Carol Howard Merritt has written and argued that we can no longer afford an educated clergy. I am grateful for her inviting the PC(USA), in particular, and the church of Jesus Christ, in general, to be intentional about financially supporting seminarians and pastors, especially as they begin their ministry. It is true that many congregations opt out of calling a seminary trained pastor for practical and financial reasons and fewer, if any, for theological ones. However, I question the diagnosis and the prescription.
Saying we can no longer afford an educated clergy is like saying hospitals can no longer afford doctors, schools can no longer afford teachers, or construction companies can no longer afford engineers. Highly skilled, educated, formed leaders in all of these fields are essential to mission of their organizations and institutions. The same is true about churches; without well-educated pastors and other leaders the whole project begins to crumble, ministry becomes obsolete, and the church fails to accomplish its mission. Each congregation is unique and some can be faithfully served by those trained in alternative ways. However, the whole church needs leaders educated in theology, the Bible, and a wide variety of practical pastoral skills for it to be relevant in these days.
Why? Ministry of Word and Sacrament is a demanding, multi-cultural, and multi-dimensional calling that requires a good theological education. Our church, among other things, needs leaders who are skillful exegetes of scripture and society, adept spiritual mentors for congregations and individuals, gifted guides in ministry analysis and practice toward the justice God calls us to seek, adaptive and energetic leaders for our complex and ever-changing times, faithful and non-anxious theological translators and sense-makers in the midst of our confusing contemporary situations, authentic and passionate daily witnesses to God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, responsible, responsive and ecumenical community organizers for the good of the gospel, articulate and provocative proclaimers and preachers of the good news, and more! It is no wonder that educated leaders who are healthy emotionally and spiritually are best able to answer this high calling.
The formation that takes place in the midst of educational settings provides a place and space for this formation to take place. Ministry education can take the form of reading a book, enrolling in a seminary degree program or continuing education event, participating in a ministry cohort, among other ways. The Carnigie Foundation's 2006 comprehensive study, Educating Clergy, points to the pastoral imagination formed through competent teaching practices.
Now is the time, more than ever, for us to work together on creative solutions including possible new ways of funding theological education and meeting the terms of call an educated clergy requires. The Committee on Theological Education is talking about this in some generative ways.
We are wondering about the role of scholarships for seminarians and undergraduates. We are looking at how heavily endowment dependent seminaries with funds designated for certain projects and not others can best be financially supported by the larger church. We are asking if congregations and individual Presbyterians really know the depth and breadth of these issues and, if they did, would they reprioritize their stewardship of funds entrusted to their care? We are investigating partnership models of transition in to ministry that include funding of ministry from local, regional, outside and national sources especially for smaller congregations in rural and urban settings.
Even in these tight financial times, our seminaries are doing their part by inviting gifted leaders to consider ministry as a vocation and providing needed scholarships and grants to students. Seminaries and their supporters underwrite the vast majority of students expenses when need is proven. They do that by keeping tuition low through the responsible raising of funds and management of their endowments or other funding streams. Those endowments, by the way, are not slush funds but economic generators that power theological schools. They are invested and, due to the down market, have been reduced. Prudent plans are in place and we all all hopeful that new life will emerge there. In the meantime, denomination-wide funding only accounts for 1-2% of most PC(USA) Seminary budgets. We can do better and our Theological Education Fund Seminary Support Network is working hard in presbyteries and congregations to invite them to participate.
Our proposed New Form of Government reclaims the title of the minister of Word and Sacrament as a "Teaching Elder." Teaching Elders make ancient texts, written over hundreds of years in multiple settings, relevant for today in particular communities and situations. It is no wonder an educated clergy has been, I believe will continue to be, essential to discipleship and mission in the Presbyterian Church.
Carol and I have written blogs, others have written comments and responses, the God Complex Radio program including me as a guest, hosted by Carol and Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow. Now, I’d like to know what you think. What are your ideas?
Lee from Louisville.