I posted last week on the reasons that Revolution Church launched a Free Seminary last January with a little more than a dozen students. The timing of last week’s post was prompted by an exchange with a prominent New Testament scholar on Facebook. Patheos blog chief Timothy Dalrymple has been reflecting on his time at Princeton Seminary and invited comments. I wrote a brief overview of Revolution’s Free Seminary, which drew a terse response from the noted scholar.
The influential professor stated that the classes we were offering were ad hoc and that my criticism of seminary only meant that I and my friends had simply attended the wrong institution. I took offense to the accusation that I had set up a series of classes that are “ad hoc” (do 2 years of systematic theology, 2 years of Bible and 2 years of practical ministry classes structured after reflecting on 13-years of ministry work sound ad hoc to you?) and I think he assumed that my friends who also criticized seminaries were a handful of locals from similar backgrounds; well, my grandmother told me something I can’t repeat about what happens when you assume.
In fact, I have ministered in Texas, New York, West Virginia and Ohio in churches of Christ, United Methodist Churches, non-denominational Bible churches and am now affiliated with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. I also work as a fundraiser for a large Christian legal ministry and regularly interact with pastors from 18 states and the District of Columbia. So, my criticism may be based on anecdotal evidence but it has not been culled from a few “local yokels.”
I took a look last night and found that the average evangelical seminary can cost roughly $40-50,000 in tuition alone. For those whose parents cannot pay for the education of their child who has felt a call to serve God professionally, that means monthly payments of at least $500 for more than a decade just for the seminary degree. The average person will have had to have incurred similar loans for their undergraduate degree. So, we are now talking about a $1000 a month and I have personally found this to be quite common. The average youth pastor or minister of a small church, which is where most seminary grads first nab a job, pays roughly $32-40,000 a year (for spits and giggles, let’s say $36,000). If you are married, ordained and exempt yourself from social security, you are still looking at a couple thousand dollars a year in state and federal income taxes depending on how your salary is structured by the church.
All this means that the new 25-year old pastor, often with kids or wanting them in the near future, is paying 1/3 of his or her salary to pay off student loans and trying to live off of less than $2000 a month before he or she pays for health or life or car insurance or rent or a single book to study! It is no wonder that many young pastors look stressed–they are!
Now don’t get me wrong, a family can live off the salary if they are disciplined and a large part of the responsibility lies with the seminary grad for taking out the loans (sorry Occupy Wall Street!), but does it really have to be this way? I don’t think so. I think seminary can be free, or at the very least, cheap AND provide a better education than the one men and women are paying through the nose for today.
How? Stay tuned.