The case for the 45 credit seminary degree

The Atlantic ran a disturbing article on the state of middle class clergy carrying a seminary degree: high debt, low wages, vanishing churches, and part-time pastor positions. The piece profiles Justin Barringer, a recent seminary grad who like many before him graduated the call to pastoral ministry. His story is not unlike thousands of other ministers:

Justin Barringer would seem to have the perfect résumé. He’s a seminary grad, an author and book editor, and a former missionary to China and Greece. But despite applying to nearly a hundred jobs over the course of two years, Barringer, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, could not secure a full-time, salaried church position.

So he splits his time among three jobs, working as a freelance editor, an employee at a nonprofit for the homeless, and a part-time assistant pastor at a United Methodist Church. “I am not mad at the church,” Barringer says. “However, I wish someone had advised me against taking on so much debt in order to be trained for ministry.”

Here is the reality: high debt and scarcity of full-time paying pastor positions.

The traditional mainline church track for full-time pastors followed like this: 4-years of college, 3-years of graduate seminary education, and ordination. This process launched a generation of pastors into their ministry in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. The traditional 90-credit seminary degree, the master of divinity, became the mark of an intellectual, professional, and full-time pastor. Churches had the people and money to support such a model. The pastor typical could raise a family and even buy a house (if one was not provided).

Now, because of cost of graduate education, seminary graduates are saddled with debt. In the $40,000 to $60,000 range (on top of college debt). The pace of the rise of the cost of education has exceeded the rate of inflation: to the tune of 500% since 1985.  Usually, when a professional incurs such a debt, their boss gives them a raise because of their higher degree. Not the case with pastors. Many pastors have the same credit hours as school administrators, but paid much less.

With this current reality of shrinking churches, downsized church budgets, less full-time pastor positions, and need for a generation of clergy to lead churches into a new culture, a shorter more focused seminary degree is needed. An online distance modified 45-credit degree could shake up this bleak future for pastors and churches. Here’s what the 45-credit seminary degree could look like:

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Learning church growth trends in England


As American churches slowly declined, we watched our European neighbors over the pond decline even faster. The “Death of Christianity” was forecasted to spread from England, Germany, and Norway to  around the world.  Surprisingly, a new study has revealed church growth trends in Europe. The death of Christianity story is greatly exaggerated.

What can we attribute to this growth? Hipper churches? Better social media? Flasher worship bands?

No… none of the above were found to produce long term church growth and revitalization.

The church growth movement in England has discovered deeper trends that can help American churches. A 10 year study was completed by the Church Growth Research Programme to study British churches. The study found that 18% of churches in Britain grew over a 10-year period. The study aimed to uncover what was different about those churches. The findings were reported by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership:

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Don’t fall for this scam

Scam, scam, scams. Internet scams are nothing new. You may have received a scam request for $1000 to be sent to some guy in Asia with a promise of a huge reward. These scams are getting more involved and more creative.

From time to time, I’m asked to speak at conferences, seminars, or denomination gatherings. It is not usual for me to receive an email about a speaking opportunity from someone I do not know. This morning, I received a rather usual email: A “invitation” to speak at an event in England.

Great, right? However, there were several red flags:

Poor wording/spelling/grammar I’m not a super self editor, but when you invite someone to speak, the invite is free of errors. They didn’t spell Baptist right. The email is riddled with errors.

Broken website If you click the website, the webpage is “frozen”. If there’s a conference, then there’s a website.

Use of CAPS No one uses capitalization in an email unless they are YELLING.

They want money No speaking conference is going to ask for money upfront. I learned that this scam is common and the next email is about money. This guy fell for it.

Use of Gmail If a large or small conference invites you, it’s not going to come from a Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo account. That’s bogus.

Bottom line, if anyone wants your identity information, passport information, or money – do not give it out! Below is the invite: [Read more…]

5 Counterintuitive leadership habits


Leaders often struggle with questions of “Am I effective?” or “Why isn’t this working?” in the course of their leadership. Organizational leaders and pastors are often plagued with such questions because unlike their for-profit counterparts, non-profit leaders often work with very limited resources of people and money.

Forbes gives business leaders “5 Counterintuitive Habits Of Truly Authentic Leaders” that transfer easily to congregations. Maseena Zieglar writes:

We live in an era in which increasingly, leaders who are authentic, and who translate this into shared value for their people, whether shareholders or stakeholders, employees, customers or constituents, are the ones who have true and lasting impact – ultimately making the world a better place to live in. Striving for authenticity in leadership is the new kind of success to aspire to, and may well one day be the measure by which some aspects of performance are evaluated.

