Churches/denominations paying full seminary costs - idealistic goal?

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John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
I believe denominations should foot the bill for a student they believe is on the right road with regards to internal and external call.
But this is not happening (mileage may vary), so I would like to understand the reasons why this is so:

1. Denominations do not have enough money? Does that mean there are an oversupply of students? Or is Education not being budgeted enough?
2. Pragmatism? Students may not join the denomination when they graduate and so churches may not see a "return on their investment"?

There are a lot of things to mention in this loaded question.. e.g Baptists do not have that centrality..

I am not well educated in this, I am not even American so I would like to learn more.

In the past training was done within the church, but now it has extended to outside the church with high costs for the student. I do not think that is ideal (or maybe I am too idealistic), as we may be discounting future ministers simply because they cannot afford the education / cost of moving a family over and not working full time.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Lot of variables. I know of a smallish Reformed Baptist church that has sent 3 students to seminary over the past decade. Paid for tuition and books, with a bit also going toward living expenses. The students were married and also worked part time.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
A lot of people who go to seminary thinking "pastorate" end up working for, say, Amazon in their seminary town. Or don't stay in the ministry but a year or so. There are fixes for this problem, I'm sure. But it's naturally a huge demotivator for budget-conscious churches.

Plus, I understand theology to be a rather bloated field, with far more people interested in study than ever would be positions available. That also creates difficulties.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
But it's naturally a huge demotivator for budget-conscious churches.
The churches I know that do this haven't had this problem. It's not like they send just any person. Usually they see growth over many years, and a history of steady follow-through, before committing.

Plus, I understand theology to be a rather bloated field
I don't know about that. Theology as a profession may well be hard to get into.

But the fields are ripe for faithful ministers of the Gospel. Every church-sponsored student I've followed remains in the ministry.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
The churches I know that do this haven't had this problem. It's not like they send just any person. Usually they see growth over many years, and a history of steady follow-through, before committing.


I don't know about that. Theology as a profession may well be hard to get into.

But the fields are ripe for faithful ministers of the Gospel. Every church-sponsored student I've followed remains in the ministry.
Yes, I also know churches that have done it well. But I'm talking about motivation, perception, and fear. Most seminary students stay in their seminary towns. I think it's pretty well-documented.

Fields likely are ripe, I'm not so familiar with the demand/supply of the pastorate. But I recall a friend telling me about how surprised he was to hear other seminary students get up and say, "I want to write books," and "I want to be a professor."

I've met plenty would-be seminary professors since myself. Fewer would-be pastors.

Anyway, I just added this since we were considering why more churches and denominations don't do this. My take is, many consider it a large and risky investment, likely for some of the reasons I outlined above.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
I believe denominations should foot the bill for a student they believe is on the right road with regards to internal and external call.
But this is not happening (mileage may vary), so I would like to understand the reasons why this is so:

1. Denominations do not have enough money? Does that mean there are an oversupply of students? Or is Education not being budgeted enough?
2. Pragmatism? Students may not join the denomination when they graduate and so churches may not see a "return on their investment"?

There are a lot of things to mention in this loaded question.. e.g Baptists do not have that centrality..

I am not well educated in this, I am not even American so I would like to learn more.

In the past training was done within the church, but now it has extended to outside the church with high costs for the student. I do not think that is ideal (or maybe I am too idealistic), as we may be discounting future ministers simply because they cannot afford the education / cost of moving a family over and not working full time.
In my opinion your last paragraph gets to the root of the problem - that seminaries are commercial, parachurch organisations these days. The training of students for ministry is a function of the church qua the church, and thus should be performed by the church.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I've met plenty would-be seminary professors since myself. Fewer would-be pastors.
Interesting. You would think that want-to-be professors would be told that they need to pursue a Ph.D., not an M. Div., or at least pursue a Ph.D. after their seminary years, if that is their real goal.

