September 24, 2018

Riffs/CEC: A Third of ATS Seminaries Are In Financial Trouble

chapelUSA Today is on the ringside of the Coming Evangelical Collapse (CEC) with this story on the desperate situation facing a third of the schools on the Association of Theological Schools. (Page loads strangely in Firefox.)

Schools are closing, cutting back, combining, going on-line, selling facilities… the situation is serious. Many schools report less than a year of operating expenses on hand.

While I’m interested in what’s happening to these schools, I’m more interested in something else: where are the supporters who once kept these schools going?

That’s the question that evangelicals ought to be asking. Are we seeing a shrinking base of support for ministries? Or are those supporters simply taking a year off to deal with their own financial problems?

I believe that theological education is in for a revolution. Prepare for dozens of new ways of preparing for ministry. And prepare to see the traditional classroom- and the academics that taught there- become a shrinking minority report.

I’m sure some people have laughed at a ministry like James White’s Alpha and Omega Ministries as storefront, shoebox operation. But White is looking toward ways to use the internet to go to churches and create classrooms without ever leaving his studios in Phoenix.

Who’s going to be laughing now? Soon, some of evangelicalism’s best academics and even faculties may be doing the same in order to teach and make a living at the same time.

COMMENTERS: What changes in theological education would most positively impact you?


  1. Steve Newell says:

    I have observed that many churches has now pastured by men who have little or none theological training at a seminary. Some will have education at some type of bible college. For many churches, the education level of their pastor and where they are educated is not important. They are more focused on as aspects such as the personality of the pastor, their speaking capability, or their “vision” for ministry. This theological minimalism for pastors goes hand-in-hand with the theological minimalism in their churches. For many seminaries have followed this by down playing the training of pastors on the biblical languages and proper isogesic of the scripture.

    In my view, the traditional subject matter of theological training is still important. The key is how to change the method of delivery of education.

  2. John Inman says:

    I would shake my head less in shame/disgust/jealousy:) when I drive by a seminary president’s mansion or see $60,000 cars parked in front of seminary offices.

  3. John Inman: Amen.

  4. Michael,

    The Christian college where I teach has taken an interesting approach to this problem. Several years ago we adopted a “tuition scholarship” program where every full-time student living on campus receives a full-tuition scholarship. At the time, a lot of people (including some of our sister schools) thought we were crazy for going this route, but we did it to reduce the education debt of students – specifically, because we are preparing students for vocational ministry, where most people don’t make a lot of money. Ironically, many of our bigger sister schools are now having a very hard time, having to make sharp cuts in faculty, staff and budget. We have been seriously tightening our belts over the last few years, and are pretty used to operating on a shoestring budget. At the present time we are actually very stable financially.

    We are not at ATS school, but are accredited through ABHE. My school is Saint Louis Christian College (, but I’m posting this to comment on the discussion, not for an advertisement.

  5. With the state of the economy, it would be a challenge to say how much of the seminaries’ financial struggles are due to the economy and how much is due to a decline in Evangelicalism. Giving is down because of the tight economy (my personal giving is down because I’ve been out of work for several months), and the schools’ endowments have shrunk just like my retirement plan has.

  6. John from Down Under says:

    Steve Newell, I’m not sure if you’re the same Lutheran that writes for Extreme Theology. I really struggle with the idolization of ‘formal training’ that can ONLY be validated by a seminary degree.

    There is certainly a biblical mandate for the elder/pastor to be learned in the Scriptures, but to say that the ONLY way to learn is in seminary, without which the pastor is incapable and unqualified to teach, is not something I found in the NT. This would just about exclude everybody in poor countries where attending seminary is near impossible.

    I AM NOT suggesting that seminary education is unimportant and doesn’t have its place, what I AM objecting is the confidence we place on it to secure the church from error. You seem to suggest (correct me if I’m wrong) that the reason for the church’s woes is because many a pastor are not properly ‘trained’. Formal training does not immunize against deception. Some of the most biblically educated folk on the planet are some of the greatest heretics.

