Rethinking Christian Higher Education : Dump the M.Div?


From Notes from off-center

The problem now is that we are expecting our candidates for the ministry to continue graduate educations after college and asking them to assume positions that can only help them to pay their accrued educational debt (often 20K and more) by asking larger bodies for financial assistance to fill these positions. Thus, young ministers don’t want the small church because they and the church cannot afford the very requirements that were necessary for them to be approved to even see if they can get said job. The result is often burn out with educational debt playing a larger than life role. This is not a sustainable model.

The system is basically broken. We are asking people to accrue a large financial burden from the start to meet educational and other requirements that the positions that they will then qualify for cannot pay and probably should not be expected to pay. We saw this in the banking industry – when you have accrued enough bad debt and have no capital flows to pay the bill for those holding that debt, the markets freeze up and everyone suffers. Most of our candidates are like bad debt and as our churches get older and capital investments in churches continue to slow down, the financials will freeze up and seminary will be a really good classical education to serve the ends of another career.

Dumping the M.Div.

So here is a radical solution: dump the M.Div. as a core requirement and focus on beefing up the theological education that our undergraduate institutions can offer. Make the function of the preparation process include apprenticeships where candidates can work with a church and provide services to the church while continuing their education in a "real-life" setting. This might mean that Presbyteries and other local governing bodies can take a deeper role in the educational ministry they provide by offering oversight to these apprentices. It might also mean that pastors should take more interest in the youth to develop young ministers rather than treat youth groups as nuisances.

  1. #1 by Rev. Mike on May 26, 2009 - 8:41 am

    As “they” say, if you think education is expensive …

    Frankly, aside from shifting the curriculum back into a baccalaureate level program, I see nothing particularly earth-shattering here. The M.Div. used to be a B.Div., even when it was received from a three year seminary, for many, many years, but then ministers wanted to be able to hold their heads up in polite society, so the degree was upgraded to a graduate level degree. I know many people who attended seminary in the 1960s, received B.Div.s and then received “upgrade” diplomas from their alma maters when the program was changed.

    Again, as “they” say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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