Should You go into Debt for a Seminary Degree?

by on March 27, 2012

Student Debt ShacklesRecently, a local news program reported that educational debt in the US is $870 billion, more than the nations credit card debt. Nearly 10% of the debt is past due. In Texas, 56% of college graduates owe an average of $21,000 to private and government loans.

The 2010-2011 annual report of the Association of Theological Schools cited the educational debt that occurred while students were in seminary:

None                            43.4%
Less than $10,000    10.3%
$10,000 to $19,999  10.2%
$20,000 to $29,999 10.7%
30,000 to $39,999     9.5%
More than $40,000   6.2%

ATS also reported the debt that the students brought into their seminary studies:

None                            60.9%
Less than $10,000    10.0%
$10,000 to $19,999  10.8%
$20,000 to $29,999   8.0%
30,000 to $39,999      4.1%
More than $40,000  16.0%

Notice the percentage of persons having more than $40,000 increase 10% during seminary studies.

Why is this important? Debt contributes to marital stress. Personal finances and failed marital relationships are the top reasons why church planters fail. Many mission agencies will not call seminary graduates with educational debt. Because of debts, those called into full-time vocational ministry have to work several secular jobs to pay off debt occurred while in seminary. This has its affect on the quality of life and ministry.

While MBA graduates may attract salaries that provide a return on their educational investment, few seminary graduates will land salaries that provide enough income to pay off their educational loans in a timely manner. From this vantage point, going into debt for a seminary degree is unwise.

Ask yourself and your advisors, “Do I really need a degree to be an ordained minister?” While this may sound strange coming from a website that supports seminary education, many denominations and ministry fields, do not require a Bible college or seminary degree. Only 50% of vocational ministers have a seminary degree. We believe a seminary degree will make your more effective and will open some ministry opportunities for you, but the cost to you and your family may be too great. A seminary degree does not guarantee you will land a ministry position.