    I happened to know C. Peter Wagner holds a PhD in Divinity/Theology or other, and he is a mega-heretic. I happened to be in a conference where he was a guest speaker and I could not believe what was coming out of his mouth (God wants us to trade on the money market (he even used Greek to support it), spiritual mapping etc).

    Finally, I can’t get away from Acts 4:13 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” [Especially Sanctified Version:)]

  7. Those of you who decry formal education should share with us the answer to the following question:

    If a person believes God has called them to get an advanced degree…1) is that call ever genuine.. 2) if genuine, what should they do with that training?

    I’d also like to know how you can emphasize a pastor’s use of the Bible but excuse the pastor from studying the original languages.

    John Down Under: Some of the biggest heretics- like Osteen- had one semester of college.



  8. I have to admit that my brethren in the LCMS were very forward looking in this respect. You can basically become an Ordained Pastor through a number of programs involving distance learning. Classes have been videotaped and are available online. One is called DELTO (Distance Education Leading to Ordination)and isavailable through one of the Seminaries.

  9. John from Down Under says:

    iMonk, I should have expected a reaction from you since you work in religious education:) In answer to your two questions: 1) YES IT IS and 2) dispense it to the body of Christ by any means possible for the Body’s benefit. I am not DECRYING formal education, what I’m saying is that it’s naïve to think that education will insulate one against error. Academic fortitude is not enough.

    Yep, Osteen is the other side of the coin and that’s my point, there are TWO sides to the education point. On the other hand Warren is well educated…


  10. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    I’m a Fuller student, and we are certainly having troubles over here. As for the whining about Seminary profs making too much, please remember that most profs and presidents (and most seminary employees) took a pay cut to work at a seminary. Often they could be making far more money at other institutions. At least honor that sacrifice. But my seminary education has cost me a pretty penny, and I’ve often wondered if it can’t be made more efficient, both in time and money.

    Also, I am worried about the increase of “online” education. I would say that half of my seminary education has been discussing ideas, theology, praxis, etc. with fellow students. I live in a community of Fuller students which has taught me a lot about the importance of living close together and what good Christian community can be. Real community has made me realize how pathetic most churches suburban efforts at community are and how atomized the church has become. I worry that “online” seminaries would only atomize the church more.

    I’ve noticed that often people go to seminary just to learn more about their faith, not because of a call to ministry. And I’ve notice that some gifted teachers want to get their Ph.D. because they want the freedom to teach what they want how they want to a relatively committed audience. What’s wrong with the church that it cant cultivate and nurture such teachers?

    I think that seminaries and churches need to be talking more. Churches and Seminaries have forgotten that they need each other. Both should take responsibility for this and do something about it. Seminaries need to reach out to surrounding churches and ask for their input, and perhaps churches can adopt seminaries and start giving money directly to seminaries.

    To John from Down Under – I have certainly run in circles where a seminary degree trumps experience and compatibility, and that was wrong. But I’ve also run in circles where a seminary degree is a liability. “Seminary is a cemetery” and “Ph.D. stands for ‘Putting the Holy Ghost Down'” are common sayings. How do we mediate these extremes?

  11. Maybe part of the problem is the product. Some years ago a German researcher, Christian Schwartz, published a book titled “Natural Church Development” based on surveys of churches from all over the world. Among his summarized findings: In churches with low growth and low quality church life, 90% of the pastors were seminary-trained; in churches with high growth and high quality church life, 70% of the pastors were NOT seminary-trained. And as a Bible college graduate myself who is not in professional ministry, I have found the non-seminary-trained pastors I have known to be more impressive, not only in outward success but in their thinking and priorities.
    The problem may be part of a larger trouble within the whole higher-education complex: people in a number of professions have told me the most important things they learned about their own field came the first year AFTER they finished school. Our colleges, universities and seminaries are a little too removed from the real world.

  12. I’d like to go to seminary, but there’s not one around here and who can afford to go live on a campus when they’ve got a family to feed?

    It seems to me that a degree from seminary is a lot like an MBA. Looks good on the resume, probably helps you get a job, but it’s not going to cause a quantum leap in your job performance.

