operate and that is not a healthy situation. We bemoan the "loss of religious liberty" in America but when we turn the operation of the church over to Caesar what do we expect?