**Repost from 2012, 2015, with updates.**
In May 2019, billionaire Robert F Smith declared to the graduating class of 2019 at Morehouse college in Atalanta, GA, that he would cover their student debt. 400 students had amassed approximately $40 million in student loans that Smith intends to wipe clean.
TONIGHT: A billionaire vows to pay off the student loans of 400 Morehouse graduates…and ruins all future commencement speeches indefinitely. pic.twitter.com/qVPuawCxwY
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) May 21, 2019
Of course, the question most are asking, particularly non-Americans, is how on earth 400 students could amass so much debt? What is broken in the American pots-secondary system where higher education leaves students in decades worth of debt?
Canada might be better off, but not by much. Private university, although it receives government money, is still very expensive (more so than public universities). Christians schools are private and therefore expensive. Students who chose to enter into vocation are placing massive impediments on their life by pursuing a vocation in ministry that demands a bible degree.
So is it worth it?
Borrowing money for bible college degrees is a bad idea. Think of it pragmatically. Most new grads generally have two options when they emerge with a bible-related degree: work in a church, or become a professional missionary. This is a pragmatic reason why most Christian post-secondary institutions are offering more options in liberal arts or education degrees.
Those are two professions where job prospects are dwindling rapidly. (Someone could do some sociological work on whether the demographic shifts will open more jobs for up-and-coming generations, but I would guess older generations are hanging on to their jobs longer as they live longer, and that the declining church out strips new opportunity.
Here are some more reasons why prospective seminary and Bible college students should rethink their application for Bible education in the emerging post-Christian world.
*Full disclosure, I went to seminary, albeit I didn’t have to borrow. Would I do it again? Probably. Will I go back? Probably. But I won’t borrow for it.*
First off, I don’t want to diminish anybody’s calling. Nor would I suggest training vocational ministers and missionaries is not needed. But what about everyone else? Is it worth borrowing for a 4, 3, 2, or heaven forbid, 4 year undergrad and 3 year seminary degrees? If education was free and/or affordable it would make the decision easier. But those dwindling job prospects coupled with crippling private education debt leave few legitimate reasons to chase Bible degrees.
Think about this pragmatically. If more churches are closing, there are fewer jobs for younger successors. Not only that, vocational ministers represent a generation that have a vested interest in keeping their jobs. Career ministers lack transferable skills so you’ll hang on to your job in an age where ministry employment opportunities are dwindling.
Students need a plan beyond ministry because their job prospects are not positive, nor are they improving.
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 a degree in Economics and a career as an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t trade my 3 year MDiv, but it hasn’t had an impact on my income. Being multi-vocational is the new norm especially for leaders who wish to operate outside of the traditional mold.
Anecdotally, when I look back to my own seminary graduating class I can only think of two, maybe three, that scored ‘lead’ pastor positions. Fast forward 10 years and there’s one. 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?).
Things get worse as you specialize. A degree in ‘youth ministry’ or ‘worship’ may echo a passion, but they aren’t applicable beyond the specific designation. 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 low paying jobs.
This wreaks havoc on 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.
You have to think about life after school and what your legitimate job prospects will be. That’s not merely about a pay cheque, it’s about your quality of life for years and decades to come. Can you picture it?
The prestige of holding a bible degree is not worth the cost.
This is self-explanatory.
Question the notion lead pastors (particularly for wacky church plants) need an M.Div. to lead a church.
My Master has little relevant on how well I pastor. It helps a lot in terms of being a thought leader, but not a pastor. Personal formation plays a bigger role in informing my skills as a minister. Furthermore, unless you’re bent on surviving in the conventional church, the way of the future is in the re-imagination of the the very systems that desire bible college grads as leaders.
Bible colleges often impart skills that are no longer needed.
Some Christian universities are starting to recognize this problem, while those who turn a blind eye are closing. New 1 – 2 year certification programs provide necessary training without the burden of 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. That would mean if given the choice between incurring post-secondary debt for relevant degrees and professions, vs. a theology degree, you should opt for the former (unless you want to teach).
Anything else will be laden with disappointment and bankruptcy (actually not, because student loans aren’t included in bankruptcy. You stuck for life….)