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Today, at seminaries across the country, thousands of first-years begin their pursuit of the Master of Divinity degree.  In three years, and about $50,000 later, most will graduate indebt and unproven as church pastors.  Five years later, 80% will have left the ministry.  Of those who remain, half will battle incompetence and depression, but will stay in ministry because they have no other vocational training.  A very optimistic estimate, therefore, is that out of twenty seminary freshman, only one will pan out as a competent pastor.  Nineteen out of twenty will not.


It seems like an awful waste of time, people, and money.


Perhaps it is time to rethink how we raise up future church pastors.


The old model:  throw a bunch of twenty-something kids into seminary, kids who are lacking in life-experience, who have mistaken a disdain for the secular workplace with a “call to full-time ministry,” who lack drive, organizational skills, ambition, wherewithal, and intelligence.  Throw them into the pool and hopefully one or two of them will emerge with a modicum of respectability and employability after three years.  (Then make them baby-sit for years in a ministry otherwise known as “youth ministry”).


The new model: Christian headhunting.


Today, at Fortune 500 companies and firms across the nation, there are thousands of  smart, with-it, composed, competent and proven leaders, partners, and CEOs who are lovers of Christ.  These are people with vast life experiences, are professionally adept, have proven leadership qualities, know the importance of hard work in achieving dreams, are intensely organized, disciplined, articulate and crazy-smart.  They are proven commodities.


Why not target them?  Why not invest in a proven commodity rather than playing Russian roulette with a pool of unproven young people who have statistically shown basic incompetence and a propensity to drop-out?  Why not instead purposefully target members of the proven group?


In my mind, there would be a pastoral head-hunting organization funded by like-minded wealthy contributors.   This group would research potential candidates, then directly approach them, as secular headhunters do.  A rigorous screening would ensue, many face-to-face meetings.  Then the proposal: for the CEO/partner/manager to leave his job, enter seminary, become a full-fledged pastor.  There would be a stipend of $100,000 a year, starting with the first day of seminary and for as long as the person remains in full-time ministry thereafter. 

If all goes according to plan, a legion of very capable church leaders would be raised within ten years.  Instead of getting pimply-faced young kids standing nervously behind a pulpit, you would get gift-laden, experience-rich, leadership-demonstrated pastors with graying sideburns capable of leading a church.  Be honest, now.  Who would you hire to be your pastor?  Candidate A, fresh out of seminary, not a lick of life experience, can’t balance a checkbook, no management experience, lover of Christ; or Candidate B, fresh out of seminary, former managing partner of a major law firm, supervised hundreds of the best and brightest minds, lover of Christ.


Here are the objections, followed by my rebuttals:


$100,000 is too much money.  This is ministry after all. 

True, it is a lot of money.  But consider this: these candidates will all have jobs commanding a lot more than that a year.  For them to make $100,000 is to take a very significant salary reduction.  They will also likely have a family to care for, and for them to upkeep their Christian responsibility to their family (with mortgages, etc.), $100,000 will probably have to be the minimum stipend. 


The call to ministry is a call to sacrifice.  They should just suck it up.

True again.  But keep in mind (again) that these leaders will pay a greater sacrifice in their salary reduction (down to $100,000) than the average seminarian who made little or no money before seminary anyway.  If we were to use quality-of-lifestyle-change as the barometer, the ex-CEO-turned-pastor would probably have the larger degree of downward shift.  He could probably just “suck it up” if he were single, but sucking it up loses its heroic flavor once there are family considerations and commitments thrown into the mix.


We should not choose pastors using worldly standards.  God sees past the worldly accolades and looks to the heart.

Well said.  But why do you reflexively judge corporate leaders as somehow less qualified spiritually than fresh-out-of-college twenty-somethings?  Why do we consider the vocationally successful to be somehow less on fire for God than the goateed hipster toting his Greek lexicon? 


God should call people to the ministry.  Head-hunting usurps God’s role here.

God uses all kinds of channels to speak.  Purposeful, deliberate head-hunting is just as viable a channel as an Inter-Varsity staff member speaking to a student about the call to ministry.


How do we know that these ex-CEOs won’t quit the ministry and re-enter the business sector?

We don’t know.  Nobody ever knows.  But consider this: people of that age group are usually more self-aware and know what they’re getting into before they take the plunge.  The chance of “corporate recidivism” is thus likely to be far less than the 80% dropout rate among younger seminary graduates.


$100,000 per person per year?  How are you going to raise that kind of money?  How can you afford it?

How can we afford not to?  Take a look at twenty seminarians.  Chances are, in five years, they would have squandered all the money spent on attaining a degree they no longer use.  That’s over $1 million.  To me, that is a huge waste of God-given money – it’s high time a more water-tight system comes into play.  And, fact is, there is a lot of money out there.  A few months ago, I sat at a Christian fundraiser for Ivy League alumni.  At my table were doctors and law firm partners making seven figures.  My sense is, there are many who would generously give, if only there was a cause they could be passionate about.


Just a few thoughts.  For most, this was a blog entry which you’ve found maddeningly insulting or downright amusing.  Neither is the intended result.  But perhaps there is a Christian Bill Gates out there who will come across this blog entry.  And maybe, just maybe, this entry will get you thinking.  That’s the intention.


One Comment

  1. How about teaching those in seminary to be like those leaders. All those leaders learned to be what thet are. I knd of think your idea is a little rediculous. If God calls them thbey will come. If God doesn’t call them than maybe they should stay where they are making a difference there.

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