Pastors for the Next Church

This article has been making the rounds, questioning the utility of long expensive seminary educations as a means for training pastors:

Decentralized church systems with a history of less formal schooling historically outperform top-heavy ones with heavy academic requirements.

Meanwhile something like half of the churches in the Presbyterian Church (USA) are without pastors. Many cannot afford to pay one, especially not a full-time salary. All sorts of prognosticators say we're moving back to the "tentmaker" model, in which the pastor has a paying job independent of the pastoral ministry. (The term goes back to the Apostle Paul.)

This is a multivalent issue and a complicated problem. (I disagree with the author's argument about the reasons for mainline decline; it's not lefty politics, it's primarily demographics.) But one thing I haven't heard anything about is a source for these "tentmakers": stay-at-home mothers. So in addition to people who work full-time and have a part-time ministry gig, why not encourage "full-time mothers" to become part-time pastors? I live in an area that has quite a few stay-at-home moms, and I have met countless of them who have incredible gifts for ministry. They run VBS programs. They teach Bible studies. They could be trained and paid for doing what often amounts to a small part-time job.

I am a pastor who works part-time in a small congregation. I love the part-time schedule on its own merits. And I love it also because I parent three small children, and there is incredible flexibility to be home when they get off the bus, or to work from home when they're sick, or to take a day and chaperone the school field trip (Friday, pray for me). It feels way more flexible than, say, teaching, which is another profession that many women find appealing because of its supposed family-friendliness.

Of course, the times it's not flexible, it's really not---crises, hospital visits, deaths. But with the right support system in place, it's incredibly workable. The congregation I serve has been nothing but gracious when it comes to my kids, their schedules, and illnesses. Unfortunately, the predominant view of ministry as a profession is that it's all-encompassing, and family life suffers. Stereotypes abound about PKs who grow up to resent the church. Those stereotypes are not without basis. But I'm telling you, I can think of hardly any profession that is as family friendly as ministry.

I think if the church could somehow harness the gifts of these women, it would be incredibly beneficial, both for churches and for the women themselves, who may feel like they want something of "their own" that's not related to child-raising.

I've witnessed such a dejectedness when we think about our churches not being able to pay for full-time ministers. There's a real sense of shame, like the church has failed. And I know that some people are called to ministry and want to work full-time and/or are the sole breadwinners in their families, and that has to be part of the equation too. But with this crisis comes an opportunity. I talk to more and more minister-moms who work full-time and would give anything to move to part-time. In many cases, their family can make it work economically; it's just the church that needs to shift its attitude about what makes someone a "real" pastor.

Could denominations be creative in how we certify pastors? Could seminaries be creative in how we train them? I met recently with a woman who's incredibly gifted, and is even considering seminary, but how does she do that with school-age children? Does she have to wait until her children are in college before she starts a cumbersome M.Div. program that could take three or more years? The church has need for her now.

What do you think?

Image: add a Bible to that mix and you're set.