LIVING THROUGH FINANCIAL REGRET: Use Caution in Pursuit of Ministry Education.

I have thought of writing for sometime. I am part of a denomination that doesn’t require a Masters Degree to pastor, in fact up until about 10 years ago the usual people going on for a Masters degree were teachers and some upper leaders or pastors of very large or Mega-churches.

Then we started pushing a seminary, and encouraging more education. I chose to get a jump on the band wagon, and went for a four-year M-DIV. I was warned of the risks financially, but hoped for opportunity to teach part-time at a college or online. I never had aspirations of a larger church or denominational position, since God placed the call of local church ministry on my heart.

Seven years later I honestly feel much of my extra training has proven of little value. When the financial strain of debt and serving in a small local church is considered then the payoff seems far less than helpful.

Here are the good and bad that I see and have experienced.

THE GOOD OF MY SEMINARY DEGREE

  • A deeper understanding of the technical terms and biblical languages: Yes, I can say I have a better understanding of language and the Bible. However, with the great Bible programs available the knowledge is available to all of us.
  • A bit of growth in my personal devotion life: I did grow in spiritual discipline and growth. I believe there are far less expensive ways to achieve this.
  • Some understanding of how the administration of church works: again I may have grown un this area, but a community college might have helped in managment for a far more reasonable price.
  • Bringing me into contact with people outside my normal daily contacts: we need to learn to move beyond out of our comfort zones and be comfortable with all people. This is a plus to seminary, but could be accomplished with mission trips or serving local mission groups.

THE BAD OR LESS IMPORTANT

  • A huge financial burden: I am no different than others. I’d just paid off my 4 year Bachelors when I returned to pursue a Masters degree. I racked up a burden of $100,000. I pastor, like many in a small rural community, and never should have pursed further education.
  • A degree that serves no purpose outside of church realm: An MDIV, or Masters in the Bible are only recognized by churches and church administrators. No one in the world cares that you know Greek, Hebrew, or planning worship. In fact having a Masters Degree will close some doors, because people will not think you will take a job with a high degree.
  • A flooded system of seminarians means the job market isn’t easy: I had hoped to supplement income as a part-yine college professor. Here’s the rub, like most jobs,if you don’t know the right people you will not get a second look. Furthermore, with so many others now pursuing higher degree you’ll be lost in the pile of others seeking jobs or supplements to their income. Many tell us there is need of pastors, but you must consider that most places in need are smaller churches. This means lower pay and in most cases the need to be bi-vocational to supplement income.

EXTRA THINGS TO CONSIDER IF YOUR WONDERING IF SEMINARY IS FOR YOU

  • Cost: Seminary will cost anywhere from $65,000 – $150,000 depending on where you attend.
  • Find seminars or even mission trips to grow your personal life: I realize today that most of the lasting benefits of my extra higher education only built on my Bachelor’s in Bible and religion. Most of those enhanced training could have come from seminars. I’d say over 25 years of ministry I’ve received far more from pastor and leadership retreats than any degree class I’ve taken.
  • Realize a piece of paper has little or no serious effect on serving, teaching, or preaching: Training is needed, but a degree doesn’t make good preachers or pastors. A heart of faith and service make a person a minister. Many less trained people preach and teach better then higher trained ministers.
  • In a growing bi-vocational ministry world consider what training will truly serve you, your family, and your church outreach in the future: In my experience I would have done better ten years ago pursuing a teaching degree. I am limited to substitute teaching as one of the few jobs in my are to supplement income. I’ve wondered how if I’d have gotten a degree for teaching I might be less financially burdened, and my church freer to put more money toward other ministry. A business degree, counseling degree, or technical training in some cases might actually provide a better place for bi-vicational work and open more doors for witness and ministry in your community.
  • Above all, be sure it’s really God’s Plan and not your human hope or desire that drives you: be in deep prayer. It’s easy to think something is right, while missing what God really desires.

I am not saying not to pursue education or that education is evil. I am saying that we should be more open to God’s leading, and be very cautious about pursuing extra higher educational degrees. I also believe most denominations need to reconsider what the need in ministers, and find ways to offer needed training without the financial burden. Such burdens always effect the minister, family, and church. This is s burden for all in the church and we must find better ways to increase knowledge and depth without the destruction of debt.

I wish I had the miraculous answer, but I don’t. All I can do is share my experience and hope others are more cautious than I was.

May Jesus bless your journey.

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