Opinions on Ordination (Episode 2)

Yesterday, I started a post string about ordination, especially as it pertains to concerns over dwindling numbers of young clergy.  If you haven't read that post yet, check it out HERE.

I want to start at the end though.  I talked about three concerns yesterday that are potential reasons why we don't have more clergy in the UMC under 35.  Third on that list, I pointed out that our salaries don't match the educational requirements.  Every Elder ordained in the last 17 years has completed four years of college and three years of graduate school, with the exception of  a minority who have taken a non-traditional, longer route through Course of Study.  When a candidate is finally ordained, they become one of the lowest paid people in our country to have a masters degree.

We can argue the fairness of this, but I'm not so sure about worrying about fairness - my benefits as a pastor are much greater than a paycheck.  There are other problems with low salaries, especially when a low paid pastor is expected to live in and serve an affluent community.

The first solution is for churches to increase compensation for pastors.  The minimum for an ordained elder is currently in the ballpark of $32,000 plus either a parsonage or a housing allowance (minimum $17,100).  Increasing compensation isn't the best option since we're already eating up a large percentage of people's tithes in paying for pastors.

The second solution is for the rest of the world to decrease compensation as well as cost of living - not viable for obvious reasons.

Third, we can change the educational requirements for ministers.  What if seminaries and theological schools began offering bachelor's programs?  That would take 3 whole years off the ordination process.  For someone who begins ministry as a first career, that's the difference between ordination at 28 and ordination at 25.  It's also the difference in tens of thousands of dollars worth of tuition, books, boarding fees, and years spent not working (or working part time) to be able to attend school.

I think this is actually a reasonable option for everybody, except for those who teach at and run our theological schools and seminaries.  If you're in this group, there are new challenges to incorporating core educational classes and reformatting the way you do things for 18-22 year olds instead of 22-25 (or older) students. 

But why can't we do this?  Why isn't it feasible to create a bachelors program that can meet the educational requirements for ministers.  When I started college at LaGrange College in 1998, I struggled with what I was going to study.  I started as a religion major, but soon changed because I realized that what I would learn at LaGrange, I would essentially repeat when I graduated and went to seminary.  I'm a pastor with a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science* that I've never used, but that I spent four years and a small fortune on.

I think this is a win-win.  Candidates for ministry gain three more years of valuable career time, spend less on school, and a masters degree and doctorate are certainly still an option for those who WANT it.  More students can enter the ministry world full-time at 22 and achieve ordination (credentialing) at 25.  That means more young adults in ministry.

From that, you can also look at how that will change some of our current practices in the UMC.  Many of our apportionment dollars go to funding for UM schools, both undergrad and graduate as well as scholarship money for students at both levels.  If you shave 3 years off the educational requirements, maybe you eliminate the need for funding in some areas.  Maybe we begin to fund schools based on how many students they have enrolled in denominationally approved pre-ministry programs.  Send money on a per-capita basis for the students who have declared a major in ministry.

There you have it, problem solved.  Right?  Comments to alexander.stroud (at) gmail.com.  More to come tomorrow.

*Don't tell anybody - they'll want me to fix their computer.