    If I’m moving away for a year or two, I’m going to a monastery and study the indwelling God.

  13. Seminary education or an MDiv would be cool if they made learning the original languages optional. In relation to this it would also be cool if the structure of certain degrees and having to take certain classes would be more ‘loose’. Why not cut MDiv. down to a two year degree? And why not have degrees that vary in the amount of material and how long they take?

  14. John from Down Under says:

    Jonathan Hunnicutt, good points.

    Lately I have become a voracious reader of anything to do with theology. As a Pentecostal refugee I was brained washed into anti-intellectuialism. My last pastor at the megachurch we attended often used to say “it’s not about theology but about real-ology”. What does that tell you?

    However, I strongly maintain that theological prowess – while necessary – is not an ironclad guarantee against deception.

    In answer to your question directed at me, I say the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The ones that go out of their way to dumb down the importance of theological training, are either ignorant or trying to compensate for their own insecurities. And those who say that unless you’ve done 4 years in seminary you shouldn’t get anywhere near a pulpit, have (in my opinion) a limited view of deception. Furthermore, making THIS TYPE of education binding when the Bible does not, is another subject altogether.

    PS From memory, Wagner is a Fuller progeny??

  15. Steve Newell says:

    John from Down Under,

    John and Peter had three years of training under Jesus as disciples. While they did not receive the “standard education” of their day, they did receive a complete theological education. We know that since in Acts 2:42, the church followed the apostles’ teachings. The Jewish leaders could not understand how such common men could now have a strong theological education.

    John, would you go to a doctor without proper medical training? No. When why is acceptable to have pastors without proper training as well? Seminary is to provide a pastor with proper theology training so that he can properly shepherd the flock that God has entrusted to his care.

    There are many how teach heresy with both little and extensive education. That neither provides or disproves your point.

  16. Maybe we need to develop an adequate and affordable two year MA as the standard professional degree for ministers. Could be a one year if the person had adequate undergraduate theology/biblical studies.

    Just a thought.

    Also, why do folks call other folks ‘heretics’ for intramural disputes or simple ‘wacky’ theology? This may make the other person weird but it does not make them a heretic. Heresy is a very strong word and it is disturbing to see it thrown around unless we are talking about creedal dogmas.

    Just some thoughts. Thanks for the discussion.

  17. I always thought that formal seminary training was sort of an ironic priority for the Sola Scriptura crowd to have – not that I don’t respect learning, but if the Bible is sufficient for the transmission of the whole faith, isn’t getting all that extra book-learning a waste of time spent chasing answers to questions your real life experience (and prayer life experience) should answer sufficiently?

  18. whoa:

    Why should learning the original languages be optional? That’s the one essential thing seminary offers.

    We are in a mess with preaching partially because we’ve lost the original languages and depend on translations too much.


    >Often they could be making far more money at other institutions.

    I could be making more money than I do now if I was working two weeks a month at Macdonalds. But what’s that a measurement of? Everyone I work with at our school could be making more elsewhere. I make $10k plus housing and benefits. The guy who does my job at one of our colleges teaches less, preaches less and makes $60k. The American standard of economic success shouldn’t even come into the discussion should it?



  19. Wagner isn’t just a Fuller protege, he taught there for 30 years.

  20. sue kephart says:

    I worked with a man who “pastored” a church. He was a well meaning and caring fellow but lacked basic Christian Ed. He believed the Bible was “dictated down” to a group of men during a time when a man named James ruled England. That is why, he told me, the King James Bible was the real Bible.
    He would often asked me questions. I have no seminary training but I did go to Sunday school and confirmation and had some Bible history classes in college. He had none of the above.

    I want my pastor to have a seminary education.

  21. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    To John from Down Under

    Uhg, yes Wagner was at Fuller. That was during our “Church Growth” phase. We’re still repenting for it! We make fun of ourselves for being so silly.

