**Repost from 2012 with updates.**
In our shifting culture, there has been a reduction of ministry related degrees to two main job prospects: work in large churches, or the professional missionary.
This shift may come as a surprise to students, after all, you enroll at bible college for two reasons: 1) to become a minister, 2) to go into the mission field. What you’re not told is how few prospects there are in these areas. That’s why many Christian post-secondary instituations are offering a third option 3) liberal arts or education degrees, to help with the decline.
Given the shift in both demand and culture, here’s are some reasons why prospective seminary and Bible college students should rethink their application and the significant cost of private Bible education in the emerging post-Christendom world.
*Full disclosure, I went to seminary.*
First off, I don’t want to diminish anybody’s “calling” for many who enter ‘the ministry’. Nor would I suggest training vocational ministers and missionaries is not needed. But what about everyone else?Is it necessary for young people for 4, 3, 2, or heaven forbid, 4 year undergrad and 3 year seminary degrees? If this education was free or affordable it would be easy to swallow. However, dwindling job prospects and crippling private education debt leave few reasons to chase Bible degrees. Do programs currently offered in Christian education reflect the current needs, particularly in the church world? I would argue it doesn’t. In fact, it inflates actual demand.
Current vocational ministers represent a generation that have a vested interest keeping the few jobs left for as long as possible thereby leaving fewer prospects for young successors. That’s to be expected because if you’re a career minister, and have few transferable skills, you’ll hang on to your job in a time where ministry employment opportunities are dwindling.
That’s not to suggest you’re unemployable with ministry degrees, you’ll just have to be more creative and entrepreneurial with the skills you do have. I have an economics degree and a career as an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t trade my 3 year MDiv personally, but it hasn’t had a huge impact on my job prospects (but it has been critical in developing my passions). You may have to find some complement as well (call it some type of multi-vocation existence for now.) Bible related degrees largely lack transferable skills beyond ministry jobs.
Students need a plan beyond ministry because their job prospects are not positive, nor are they improving.
Anecdotally, when I look back to my own seminary graduating class I can only think of two, maybe three, that scored ‘lead’ pastor positions. The rest either did not pursue ministry or were shipped to obscure locations to operate as the much maligned ‘youth pastor’ (I guess you gotta start somewhere?).
A degree in ‘youth ministry’ or ‘worship’ may echo a passion, but they aren’t applicable beyond the specific description. The result? We are raising a generation of Bible college grads to be baristas. 4 years of Bible college, unless you plan to teach or become a theologian, is a setup for a lifetime hardship fraught with poverty.
This wreaks havoc on the spiritual formation of a generation of young people who were encouraged and thought God was calling them into professional ministry, only to roam the wilderness of minimum wage employment instead.
Many Bible colleges impart skills that are no longer needed.
Some Christian universities are starting to recognize the tension, while those who turn a blind eye are closing (or are closed). 1 – 2 year certification programs are emerging to provide necessary training without the burden of crippling student loans. Arts and education degrees are emerging, along with improved focus on social work and business.
Coupled with the change of programming should also be a change in expectations. Rather than the falsehood a ministry degree will lead to a full-time ministry career, consider the programs, long or short, as enhancements to your existing journey participating in the mission of God in your city.
Anything else is, or will be, laden with disappointment.