Monday, May 20, 2013

Fewer Seminary Grads Working in the Context of a Church

In a little under three weeks Ashland Seminary will hold a graduation 
ceremony to launch about 200 people into a variety of fields of ministry. Some will become pastors. Some will become licensed counselors. Others will be missionaries. But according to a report in the Washington Post, the trend is away from the more traditional setting of a pulpit and into other forms of ministry. 

About 41 percent of master’s of divinity graduates expect to pursue full-time church ministry, down from 52 percent in 2001 and from 90-something percent a few decades ago, according to the Association of Theological Schools, the country’s largest such group.
Americans, particularly young ones, are becoming less religiously affiliated, and many see churches as too focused on internal politics and dogma and not enough on bettering the outside world. Institutional religion doesn’t have the stature it once did, and pastor jobs are fewer and less stable.
The skepticism about religious institutions has led to a broadened concept of what it means to minister. Like Allen, seminary graduates today use the words “ministry” and “calling” to describe their plans to employ their understanding of theology in a new career or to use their degrees to bring more purpose to what they are already doing. And seminaries are busily trying to accommodate them, creating new degrees for careers in such areas as urban ministry and psychology.
The trend is an interesting one. As people become less focused on a central church entity, they are not necessarily abandoning the idea of ministry. Rather, they are interested in meeting the needs where they find them, outside of what we would traditionally think is the place where ministry takes place.

Are you a seminary grad or soon to be one? What types of ministry do you intend to pursue outside of a church? 


  1. I wonder whether this need not be an in the church/out of the church dichotomy...perhaps there are those who might see themselves happily serving in a bi-vocational capacity.

    For instance, if given the opportunity some might actually prefer a career which straddles the church and the academy, or the church and the counseling center, or the church and the hospital room (as a chaplain). It seems to be more and more apparent that church positions (and perhaps teaching positions in the humanities) are becoming less stable as full-time positions...perhaps we could begin to rethink the concept of vocation entirely for these fields. Maybe the boundaries of ministry in "the church" and "the world" need not be (or simply can no longer be) as hard and fast as they once were. What do you think?

    Krista Mournet

  2. Krista, I think you've hit the nail on the head. For myself, in a denomination with few opportunities for traditional full-time ministry within a parish, bi-vocational ministry is pretty much expected, and the reason why I am pursuing a CPE residency to work as a hospital chaplain.