65 years ago, in post World War II America, there were major social and economic power structures that provided an easy path into occupational ministry. The vast majority of citizens attended a faith based service at a church founded by a national denomination. If you felt called into occupational ministry, you could pick one of those national denominations and follow a clearly defined path to ordination. After ordination, you could rely on that denomination calling you into an entry job and a clearly defined occupational path.
This was extraordinarily effectively. It’s hard to over emphasize the influence of “Methodism” to all aspects of American culture. American’s LOVE the concept of applying a ‘method’ to everything from making Ford Model A’s to making the next generation of pastors.
There was an obvious backlash to this version of cultural Christianity. That led to the Jesus Movement of the 70s which directly led into Calvary Chapels and Vineyards. I had a church planter from the 70s tell me that all you had to do was plant a ‘cool’ church and they would fill right up. I believe these churches really connected culturally with the counter culture movement of the late 60’s and 70’s. Instead of a priest or pastor in robes with a pipe organ, you had pastors in jeans and rock and roll worship.
That movement is (or has) waned. We are in the middle of another major religious cultural shift. Into what I don’t know, but you can’t just plant a ‘cool’ church and you haven’t been able to for a decade or two. (For what it’s worth, I think we’re moving back toward a version of “liturgy” and the grounding nature of old church traditions. I think the unmoored feeling of modern culture is driving us back toward practicing faith in a manner our forefathers did. For example, we are seeing a rise in young Episcopal’s and evangelical Catholics.)
The point of this is that there were two major cultural trends that have lost some footing:
- If you go to college, you’ll have a job for the rest of your life. This idea goes back to the 1950s and factory mentality. A college degree isn’t a guaranteed job. A job isn’t a guaranteed career. And a career isn’t a guaranteed pension in retirement.
- There will be a clearly defined occupational ministry career path. Either from your denomination, or local congregation, or society.
I don’t think this is a reason to panic. In fact, I’m excited. I think this is a wildly transformational time in our culture and power structures (religious and otherwise). I strongly believe in the value of a solid Theological Education, and I don’t think a changing society or job market undervalue that at all.
But the reason I write this blog is that the changing times require greater FINANCIAL prudence in navigating the path to occupational ministry. You cannot follow the path of our parents and grandparents. I believe it is also very difficult to go into ministry following the cultural norm of the day – accumulating large amounts of student loan debt.
Instead, to Graduate Free we are going to have to take the path less traveled. The path of minimalist living, working our way through school, fundraising, Ministry Residency’s, and being shrewd shoppers.
I am here to walk with you. It is a journey worth making, and you can do it!