Tall Skinny Bailout

Andrew Jones is blogging on the debt dependent church.  Here are some of the gems from the post

I have seen a number of Seminary graduates come overseas to hang with us and to potentially find work in the "emerging church". After a short time, they have gone back to USA disappointed that there are no paid positions. Huge and wonderful opportunities . . . puny financial benefit. What did they teach those students about the emerging church? My guess is they pointed to a few cool mega-churches and said these were emerging. Wrong!

Of course what do they find in the United States?

And what about traditional church ministry and its dependence on buildings? I heard a Desiring God podcast last week where one pastor claimed some of his churches in Texas were worth $150 million and $250 million. How is it possible to reproduce this model without incurring incredible levels of debt? And has anyone stopped to ask if buying a huge building is the best way to spend God’s money?

How much does it cost to start a traditional church with a building and paid pastor? A million? Two million? A million dollars on the mission field could help launch a huge sprinkling of house churches that would saturate an area with small vibrant communities of faith where every believer is a minister. This is happening today and it is wonderful.

Suddenly Seminary at Habbo Hotel with Andrew Jones I think Andrew has some good things to say here but he is missing the point that a privately funded (this means paid for by massive tuition bills and student loans) theological education creates a system where all by the wealthiest have to find full time ministry jobs just to service the student loan debt.  Right from the time we start to seriously educate church leaders, we ask them to embrace a worldview of debt and unless your parents are rich and want to help out, there are few alternatives paths to explore.  I wish Andrew had kept pushing the idea of Suddenly Seminary.  I am not sure if it the alternative but it was a way of creatively addressing the issue and it is one that keeps needing to be explored.

4 thoughts on “Tall Skinny Bailout”

  1. Expanding the concept of seminary is a start, but what if we’ve already got alternative vehicles for ministry education, but we just aren’t recognizing them as such? For example, I’m not a YWAM-er, but if I were on the personnel committee for my church and someone applied who had done a YWAM DTS and maybe one or two of their other schools, and all the appropriate field-trip components that go with it, I would weight that equally with the applicant with the BTh from a Bible College. And that’s just one example.

    Another lifetime ago, as a student at U. of T., I served on a Communications committee that was screening applicants for a paid job in campus media. They asked one guy what formal training he had and without blinking he said, “No formal training, but lots of doing training, which some say is better.”

    But that doesn’t mean the end of Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Generations ago, the University of Waterloo advanced the concept of co-op education at the post-secondary level. Many students leave their programs with their education fully paid for; some actually leave with money in the bank. This does however mean the end of field-placements and internships as Seminaries and Bible Colleges have traditionally understood them, but it goes a long way to meeting the debt-servicing issue you’ve correctly raised.

  2. I get a lot of questions about colleges and financial aid. One basic concept i have realized is that one should only incur educational debt for a field that pays well – engineering, acounting, nursing, etc., and get into the best school you can find.

    For low-paying fields, take the college with the most financial aid. When you get there, you will probably be a little more qualified than the average student, and you will stand out. You will get a little more attention from the faculty, and will get some great references. College will be just more enjoyable.

    For seminary, this poses some additional challenges. Most seminaries are private; with expensive tuition (tho not as bad as places like Harvard). Having an outside job can help, particularly if that job offers some tuition benefits, or if that job allows you to study (like security guard). Pick a good-sized seminary that offers lots of classes at various times, over a small one has a pretty simple sequence of classes. A dual income helps, plus it is far easier for a married seminary grad to get a position.

    Multi staff churches have a hierarchy of salaries, so there is rarely much flexibility, but it is often possible to get your new hire to pay off some of your debt. You can always ask.

  3. Yep, this is pretty much where my thinking on the future of the emerging church petered out. Our models are too expensive to sustain; even if you don’t own a building, theological education costs a fortune.

    Right now, I’m in a church pastored by people with a strong family faith background and a strong background in field mission work, but no formal, accredited higher theological education that I know of. Secular college degree, secular job during the week. Rented building. Decent budget, which goes to service projects and paying pastoral wages ($20/hour, not salary) for study/prep and preaching and such. 3 part-timers on “staff,” all with day jobs.

    Back in the day, I thought money and churches should be kept as far apart as possible. My own church planting experience proved that to be too harsh an extreme. Paying by the hour won’t retire massive seminary debt, but it will allow the work to be sustainable.

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