    I honestly don’t know too much about Wagner, but I get the impression that he started pretty normal and went increasingly off the deep end before retiring. [Ironically, one of the founders of the School of Psychology also went of the deep end and became a hippie nudist or something. We had to remove his name from a building.] We have a bit of a checkered past over here. 🙂

    As for Rick Warren (also a Fuller grad), I think he’s getting better. I thought his benediction at the Inauguration was clear, Christian, and classy. Also, any preacher who gets up in the pulpit of his church and says more or less: “So I was reading the Bible the other day, and I saw that God really cares about poor people. And I realized that I don’t. Uh oh.” is a good guy in my book.

  22. iMonk,

    I am all for paying seminary profs more money. The education costs about $200,000. Who can afford to do that unless they are compensated?

    I agree that education in the original languages is important for pastors. (I don’t know that I would say essential, but certainly important.) But that holds even more true of professors–a good education is crucial. And, since good educations are expensive, profs should be compensated for their work. (Otherwise we would see a shortage of seminary profs.)

    I was accepted to several PhD programs but didn’t complete my degree because I was getting into too much debt. If I thought that I would have had the income to repay my student loans, I probably would have finished.

    And it’s not just seminaries that are hurting. ALL non-profits are hurting.

  23. Matt: I say this with 110 years of my school’s missional approach as my reference: if Christians will adopt a missionary lifestyle, that education won’t cost such an outrageous amount. I am afraid the seminary model currently is woefully out of date and wrongly “tooled.” We aren’t turning out doctors making a million a year here. We’re trying to support the church’s Kingdom mission. We need the “wartime lifestyle” Piper talks about.



  24. Steve in Toronto says:

    I must confess that I am ambivalent about the issue of literacy in the original languages. Until very recently in my denomination (the Anglican Church in Canada) fluently in Greek and usually Hebrew was a given and it has not insulated us from heresy. On the other hand we have recently enjoyed an influx of middle aged priests who are on there second careers (my son’s godfather is a seminarian who was a successful corporate lawyer and an atheist only 5 years ago). These men (and some woman) are often excellent priests. But the sad fact is that learning a biblical language in your forties is almost impossible for most people. I would much rather that these men received a solid grounding in Systematic and Biblical theology. On the other hand it saddens me that I will probably always have to rely on translations myself and that this will always be a “second best” situation.

  25. Mike Cheek says:

    I grew up in the non-instrumental churches of Christ. In the 50s and 60s there was a decided anti-intellectualism. The men (and they were always men) did not have a great deal of education, and only rarely advanced studies. This was no bed of roses, I can assure you. There were horrible, vicious fights and splits often over the most trivial issues. But … this group also came up with inexpensive educational alternatives. Six month or one year programs “schools of preaching” that were affordable (non-accredited, usually sponsored by a church that offered its classrooms during the week for a minimal fee). Nowadays, by and large, the C of C has better educated ministers. Altho no longer a part of this fellowship, I think this educational trend upwards has helped them. I studied at Fuller and found my experience there invaluable. I do think the information portion of theological education can be delivered more inexpensively as per the technological delivery systems already mentioned. But everyone may not neeed mastery of the original languages. Certainly a strong grounding in church history and historical theology, in order to have a broader perspective on things.

  26. iMonk,

    I don’t understand what you mean by a “missionary lifestyle.” How does my lifestyle affect the price of tuition? My wife and lived a spartan lifestyle in college and seminary while we both worked full-time. We still ended up with debt.

    Are you saying that if people gave more to seminaries that they would be able to subsidize education so that the students didn’t have to pay as much? That’s true, and it happens at every institution. Cedarville University calls me all the time to tell me that the $20k/year I paid only covered half of my expenses. I tell them that when I finish paying off my degree that I will consider helping others.

    In seminary, I was always jealous of the SBC students who only paid $75/hr for seminary, but that isn’t reality for schools in smaller denominations. They try their best to raise money, but the donor base just isn’t there.