Or maybe seminaries have changed. The couple I am most familiar with very pointedly proclaimed that they were training pastors. That was the focus. If you wanted to do something different, there are plenty of other options out there.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Interesting. You would think that want-to-be professors would be told that they need to pursue a Ph.D., not an M. Div., or at least pursue a Ph.D. after their seminary years, if that is their real goal.

Or maybe seminaries have changed. The couple I am most familiar with very pointedly proclaimed that they were training pastors. That was the focus. If you wanted to do something different, there are plenty of other options out there.
Yeah, not sure. If you want me to name names, I was thinking TEDS and Southern.
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
In my opinion your last paragraph gets to the root of the problem - that seminaries are commercial, parachurch organisations these days. The training of students for ministry is a function of the church qua the church, and thus should be performed by the church.

I agree, but hoo boy that is another topic.
But in the pragmatic short term, since churches cannot provide it and since historically it is their responsibility to train, should they not take up a greater financial responsibility which is the main thing they can do to support?
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
Just learnt that the PRCA does waive most if not all of tution for those who would labor in their denominations.
Is that model possible for PCA.. OPC? Is that an ideal model they should pursue? If yes, then are there financial constraints? If no, then how do they justify their current model?
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
In our denomination (RPCNA) there is a significant discount to our denominational seminary if a man is under care of one of the RP Presbyteries. There are also low interest loans (maybe even zero interest?) the man can get directly from the Presbytery. It’s not the total tuition, but needless to say our denomination is willing to assist in ways. As for why not just giving a “free-ride” to seminary, the main issue I see is what if a man goes to seminary but then does not go into full-time ministry or doesn’t stay very long?
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
I agree, but hoo boy that is another topic.
But in the pragmatic short term, since churches cannot provide it and since historically it is their responsibility to train, should they not take up a greater financial responsibility which is the main thing they can do to support?
Churches cannot provide it or are not willing to provide it? I suspect in the vast majority of cases churches would actually be able to train their own students if there was the will to. In those cases, it's not very clear why they would want to (or it would even be desirable for them to) pay a commercial seminary to do it for them.

In the cases where the church genuinely cannot train their own students, the churches in question are in a pretty serious condition. I'd imagine it likely that such churches might often not have the financial means to support a student through seminary either.
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
Churches cannot provide it or are not willing to provide it? I suspect in the vast majority of cases churches would actually be able to train their own students if there was the will to. In those cases, it's not very clear why they would want to (or it would even be desirable for them to) pay a commercial seminary to do it for them.

In the cases where the church genuinely cannot train their own students, the churches in question are in a pretty serious condition. I'd imagine it likely that such churches might often not have the financial means to support a student through seminary either.

So this question diverts to whether we are talking about independent churches or larger denominations. My question would be for the larger denominations: if there is a desire to healthily fund students, then what are the hindrances? Is it a budgeting issue, or an overall financial difficulty that can of course calls for more tithes.
 

Drhabost

Puritan Board Freshman
I believe denominations should foot the bill for a student they believe is on the right road with regards to internal and external call.
But this is not happening (mileage may vary), so I would like to understand the reasons why this is so:

1. Denominations do not have enough money? Does that mean there are an oversupply of students? Or is Education not being budgeted enough?
2. Pragmatism? Students may not join the denomination when they graduate and so churches may not see a "return on their investment"?

There are a lot of things to mention in this loaded question.. e.g Baptists do not have that centrality..

I am not well educated in this, I am not even American so I would like to learn more.

In the past training was done within the church, but now it has extended to outside the church with high costs for the student. I do not think that is ideal (or maybe I am too idealistic), as we may be discounting future ministers simply because they cannot afford the education / cost of moving a family over and not working full time.
In Scotland, every Presbyterian denomination, no matter how small, either directly teaches their students or pays for their education elsewhere. The idea that a man, called to the ministry, has to both quit his job and pay his own way is completely foreign to is.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
In Scotland, every Presbyterian denomination, no matter how small, either directly teaches their students or pays for their education elsewhere. The idea that a man, called to the ministry, has to both quit his job and pay his own way is completely foreign to is.
An unfortunate side effect of this in a country where historic Reformed Christianity is in relatively short supply is a fragmentation of theological education and consequent dilution of quality. There are undoubted advantages with apprenticeship models of ministry training, to be sure, but there are losses as well, especially in terms of academic rigor. I left Scotland to study at Westminster back in the 1980's, even though it meant paying full fare rather than receiving a free education, because there was no doubt that Westminster's curriculum and faculty were infinitely better than anything then (or now) available in Scotland. I've never regretted the sacrifices that that choice entailed: sometimes you get what you pay for.