Zieglar states that the following five qualities are effective for authentic leaders:

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The Israel news story you will never hear

Since May 20, 2014 there’s a news story coming out of Israel you will never hear. This story did not make any of the major news stations or papers. This story is not about bombings or war, but it is a story of waging peace. Only a few minor news outlets or blogs have covered this story.

This story is about a farm called “Tent of Nations” in Israel. Back in 2012, I visited the Tent of Nations. The Tent of Nations, an organization that brings all people together to live and work on land that is disputed. Daoud Nassar, a Christian, is the owner of the disputed land. It was his grandfather’s land. However, his grandfather did something unusual. He received deeds from all the occupying powers that invaded Palestine: the Ottomans and then the British. However, since last 12 years, the Israeli government is trying to prove it is public land.

Last month, the Tent of Nations posted this message on their Facebook page:

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Beware of the Backfire Effect


“Daddy long-leg spiders are one of the most poisonous spiders but their fangs are too short to bite humans.” “All vaccines are deadly to all children.”  You may heard those statements, but those statements are not true. Despite facts that disprove popular myths, some folks dig in further into their beliefs. That is called the Backfire Effect.

The term Backfire Effect was first used and documented by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. They sought to study the interaction of people’s false benefits with counter credible evidence, which in turn further solidifies their misguided belief.  Nyhan and Reifler tracked how corrections to false beliefs actually increase misconceptions among the group or person in question.

Often, the Backfire Effect is studied in the field of politics, but the Backfire Effect happens in the churches. Leadership in the local church need to be able to identify and respond to the Backfire Effect.

Churches experience the Backfire Effect when congregants assume facts or completely ignore the reality of a situation. In turn they label others as “wrong” or “right”. This in turn can create a culture of “us” versus “them”.

It is easy for church folk to assume nothing is happening in “this” committee or “that” ministry project is not moving in the right direction. This can enable that disgruntled congregant, who usually complains about everything, to slide further into their emotional hang-up concerning the church. When a leader sits down with the disgruntled congregant and calmly addresses their concerns with corrective facts, the Backfire Effect can occur: the disgruntled congregant rejects the facts and keeps believing that he/she is in the “right”.

Pastors and leaders need to understand where emotional opinions come from. There will always been those persons in the church who throw their hands up and say, “They don’t do evangelism” or “They don’t really care about people”. When in fact, those statements are not true. Such harsh comments usually come from some deep drama or past history that has not been addressed. People with anger management problems or prone to outbursts sometimes provide the worst Backfire Effect. 

Still, churches must create spaces and times for people to express their concerns. It is important to not let the Backfire Effect dominate a meeting or discussion. It is best to give the facts, listen and move on. Later, a one-one meeting will be necessarily.

The more you communicate the reality or correct message to your organization or church audience the better. The more people who have the correct information the better. Spend time planning how to best communicate the truth: word of mouth, print, digital, or all of the above. Finally, frequent reminders of information is helpful. Such practices can help reduce the Backfire Effect.

Limiting blog trolls


After blogging for over 5 years, I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments. I’ve found there are two types of negative blog commentator: productive criticism and blog trolls.

Blog trolls, like their mythical archetypes, lurk in the dark waiting for an unsuspecting blog author or other commentator. Blog trolls wait to unleash their irrational, ranting, and ugly comments on anyone who gets in their ideological way.  I used to have a pretty liberal policy with comments on my blogs. I’d let about anything go in the name of free speech. However, I quickly learned that the blog trolls were keeping other people from commenting.

The Washington Post highlights the problem of blog troll (or their cousin the “news troll”) in an article explaining the rise and problem of the blog troll:

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Stewardship: Raising more with less stress


Stewardship does not have to be the hardest thing you do at church. Pastors and leaders often lament pledge drives or stewardship campaigns. Fundraising in the church is difficult.

There is an alternative to non-stop fundraising, convincing people to give more – or simply cutting the budget. It’s what you bring to stewardship that you already have and not about learning the latest technique.

Register for this FREE webinar for Monday, May 5th @ 3:30 PM EST and you will be able to:

  • become more thoughtful about the financial challenges you and you church face
  • see money – and the process of stewardship– from a different perspective
  • bring more calm and creativity to recurring and unexpected problems in funding ministry
  • concentrate on long-term ministry goals and strategic persistence to get financial support for those goals.
  • focus on yourself and what you can impact directly rather than trying harder to convince others to give more
  • enjoy the stewardship process rather than dreading it each year

Leading this webinar is Rev. Margaret Marcuson works with churches who want to create a ministry that lasts and clergy who want to have more impact on the people they serve best. She speaks and writes on leadership and works with church leaders nationally as a consultant and coach. Margaret is the author of 111 Tips to Survive Pastoral Ministry, Leaders who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and Money and Your Ministry: Balance the Books While Keeping Your Balance (just released). Margaret is an American Baptist minister and was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts, for 13 years. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Karl, and belongs to First Baptist Church of Portland.