    Plus, do we want our seminary professors educated in the evangelical ghetto? The best theological education (at the PhD level) comes from private universities, not seminaries. I think our seminary professors should be exposed to ideas outside of our tradition so that they can dialogue intelligently with the latest theological, philosophical, and ethical ideas. Last I checked, British universities charge American PhD students 10,000 pounds per year, and American universities charge $30k.

  27. I’m saying that those professors/schools can make the same decision I did: to embrace relative poverty in order to teach and preach.

    The entire money aspect of Christian higher education is a blight on Christianity. Where’s the practice of poverty and simplicity? I went to a flagship seminary. It was hardly modest.

    As to seminaries giving a second class theological education, I think that is an eclectic issue. Depends on the degree, the goal, the ability of the student. Many seminaries are more than able to equip students for meaningful usefulness.

    BTW- I think we need a massive simplification of seminary curriculum and design. When I was going through, there were some degree options that were a colossal waste of time.

    Internships. Apprenticing. Smaller schools. Simplicity. Poverty. Missionary lifestyle. It’s all doable if we stop being so darned American.



  28. I think learning the original languages should be a priority in the life of any preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe it necessarily requires a seminary education to accomplish that task, although I do believe that seminaries are the primary source of learning for such an endeavor.

    It might prove extremely difficult for a pastor in California (especially urban CA) to make a living on $40K a year while that same amount might be just enough for someone living in the rural South.

    The elders at my local congregation are all employed outside the church. All three of them paid for their education out of their own pockets. It took one of them almost 10 years to complete his degree, but he did it – not because our congregation required him to do so, but because he felt it would make him a better pastor. He was right.

    One of our elders continues to work on his doctorate because he desires to do so.

    All of them supplement their income in various ways, but they are all self-sufficient. Good thing, too. Our overall yearly budget is a whopping $72K. We simply can’t financially support 3 elders, but God continues to provide for them and for our congregation.

    I know of a congregation in TX that gives away every penny of their offering every single week. The pastor works outside the church to cover his expenses and God continues to provide.

    I think modern evangelicalism has lost sight of God’s Providence in the lives of His own.

    More folks should read “Neither Poverty nor Riches” to understand why and where Christianity as a whole misses out on the entire aspect of how to deal with money in general.

  29. What would help?
    – More applied ministry. 4 semesters required minimum. OR meetings with mentor required for length of seminary program
    – Online classes that cost LESS or EQUAL TO on-campus courses. (currently, our internet courses cost $250 more to watch a DVD and have no real interaction, which is just silly!)
    – Worship degree competencies that are related to contemporary music (ie piano and guitar playing from chord charts, drum/bass proficiency, harmonizing vocally by ear, etc)
    – In general, more worship degree programs that include applied music – most do not.

  30. iMonk,

    Perhaps professors should make some kind of vow of poverty. The professors at the seminary I went to saw their profession as a ministry and they lived pretty modest lifestyles. I think the pastor of my church in Dallas had a much nicer house than any of the houses owned by the seminary profs I visited.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that theological education is expensive and somebody has to pay for it. Maybe reform is needed, but in the current system the expense of a PhD warrants a salary that allows students to pay off their loans.

    I didn’t say that seminaries give a second-rate education. You can get a great education at an evangelical seminary. But the best education at the PhD level is not found in evangelical seminaries. I don’t think any PhD candidate would dispute this. And beyond the issue of quality of education is the issue of education outside of our tradition. If we limit ourselves to studying at evangelical schools, we cut ourselves off from dialogue with the world at large.

    I don’t mean to uncritically defend the current seminary system, but I do speak as one whose potential career in Christian higher education was ended by lack of funds.

  31. There are three types of skills required for ministry–those you best learn by being discipled, those you best learn on the job, and those you best learn in a classroom.

    I think seminaries should emphasize the classroom stuff–Greek and Hebrew exegesis, historical theology, and systematic theology. Perhaps you should also study philosophy of ministry. Why would I want to pay $300/credit hour to learn how to preach when I can find a more experienced preacher to mentor me for free? Why should I go to seminary to learn how to pray when my church should be teaching me that?

    Seminaries should require a long internship to learn all of the on-the-job stuff, and churches should teach you all of the discipleship stuff.

