Before I begin, I have to give credit to some people concerning this post. Carol Howard Merritt and many others have been writing on subjects such as this before, so many of my thoughts have been birthed out of their writings, so h/t to them.
Seated around long tables in a Hogwarts like cafeteria are first year seminarians eager to discuss their call story and hopes for their future in ministry. While at another long table in that same cafeteria, senior seminary students are telling different stories. At this point, they have probably grown tired of reciting their call story and can probably recite the call story of the person sitting across from them. Instead, they are expressing their lament as their future in ministry seems bleaker and bleaker. The lack of open pastorates that provide full time work with proper salaries and health benefits is on the rise.
The very thing that unites and divides these two groups is the fact that the institution in which they attend very rarely speaks of this new reality. The few times that this issues would be given recognition would be around the same time the annual job fair would be held and even then, only those students looking for a placement would be informed. That is a problem.
I feel like I and many of my fellow seminarians have been lied to about our future in ministry. I grew up with a call to ministry fairly young and as I grew into that I saw examples of ministers with full-time calls, fair salaries, health benefits, and a way to sustain their families. This was the image of ministry I grew up with and a notion that was never challenged throughout my undergraduate work or even into my graduate studies. Until recently, I hadn’t heard that the chances for my picturesque career were growing slimmer and slimmer each year and to think differently was to be simply naive. I know that I, and many others, are hurt and are unsure of how to feel or what to do next. Is a full-time call with benefits just a pipe dream?
When I talk to people about this paradigm shift, I almost always hear “well you can always be a tent-maker.” (a tent-maker is a person who does ministry part time and also works another job as well.) What if I don’t want to be a tent-maker, what if I just can’t do that? People have then informed me that Jesus’ disciples weren’t full time employees with benefits. True, but they also didn’t have a high cost of living or a family to provide for or student loans to pay off, did they. If you can’t already tell, I am frustrated. And I am not the only one.
The fear for many is that at some point in the very near future, full time ministry will no longer be a sustainable vocation. Some have applauded this as a return to the Biblical way of doing ministry while others mourn the loss of the safety and security that full time work brings. No matter which camp one may stand in, it is imperative that we see this shift and be able to adapt. The place that it may be best to start is at those long Hogwarts tables where hopeful seminarians sit and begin to gently reframe their expectations.