We hear a lot these days that seminary graduates do not want to serve in the local church. In its recent State of the Industry webinar, the Association of Theological Schools reported on the vocational intent of students following graduation. Contrary to much anecdotal reporting, the report showed a large number of recent graduates who intend to serve in a congregation.
According to the presenters, “More than 70 percent of all Master of Divinity graduates and almost 50 percent of professional Master of Arts indicated that they would be seeking or have already attained positions in local congregations. More than half of the MDiv students and 20 percent of the professional MA students intend to serve as pastors or associate pastors in local congregations.”
ATS saw an overall decline in head count enrollment last year of just over 11 percent. Of course, this is across the board and differs by denomination, school, ethnicity, and other factors. Despite this decline, perhaps those in seminary have become more intentional about church ministry.
In past years, a number of students may have entered theological education seeking to “find their path.” It may well be that present students have already found that path, especially since many are already in congregational ministry roles, and have a clearer vision of their vocation. Again, the increasing age of seminary students and the accessibility of online education may factor into this.
While recognizing that theological education can provide preparation for a number of vocations including but not limited to community and social work settings, teaching, institutional chaplaincies, further graduate study, counseling, and a number of entrepreneurial ministries, seminaries must continue to focus on the formation of students for congregational ministry.
This will be more challenging as the cost of theological education grows and many traditional funders such as denominations and other judicatories are becoming less engaged. Even so, the churches need the seminaries to provide their future leaders.