  32. Imonk:

    But what about churches in the rest of the world where people are getting saved and the kingdom is expanding and the church is vibrant? They don’t have nearly as much information or books or bible knowledge as we do in america. But yet God is moving amongst them powerfully. I just wonder if we in America have it all wrong when we think about the church or the christian life. We can think about the church or the christian life as if it’s a consumer product, let’s say a computer or a laptop. If the ‘laptop’ has problems we try to fix it or troubleshoot. I wonder if we approach the church in the same way. It’s as if we try to find out whats wrong and then by our own intellect fix the problem, whatever the solution might be whether it’s more knowledge or better worship or whatever, while leaving God out of it.

  33. Rhetorical: How ever were the Apostles & the subsequent pastors/elders qualified to teach/lead/shepherd their congregations without the million dollar institutions of modern America?

    American Evangelicalism has a second class citizen fear of intellectualism, prosperity, and “credentials”. There is too much of the fear of man.

    Education is important. Very important. But it doesn’t require thousands of dollars in tuition and a multi-million dollar campus.

    May Christ be exalted in the poorest countries – with the poorest of pastors. How often do we think of what the pastors in Africa & China are equipped with, with Christ coverting His elect?

  34. whoa,
    I don’t know what seminary you are looking at, but I am working on an MA degree that is exactly half the required hours of an MDiv. So there are seminary programs available short of the MDiv level. Even still, I wish I could take more of the language classes. I agree with iMonk that the original languages is one of the big necessities in seminary education. I am getting my MA in Religion online with Liberty and the only language classes I can get are basic “tools” classes that teach the lettering and some basic grammar. The Hebrew one was great, but I just finish the Greek one a couple of weeks ago and wish they had done more language work.

  35. Justin V says:

    Something of a minor point, but of the four schools mentioned on the sidebar only one was a seminary, a few were unaccredited or ran unaccredited for most of their lives, and at least one has closed in the past due to finances. At least two had enrollment hovering around 100. There may be many issues, but those examples may not be the best ones out there.

    As for giving trends, I’m starting to wonder if it just isn’t as emotional as it is the financial woes of the times. There’s nothing wrong with missions to kids in Africa, but I know when my alma mater (A Christian College) is hitting me up for cash it doesn’t sound as urgent — which I know is another essay.

    On the other hand, the “just me and the Bible” mentality of those not interested in seminary sounds like an open invitation to a church split and agnostic offspring in a short time. It reminds me of Pensacola’s insistence that accreditation and accountability are a hindrance to its mission. Red Flags should be flying high at statements like that.

  36. Pool resources for the common things – why can’t Greek/Hebrew education be shared – why does each school have to offer their own program.

    In fact, why are there so many denominational colleges – ironically by trying to hold to the truth they’ve ended up in a situation where they are going to disappear and the secular colleges are going to offer the strongest programs.

    Concentrate on the essentials that can’t be offered anywhere else, and ruthless outsource everything else. Unless you are able to survive using the present model – which probably means that you are spreading your net quite widely to attract both students and funding.

  37. Whoa:

    Everywhere and every time an uneducated ministry prevails- like in my SOuthern Baptist Convention- problems arise. How serious? Depends on your scale. For example one of the reasons African evangelicalism is seriously threatened is the hardcore adherence to the prosperity Gospel and the tendency toward syncretism. Those are direct results of ignorance.

    I realize that evangelicalism has a bias against intellectualism, but a good education isn’t intellectualism. It’s stewardship of the mind. It’s getting to a place that you can know you are wrong. It’s learning how to learn, not knowing everything.

    The SBC has thousands of ministers who think it’s morally wrong to have a beer. A preacher at my school yesterday said that God is against dancing. This is sheer ignorance, and the inability to rethink the prejudices a person has inherited.

    We need good preparation. Not bad or excessive, but good and usable.


  38. I happen to be of the opinion that seminary education is a critical step in the maturation and training process of any pastor. I’ve seen too many poorly trained pastors make a mess of Scripture to think otherwise.