Most US seminaries have scholarships and matching funds designed for students who are licensed by their denominations; some receive full ride scholarships. If US denominations didn't have their own seminaries, they could free up hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund scholarships to send students to what most of us on this board would regard as better seminaries, as determined by their local presbyteries.

Increasingly, online education will open the door for much more flexibility, where (for example) students in Scotland - or Nigeria, or China, or Australia - can get their academic training from schools like Westminster, while remaining rooted in their local setting, being mentored by their own pastor, which provides many of the advantages of both systems.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
An unfortunate side effect of this in a country where historic Reformed Christianity is in relatively short supply is a fragmentation of theological education and consequent dilution of quality. There are undoubted advantages with apprenticeship models of ministry training, to be sure, but there are losses as well, especially in terms of academic rigor. I left Scotland to study at Westminster back in the 1980's, even though it meant paying full fare rather than receiving a free education, because there was no doubt that Westminster's curriculum and faculty were infinitely better than anything then (or now) available in Scotland. I've never regretted the sacrifices that that choice entailed: sometimes you get what you pay for.

Most US seminaries have scholarships and matching funds designed for students who are licensed by their denominations; some receive full ride scholarships. If US denominations didn't have their own seminaries, they could free up hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund scholarships to send students to what most of us on this board would regard as better seminaries, as determined by their local presbyteries.

Increasingly, online education will open the door for much more flexibility, where (for example) students in Scotland - or Nigeria, or China, or Australia - can get their academic training from schools like Westminster, while remaining rooted in their local setting, being mentored by their own pastor, which provides many of the advantages of both systems.
A few points here:

Firstly, to say that seminary education is "infinitely better" than anything available from Presbyterian churches in Scotland is quite an assertion (even if we disregard the manifestly hyperbolic modifier). On what basis are you making that claim? Although I have not personally participated in either, I do know people who have been to respected seminaries in the States, and several who have been through direct theological education in various Scottish churches. The impression I get (only an impression), is that the latter tends to be at least as rigorous.

Secondly, even if we grant that training this way is more fragmented, and (for the sake of the argument) less rigourous, this is not a symptom in any primary sense of the church as such training it's own students. Rather it is a symptom of the many schisms afflicting the church (to the extent that it is a valid criticism).

Thirdly, even if it were less rigourous academically, it would still be more desirable for ecclesiological reasons to have students trained directly by the church. You rightly allude to the problem of students at seminary not being under the direct pastoral care and mentorship of ministers in their own church. While this is a problem with the parachurch seminary model, it is not the main one. The main one is that the church has little to no control over the theological direction of a seminary or the soundness of all or even any of its faculty. That's a major problem with all kinds of parachurch organisations doing the work that properly belongs to the church.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I believe denominations should foot the bill for a student they believe is on the right road with regards to internal and external call.
Bad Idea. Folks generally don't value what they get for free.

In my opinion your last paragraph gets to the root of the problem - that seminaries are commercial, parachurch organisations these days.
I'd rank RTS or WTS or Greenville far above any denominational seminary of the PCA or PCUSA. And even ARP had a big stink over Erskine just a few years ago. Last I heard, the good guys didn't exactly come out ahead and the story seemed to fade from view.
 

Guido's Brother

Puritan Board Junior
In both the Canadian Reformed Churches (where I previously served) and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (where I now serve), any student who needs help to study for the ministry will get it. We have official committees/deputies in place to manage this. And yes, the Canadian Reformed Churches operate their own seminary -- the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary -- and the FRCA also support it and essentially consider it "our seminary."
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
Bad Idea. Folks generally don't value what they get for free.


