Recently, The Christian Post published an article where Don Davis, the president of The Urban Ministry Institute, argues that the cost of seminary is too high.
The only way to get through seminary is to have wealth or know somebody rich. The working poor need not apply. I say this honestly.
Davis is blunt and correct. The cost of seminary is extraordinarily high. Depending on the school, the average cost of an education can run annually in the tens of thousands. The average cost is more akin to the price for a law or medical degree. When considering it takes a student between three-to-four years to complete seminary, a student could enter the pulpit with close to a hundred thousand in school debt.
Every student must take responsibility for their education by coming up with financing, either through financial aid, scholarships, or some type of employment. All options have their risks and rewards and a student must be willing to investigate these options before enrolling.
However, I believe financing a seminary education may be a secondary issue. The primary issue may answering what role does the church have in regards to the high cost of seminary.
Soon the church will face a pastoral leadership gap in our churches, because many of our leaders are nearing retirement. The church must prepare the next generation of leaders who will soon be the leaders of our churches. The entire church has a role in making sure new leaders are equipped and able to handle the responsibilities of pastoral leadership.
Seminaries must be willing to examine their finances and ask tough questions. Is the tuition fee an adequate representation of the institution’s true educational costs? Does the school provide enough financial aid resources to help students find adequate financial assistance? At the same time, schools must be willing to look at what they are investing in. Bricks and mortar projects are great, but these investments take up a lot of financial resources. Is spending on building improvements needed and, if so, are students having to pay for them in their tuition costs? Schools must be willing to ask the tough questions about their own finances, which students pay into through their tuition fees.
Churches must claim its missional role in caring for the future witness of the Jesus Christ through the church’s next generation. This means preparing and equipping future leaders, which also includes financial help. Where can the church find additional money to help offset the cost of seminary education? The United Methodist Church does a great job in providing assistance through the Ministerial Education Fund, but how can we strengthen this for future generations? Local churches, as well, should be willing to invest in their students. This was a great benefit to me while in seminary. I received a generous scholarship from my childhood church in West Virginia, which helped cover some of the costs for my books.
Laity will receive the fruits of what the seminary plants, which would be men and women who have come to a deeper level of faith in Christ through an engagement of both their head and heart. Laity also receive some of the negative consequences of the high cost of seminary, which include pastors who struggle while trying to pay off their loans. Laity should encourage and partner with potential students, especially those who come out of their church. At the same time, laity should be loudest advocates for an examination of seminary costs, because of their close interaction with and new for a well-trained clergy.
Finally, students should not expect a free seminary education. It is presumptuous to believe the church will completely finance one’s seminary education. That is not possible, nor should the church do that for everyone. When a student takes some financial stake in their education, I believe they will have a better appreciation for it and get more from it. Students should seek more information from schools and churches about the cost of education and the amount of available support. The information is out there, but it is up to the individual to seek it. At the same time, students should expect to have people within the church walk with them and help them to make honest and prayerful decisions about their education.
The cost of post-secondary education, especially a seminary education, impacts everyone. There are no easy fixes or solutions to the high tuition bills for seminary students. However, the entire church has an opportunity to work together to address this issue and promote sound financial practices for the next generation of leaders and students.