    Here’s a thought: Why don’t churches create scholarship programs? I’m a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a Th.M. I didn’t pay dime for tuition or fees. Why? Because the church I grew up in had a scholarship for its people who were going into full-time pastoral ministry. My education cost around $50,000. With proper planning, and a few years to prepare, even a relatively small church could put through one student every 15 years or so. That doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but how many pastors does the average church actually produce from its own ranks?

    It seems to me that churches which value education for their pastors should have a better vision for this sort of thing.

  39. I needed a seminary education since my undergraduate degree was in history and communications and my work experience was in a family business in electrical distribution. I was saved at 22 and while my church did a great job discipling me, when I went to seminary at the age of 27 I really needed what it could offer. I am painfully aware of many problems in the SBC but I do thank God for their tuition assistance.

    I am a big supporter of the traditional model of seminary education. I know many schools are going to online classes to save money and expand services but I gained not only in the classroom and with the interaction with faculty but from living in a community with other families going through the experience with us. We were careful to remind ourselves that it was not the “real” world, but it gave us a great sense of community and a desire for the promise of heaven.

    And while seminary isn’t required for ministry, I think theological preparation is a very important thing. I’d love to see pastors in my SBC glorify God with their minds as well as their hearts. I pray these struggling seminaries are able to survive.

    Bill Pfister
    Brevard, NC

  40. Eric R:
    The church and conference that I grew up in did the same for our Bible College. Our church would at least subsidize a student’s tuition to the Bible College. That was helpful.

    Excellent article. My wife and I both graduated with our Master’s degrees from a small, southern Evangelical university. They are also feeling the pinch. But their seminary is doing quite well financially, because they offer classes in many different formats aimed at working adults and pastors.

    They offer classes that only meet one weekend every month and most of the work is independent. They have week-long intensives where the student works on certain assignments before coming on campus for that week and then finishes the work after that week. They have classes on tape and DVD’s and a student mails the work in.

    These formats are all less expensive and do not require room and board, and they fit into a working adult’s schedule. It’s great.

  41. mitchell says:

    Thank you for you perspective on this. I agree and, frankly, am grateful that the economic circumstances are forcing us to think outside of the box. Since when did becoming better equipped for Christian ministry become an elitist endeavor? Anyway, are you familiar with Third Millennium Ministries ( They are interested in equipping pastors in the 3rd world but their materials are worth looking into and are exactly what you are speaking towards. Thanks for your service. God bless.

  42. imonk,

    Thanks for addressing this. I have had it in my heart to attend seminary for several years. I am a Family Nurse Practitioner and have no formal biblical training. I also started at Liberty and although I enjoyed their distance learning program, I decided that $800 per course is too much. I transferred to an unaccredited college that is “approved” by about 3,000 churches in their Baptist denomination where the tuition is $100 per hour and I am now pursuing an MDiv there. I am an associate pastor at a 50 member church and they are benefiting greatly from my education. I believe there are many of us who in our “second phase” of life (in my 40’s) want to learn more about the Lord and the expensive seminaries cannot help us. To be able to attend college at my current seminary is an unbelievable joy. I am so excited everyday to be able to learn something new and share it with our little congregation. They are becoming more and more grounded in the word as well as the weeks go by. I believe we need to refocus religious education in the US. There is a Baptist message board that I read daily and if you mention the merits of an unaccredited college there, those stuffy people will rip you to shreds. While they are uplifting each other I am obtaining a formal education at an “unaccredited” institution and God’s people are growing because of it! Thanks for letting me post…


  43. I sometimes wonder where the virtue is requiring a $100,000 seminary education for prospective pastors, most of whom will be fortunate to earn $50K a year.

    And sometimes it sounded elitist, as prominent and prosperous families in the churches I attended financed the education of some of their less-capable sons at the denominational seminary. The spitfire in the youth group from a single-parent home, however, saw the $13K/annual tuition as an insurmountable barrier.