Spots are limited for this webinar! Sign up today.

Waterboarding is not funny, Sarah Palin


Former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, gave a one-liner to an audience at the National Rifle Association that likened baptism to waterboarding torture.  Palin said in her speech:

They obviously have information on plots to carry out Jihad… Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.

It appeared that the joke was well received with the NRA audience. The rest of her speech was delivered with a snarky and sarcastic tone.

To Sarah Palin, waterboarding and baptism are such minor realities in her worldview, that she feels the need to belittle such serious topics. Senator John McCain, who was Palin’s running mate in 2008 and a former prison of war, has denounced the practice of waterboarding because it is torture.

Palin has made it abundantly clear that she is a born-again Evangelical Christian. Sarah Palin and I believe in the divinity of Christ, the salvation of God, and the importance of the biblical call for baptism and repentance of sin. However, where we completely differ is how we talk about baptism and torture.

On her Facebook page, Palin defended her remarks:

If some overly sensitive wusses took offense, remember the First Amendment doesn’t give you a right not to be offended. Perhaps hypocritical folks who only want Freedom of Speech to apply to those who agree with their liberal agenda might want to consider that the evil terrorists who were the brunt of my one-liner would be the first to strip away ALL our rights if given the chance.”

I believe in free speech, but also responsibility for that speech. Torture is a horrible practice.  Jesus Christ was tortured on a cross. I cannot imagine that Jesus would want anyone to suffer such fate. Palin’s extreme rhetoric only hurts the Christian witness. For a public figure who is a Christian to share such a joke leaves the impression that Christians do not take torture seriously. Such talk treats violence, without any thought about the dignity or sanctity of human life (no matter how evil the actions of a person) as a casual topic.

To jest that waterboarding is how she would “baptize terrorists” shows a complete lack of respect and reverence for the ordinance of holy baptism.  Sarah Palin has a lack of self-awareness. Some would say, “Hey lighten up. Terrorists are the enemy.” However, Palin’s track record of such inflammatory statements do nothing to advance the kingdom of God. The act of baptism is the mark of a Christian who dies to sin and is raise into new life through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did not die so that the act of baptism could be used as fodder for a political agenda.

We Christians must speak out again such ignorant and un-Christ like talk. Jokes about terrorists and baptism treat both topics as a drive-by joke to be laughed and used for scoring likability points.

I know folks will disagree with me on this issue of torture. No matter your view on torture or waterboarding, please treat such topics with all seriousness, good faith, and respect.

How to have a ‘good’ Good Friday

How can Good Friday be good? Good Friday is the day that Christians all around the world remember the suffering of Jesus Christ on a cross.

Depictions of Jesus Christ’s suffering are immortalized within our cultural framework because of such movies as The Passion of the Christ. However, we are not meant to wallow or suffer in the grief of Jesus with torment and pain.

On this day of sadness, we wonder: what is so good about this phrase Good Friday?  There is no clear answer, but the word “good” and “God” were mixed together in the English speaking world.  For instance, the surname “Goodspeed” derives from “Godspeed”, which comes from the expression “God speed (with you)”  The expression, “good bye” came from the phase, “God be with ye (you). 

Despite the origins of the phases, we don’t really feel “good” on Good Friday.

No matter what the origins of the phase, we cannot escape our feelings.  Are we meant to feel guilty and depressed on Good Friday? We don’t feel “good” about Christ suffering.  Are we meant to feel the pressure to be grateful of Jesus’ torment? 

No! We must acknowledge our feelings of grief and loss regarding Jesus’ suffering on Good Friday.  We cannot deny these feelings, nor should we. The stages of grief are real for us as they were for Jesus and his disciples:

[Read more…]

Join me on HuffPost Live today, 1:20 PM

Join me on HuffPost Live today @ 1:20 PM discussing “Creationists, Skeptics, and Science”: How do creationists maintain their beliefs against all scientific evidence? How do professional skeptics avoid being driven by their knee-jerk reactions?

I’ll be a on a panel with Will Storr the author of “The Unpersuadables” about the strength of fringe beliefs.

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You can have an email sent to you when the segment starts. Click here.

Or, click here to join the discussion or watch. 1:20 PM Eastern.