I'd rank RTS or WTS or Greenville far above any denominational seminary of the PCA or PCUSA. And even ARP had a big stink over Erskine just a few years ago. Last I heard, the good guys didn't exactly come out ahead and the story seemed to fade from view.

so... we impose a financial responsibility on future gospel ministers.. so they can value their education more?
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
so... we impose a financial responsibility on future gospel ministers.. so they can value their education more?
Yes. And it's one of the reasons I've repeatedly recommended on this board that a man go into seminary with an undergraduate degree or a trade that can see him through difficult times.

As a related issue, it is clear that all of higher education in America is overpriced at this time, and generally provides a poor return on investment. But there is no distinction there between accredited denominational seminaries and accredited non-denominational seminaries, or for that matter, other institutions of higher education.
 

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Bad Idea. Folks generally don't value what they get for free.


I'd rank RTS or WTS or Greenville far above any denominational seminary of the PCA or PCUSA. And even ARP had a big stink over Erskine just a few years ago. Last I heard, the good guys didn't exactly come out ahead and the story seemed to fade from view.
Haven't heard much about Erskine. May I ask?
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Haven't heard much about Erskine. May I ask?

As I recall, the entrenched leadership was challenged by folks concerned about how it was being run. There was a subsidiary dispute over funding for the college vs funding for the seminary, and the usual academic freedom vs fidelity to core beliefs. The denomination tried to assert control over the seminary, but the seminary leadership won a battle in the secular courts. As I further recall, the ruling families retained control, although some adjustments may have been made to keep the money flowing.

Some background here.

https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/pray-for-erskine-and-the-arp.59806/#post-772983


 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Yes. And it's one of the reasons I've repeatedly recommended on this board that a man go into seminary with an undergraduate degree or a trade that can see him through difficult times.

As a related issue, it is clear that all of higher education in America is overpriced at this time, and generally provides a poor return on investment. But there is no distinction there between accredited denominational seminaries and accredited non-denominational seminaries, or for that matter, other institutions of higher education.
Couldn't agree more.

The seminarians I was talking about who were sent by churches already had established careers. That was helpful in a lot of ways. For one thing they demonstrated maturity and focus. They weren't going to seminary to find themselves. The other thing was it helped pay for costs.

As for the price of education, I can only say it is astoundingly inflated. For decades until maybe the late 80s, you could get a Bachelor's degree on income made during the summer, if you were really a go-getter. Otherwise, you could pay as you went part time.

Student loans were for emergencies. But when it was discovered how much finance companies could make on student loans, it has become katie-bar-the door.

My heart breaks at seeing undergrad English majors with 90k debt, thinking of going to law school and adding another 150k plus to that.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
These topics come up again and again with good reasons. I've contended before and I do here again that it matters most is what the intent of the particular man is. A man with scholarly and professorial ambitions is different than a man with only a call to the ministry who's needs differ from a retired RE looking to occasionally guest fill a pulpit or provide counseling. Needs vary in both requirements of the education and level of assistance. I don't think any of them preclude a man from having "skin in the game" whether in the form of money or time. Opportunity costs abound either way.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Back in the early years of the century, when Westminster was setting up a seminary in Dallas (which evolved into the now defunct Redeemer Seminary) our church had a deal where officers could take credit classes for half price.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
In the past training was done within the church, but now it has extended to outside the church with high costs for the student. I do not think that is ideal (or maybe I am too idealistic), as we may be discounting future ministers simply because they cannot afford the education / cost of moving a family over and not working full time.
I personally think this is a very wise thought, but I do understand that God has given us freedom in regards to this topic. I don't have time to type down all of my thoughts on this, but in many ways I believe it would be most ideal for each individual church to invest in, equip, and train those who they will send out to labor. Somehow in the west we have added a lot of requirements that I just don't see in the bible. I'm not saying that's wrong, but by simply observing the scriptures, that's the conclusion I would come to.
 
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