Monday, June 8, 2015

Debt and Destruction in American Churches

If you regularly read the admittedly boring financial reports we post in this e-newsletter each month for the sake of accountability, you may have noticed that GPTS experiences sometimes wild cash-flow fluctuations during the year and reports deficit net income during many months.

You may have asked yourself why this is: Why doesn't the seminary cover its costs through tuition and fees paid by those who receive their theological education there? Why does the seminary regularly report that it depends on donations from individuals and churches for 70 per cent of its annual general fund budget? Why on earth does it have a tuition-waiver program allowing some students to attend for "free"?

That financial mix, as we have frequently reported, is the result of a deliberate decision made by our trustees from the beginning and carried forward to today. Affordable tuition is, in fact, on the list of our top "distinctives" — along with our commitments to the authority of Scripture, confessional/doctrinal integrity, preservation of our Christian heritage, use of original languages of the Bible, Christ-centered heartfelt preaching, a classical curriculum, and accountability to the church.

The trustees of Greenville Seminary firmly believe that men who are called to the ministry should not be forced to pursue their calling by accumulating a mountain of debt. More and more evidence is emerging that men who enter the ministry, and the churches they serve, are facing financial obstacles that can destroy their ministries.

Blogger Nicholas McDonald, an M.Div. student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, who admits to nearly giving up the ministry at the prospect of entering it with insurmountable debt, says that "paying off [student] debt in this life, for most pastors, is about as likely as shooting a nerf-ball into outer space and hitting the moon."

McDonald notes that it is not usual for seminarians to accumulate $60,000 or more in student debt, yet begin their ministry in a small church that pays poorly.

"Now think about that. 20 years ago, it was considered a crisis that 30% of seminarians were graduating with $10,000 of debt." he says. "A crisis. Why? Because 50 years ago, denominations largely bore the brunt of paying for theological training, and to this day, most parishioners assume that’s just what happens: seminary gets paid for. Somehow. By someone."

In his recent article, McDonald listed a number of typical adverse consequences for young ministers and churches:
  1. Churches decide theological training is unimportant. Or,
  2. Pastors are forced to view ministry as a career, climbing from one position to another. Or,
  3. Pastors become embittered against the seminary/church for financial woes, and drop out. Or,
  4. Pastors succumb to the pressure of “church growth,” and effectively sell their ministry out to corporate tactics.
GPTS is firmly committed to help its students avoid these and other pitfalls as they go forth to labor in the vineyard of the Lord. But we can only do this if God's people underwrite what we do and churches, presbyteries/classes, and denominations fund the seminary as their agent in training future generations of their ministers.

June marks the last month of our 2014-15 fiscal year. During this month, we conduct our annual "end-of-fiscal-year" appeal. We need to raise $71,000 by June 30 to provide a solid footing for the summer months when no tuition income is available. Please help us with your best possible contribution.