Seminary Graduates but not Pastors

Graduating with an advanced degree from a
seminary does not necessarily mean the graduate intends to serve as a pastor of
a local church according to an article in the New York Times this

Attending seminary is not necessarily a track to the local church pastorate, according to an article in this morning’s New York Times. The article notes that an increasing number of seminary students don’t intend to enter parish ministry, but plan other vocations unrelated to administering the sacraments and preaching.

Actually, I was surprised that the numbers are not greater. When Boomers started seminary at the height of the Vietnam War many students intended to find positions in community organizing, teaching, social services and counseling. That the trend is increasing today comes as a bit of surprise since I thought it had been moving in that direction for forty years.

In my seminary days (which was before the Internet was invented but not before electricity) students were heavily encouraged to enter local church ministries. However, virtually all of my close friends chose to go into specialized ministries or take non-church employment. I have always thought this was not such a bad thing. I believe these colleagues are principled, informed and perhaps even more effective at influencing public attitudes about important human concerns than they could be in a local church.

I also think the tent-making ministry of these colleagues is valid and important. So the fact that seminary enrollment is up but commitment to local church ministry is not correspondingly increasing doesn’t seem to me to be problematic. In fact, it could be a good thing. If it results in leaders in the profit sector who bring theological sensitivity and depth to the practice of running businesses and who are professionally competent in ethics, we might see a much different world. Hopefully, one in which religious values are applied in a beneficial way for all and not for partisan political gain. That would be refreshing.

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