    There are better ways than seminary of learning the original languages. Learning to chant the Liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Church has done wonders for my New Testament and LXX readings, and there are still synagogues where you could pick up a decent command of Hebrew and Aramaic.

  44. I have to disagree on the languages. They’re important for scholars, but not for pastors. I took them, so I’m not speaking from outside the box here. But being able to read the languages and being able to do actual, meaningful work in the languages (not quickly accessible by owning a few good reference materials) is two totally different things. The benefit gained is significantly less than the investment required to learn them.

    It seems many seminaries with student bodies more focused toward entering the church rather than the academy have by and large admitted this by removing the requirement.

    I’ve heard as many sermons making a mess out of associations on a Greek word as I have on an English word. You don’t need to learn the languages to comprehend the issues of translation and the humility it should foster.

    In my opinion, we don’t need to force all pastor’s through the scholar mode. Wise, discerning and learned, sure. But the languages can go.

  45. As a pastor I have not found the languages to be as helpful as I thought they would be. I do use them, but primarily for word studies and such. Serious scholarly application is really beyond my ability, and time. However, the education has made me conversant with serious scholars and their writing. This I have found helpful time and again.

    My own experience was that a good seminary education does not necessarily teach a pastor what to think, but rather, how to think. Church history and theology have paid great dividends in my own ministry. This is particularly helpful when helping the flock sort through all the latest trends and traps. This sort of discernment is what I often find missing in ministers who do not have a working knowledge of scripture, theology, and Church history.

  46. I agree with Michael that study of Greek and Hebrew is currently neglected.

    Just for comparison:

  47. as several have mentioned, Greek & Hebrew are studied not so one can say “the original Hebrew means…” but in order to foster humility. However, if it’s just a semester or two of Greek, not even that will be accomplished.

  48. Interesting that several times in this thread, the assumption that developing nations (such as those in Africa) are not receiving the theological training that is offered here. In the Anglican Worldwide Church, it is the bishops and priests from Uganda that have often been very clear on the wrong theology emerging in the Episcopal Church (as academic as they are). Yet the Ugandan clarity is not for lack of training, but very Bible based theological trainng. Ugandan Christian University ( has a seminary almost entirely supported by gifts. Perhaps it is schools like these that should send missionaries to our troubled churches in America?

  49. Maybe our problems arise from our mindset. Can our income only come from preaching or teaching? Why not some of our income come from a trade and our preaching and teaching from the generosity of those we are helping?

    Eastern European Jews used to work all day from a skill they leaned as a child and then in the evening the men would gather together and teach each other. Granted their education started from their childhood. Judaism is a religion of the home. Father’s taught their children a trade and the Scriptures. The first to support their future families and the second to support the child spiritual life which would greatly influence how they lived and to give them their identity.

    Are we going to educate our children or is somebody else? Where do our responsibilities lie? Those of us who do know Biblical Greek and Hebrew well are we going to teach our children them? Those of us who are theologically knowing are we going to teach our children them?

    Will not those in the Church who have this training not teach others in their congregation b/c we will not be paid for it? Or at least not be able to make a living from it? Should they suffer in this way?

    I am not accusing people but trying to broaden our ideas about how we view things.

  50. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    I’m really enjoying this discussion.

    Three ideas:

    1) I do believe that professors should be paid for their intellectual work, however most of the professors I know are paid very tiny amounts for the books they write. We asked one of our professors about what she did with the royalties from her books (that we had to pay $50 for). She laughed and said that she bought a few small Christmas gifts with them each year. So why are we paying so much for books, and the professors getting so little?

    What if the middle-man were cut out of the academic publishing business, so that the bulk of profits could go to the academic authors? Then these professors could take pay cuts, and tuition could go down. Does anyone think this might work?

    2) Also, on the other side of affording seminary education, what if seminaries had monastic style housing? If it were far cheaper than most apartment style housing, I think some people would jump at the chance.

    3) Why do seminaries have to have their own buildings when many churches sit empty six days a week? Instead of donating money, could churches donate space and time to seminaries? I see from some of the posts that this happens for very small seminaries, but why not for larger ones?