Russell Moore is the guest writer for today's Houses of Worship column on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal and the title of his post drew me like a moth to the flame, Student-Loan Debt and the Future of Seminaries. This is a topic I have written about a lot and it is one that, like so many others, gets very little attention. We just assume that men have to go to seminary to get an education so they can be "ministers" so young men feel obligated to leave their local assembly, head off to seminary and get an expensive vocational education before looking for a job that is likely to not pay nearly enough to offset the debt they leave seminary with, a debt that Dr. Moore (a dean at Southern Seminary) estimates at around $30,000 to $80,000.
He gets close to where I think this conversation should go, recognizing the need to nurture young men locally although ultimately he sees the goal as sending them to seminary anyway. After all Dr. Moore is a seminary guy although he also tends to be willing to buck tradition...
There will always be those who get a law degree or an M.B.A. (and the resulting debt) and then sense a call to ministry. The history of the church—see Augustine and John Calvin, not to mention the original 12 disciples of Jesus—is filled with "second-career" ministers. But the ideal pattern is for churches to seek to identify, early in life, those who are gifted and called to ministry; the churches should then be held accountable for guiding these potential ministers in seeking strategic, sound and affordable training. What if local congregations didn't merely rely on the availability of seminary graduates who decided to embark on a theological education after college, but actively kept an eye out for the stirring of the religious calling in young people all the way back to vacation Bible school?
What struck me as interesting is that men who have a law degree or an M.B.A. would need to sense a "call to ministry" and seek a "second-career" as a minister. For all the talk of vocational ministry as a "calling" we can't avoid talking about it like a job because that is what it is.
Here is my comment over at the Journal....
The real solution here is not new one but rather very old. Instead of sending aspiring ministers off to get a seminary education and then have them look for a job among people that likely are strangers (until a better job...er calling....comes along), we should be recognizing and appointing as elders men who exhibit the Biblical qualities of eldership from within our own local assemblies. The idea of hiring men to become elders in a local gathering of believers has no basis in the Bible (This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—Titus 1:5 ). The church doesn't need more over-educated young men saddled with debt and burdened with unreasonable expectations, we simply need to raise up and recognize those already among us and seek to imitate them.
This ties in to an oldie but goodie I wrote a while back, Home Cookin' and I stand by every word.
I don't consider myself to be an anti-intellectual. I read a lot and write, albeit poorly, on a regular basis. I appreciate having scholars in the church who can translate the Bible and who write weighty tomes about the deepest issues of theology. What we don't need are professional ministers in every location around the world who have taken coursework on hermeneutics and homiletics. We just need to equip the men we already have right where they already are to minister to the people right around them. That is cheaper in terms of student loan debt, more effective and frankly more Biblical.