Monday, May 11, 2009

Is an MDiv Worth It?

After administering last week's Transformers 25th Anniversary Event, I was too worn out to write something for today in advance, but while listening to this morning's The God Complex podcast (click widget below to listen!), another blogger shared a link that discusses a matter close to my heart. This person graduated with an MDiv from Princeton, but when he transferred his Candidacy to the Presbytery of San Francisco, his Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) told him that he needed to take the equivalence of a whole year's worth of extra classes to be ordained!

Thankfully, I haven't been given quite the additional requirements that this person has been given, but I have mentioned my frustration that the MDiv I have is not considered enough for viable employment. It's a Masters-level degree, for crying out loud! Now, I fully agree with both the PC(USA) and my fellow frustrated blogger that it's appropriate for a denomination such as the PC(USA) to ensure that we have met certain denominational distinctives that may not be reflected in the MDiv alone. Frankly, on that count, the PC(USA) has more right to worry about me than they do about him, because Princeton is at least a PC(USA) seminary, whereas I at least come from "outside," but I've addressed that issue already. But when CPMs start second-guessing the qualifications of a person who graduated from a PC(USA) seminary, let alone such a rigorous one as Princeton, I really do have to wonder what's on their minds.

Today's episode of The God Complex dealt with the question of whether or not our churches, many of which in the PC(USA) are too small to financially support a pastor (which often has a fair bit of debt), especially one that is seminary-trained (given that most of the aforementioned debt is likely to be from getting that seminary education), can afford to continue to have an educated clegry. According to one of the co-hosts, some 40% of PC(USA) churches are "too small to call a pastor." Although I would hope that CPMs would not put unnecessary restrictions on pastors who might theoretically be willing to serve one of those smaller churches, there are actually a number of people out there already, fully eligible for ordination, that (for any number of reasons) haven't been willing to pastor one of these smaller churches.

Many comments in the chat room while the podcast was being broadcast live suggested that we should be more willing to hire part-time pastors, or that pastors have another job that pays their living expenses while serving the congregation. I think that "tent making" is something that people should indeed be willing to consider, but I'm always resistant to suggestions that this is a solution to the problem of finding pastors to serve churches. At the risk of repeating myself, being a pastor is often considered a vocation that one must work quite a few more hours at than one is actually paid for. This is true of full-time pastors! If a pastor is only part-time, it seems to me that the problem is exacerbated. The pastor who works another job must give attention to that job, too, and burnout is especially a danger is he/she is expected to drop everything at any time to deal with church issues. For part-time or unpaid pastors to be a viable solution, parishioners simply must pay better attention to the need for respecting boundaries (and pastors must be better about setting them, in many cases), and I think that's a pretty tall order.

So, is the MDiv even worth the effort? A few folks in the Tribal Church thread that led to the podcast discussion seemed to argue that the emphasis on an "educated clergy" has resulted in the shift in the PC(USA) towards being too "liberal," and suggested eliminating the requirement. I'm by no means convinced that having an education means that one becomes less "conservative," but would definitely argue that to lose the education would be a huge mistake. We should have theological standards. Even the "conservatives" would, I hope, agree with this. How would those standards be maintained without an education? What restrictions should we set to ensure that the education given is sufficient? There are other questions I could ask in this vein, but they'd take me increasingly off-topic, so I may just have to come back to these issues at another time.

I would certainly argue that a person should not undergo the time, effort, and expense of earning a theological degree unless they have a call from God to pursue a ministry that requires it. But, if we do agree that an education is something that should be required of our pastors, then we need to figure out a way to pay for it. If a student doesn't have a realistic expectation of being able to pay off his/her debts from getting a theological degree by having found a meaningful job after achieving that goal, and of being able to earn a living (however meager), then he/she just isn't going to bother getting the theological degree in the first place.


  1. Just to clarify: the PC(USA) is not giving Adam grief, it is the CPM of the San Fran. Presbytery. They are *notorious* for having a laundry list of classes they want their candidates to take, so Adam is not exception to this rule. He is getting the same treatment as all the other candidates, the only difference is that he transferred in after seminary, whereas most candidates start and finish seminary under the care of the same CPM.

  2. I'm not sure that changes anything I'm intending to say, but I'll certainly agree that it's important to not accuse those who may not be responsible for the situation.

    My main counter would be how reasonable it is that different CPMs be allowed SUCH different policies.



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