This morning I scanned through an interesting book put out by Georgetown University that analyzes the value of 171 common college majors available today. By “value” the authors mean almost entirely fiscal value, or how much money a graduate can expect to make after finishing his or her degree. Of course we all know that fiscal value isn’t the only kind of value by which to assess a degree, but the book is what it is, and it’s an interesting read, especially if you’re a statistics nerd.
Among the statistics that jumped out to me was that the “Theology and Religious Vocations” major ranked 169th (of 171) on the “most remunerative” list, and dead last among the most remunerative majors for vocations sporting a male majority.
There are a lot of things that one can potentially take away from this, but here are some of my thoughts.
(1) If you (or your spouse) have an insatiable appetite for having nice stuff, don’t go into the ministry. You can’t afford the ministry, and the church can’t afford you. You can grouse all you want that it shouldn’t be this way, and dream about being an exception to the rule, but don’t plan on it.
(2) If you (or your spouse) is unwilling to wear thrift store clothes, be seen in a 1998 Dodge Neon with 212,000 miles, or live in a small apartment in the unpleasant part of town in order to avoid debt, rethink what you’re doing. And BTW, there’s a silver lining here—if you lose all your pride and aspirations to wealth in college and seminary, the ministry opportunities will be endless when you graduate.
(3) If you’re planning to incur or compound debt to get your Bible college or seminary degree(s), rethink your strategy. You won’t be able to pay it off (unless you limit your ministry options to one of those extremely scarce, high-paying, entry-level ministry jobs, which you probably won’t get so you’ll end up in the secular work force with an unmarketable degree that will probably dog you for the rest of your life). Accreditation has been useful in recent years in improving some aspects of religious education, but one devilish side effect is the easy access to debt that it has made available. Don’t take on debt. Just don’t. Figure out a way to avoid debt at all costs.
(4) If the money just isn’t there and debt seems to be your only option, consider unconventional paths that are less costly. Mentoring is one such path, though the lack of comprehensiveness associated with this approach raises doubts. Working to save for a year or two isn’t a bad idea either, but stay focused by at least taking a class or two—it’s easy to lose sight of your ministry goals. On-line classes are also an option for the extremely self-motivated, though they are not the universal panacea that some imagine them to be. Another consideration is the pursuit of inexpensive local undergraduate degrees that give you an adequate background for seminary while allowing you to stay home and to give yourself wholly over to involvement in a local church—not only is this cheaper, but it immerses you in the church and encourages the church to invest in you. Finally, consider the benefits of a church-based seminary education. Costs at such seminaries are usually lower because local churches typically underwrite the costs.
This post may seem a bit dour (though not unbiblically so) and someone might detect a subtle argument here for considering our seminary (guilty—this is a seminary blog after all). But whatever you take from it, do consider the cost/return ratio of pursuing the ministry. And before you take the plunge, be sure to make whatever adjustments to your character, lifestyle, and life goals that are necessary to the pursuit of vocational Christian ministry.