Show Us the Data

In a recent e-mail newsletter, the What a Way (to go) campaign is addressing an obvious problem : how to recruit for the seminaries when a quarter of the class wasn’t placed in April. Or to put it in other words : rather than a pastor shortage, there is a pastor surplus.
Their answer : the same “studies have shown” that they have been using for the last two decades. The same studies that failed to predict the current un-shortage.
So, here is my idea : Let us see the studies. Show us the statistics. Let us see the hard data for ourselves. What mysterious studies are you talking about? Are they by the same people that were doing the studies when I entered seminary? Because they were of the opinion that by now, seminary graduates would be more precious than gold, yeah, much pure gold. They aren’t. They are a dime a dozen right now, because they have been struggling to place them for four years. This year, they finally ran out of congregations.
What assumptions are behind these studies? That the number of parishes will remain constant? Because that won’t happen. It will go up or down, but it won’t stay exactly the same. What about so-called “non-calling congregations”? Are they factored in? If they were not, that would explain it. Because we would need another 350-400 pastors right now. (This was unheard of when I went to seminary a very short decade+ ago.)
What sort of study has been done regarding the need for pastors? That is to say, have they analyzed the demographic trends of the congregations, and projected the number of viable calling congregations, or just “if the number of calling congregations stays the same…” Have they figured for the 2000 new Ablaze congregations? Have they figured the number of CRM guys that want to call, but are currently in our synod’s version of purgatory? Have they considered that many men are retiring, but then continuing to work essentially full-time? What about extended life spans? The economy, which has wiped out the life savings of many, and therefore delayed retirement in the secular world. What effect is this having on pastors and congregations?
In short : Show us the data. Let us read the studies. Don’t just keep spouting the same old “studies have shown” line. Because, quite frankly, we aren’t buying it anymore. Men considering the seminary aren’t buying it anymore. For now, it seems as if something is being hidden. And quite frankly, the admissions department telling me there is a need is like the admissions department of CUCinRF telling me, “with Womens Studies, the sky is the limit!” Somehow, I don’t think so…

UPDATE : I looked at the Christian Century article that they mentioned as proof that the the clergy glut will soon be over.  To be honest, phrases like this aren’t especially re-assuring for the prospective pastor :

“Everyone talked about a clergy shortage, but there never really was one,” said Chang. There has long been a surplus of ministers, she said. They’re simply not serving where they’re needed—in small churches.

But if you’re an unemployed minister looking for a church position with a livable wage, the prospects are bleak.

In other words : even should the projected need appear, it will not bring with it congregations that can pay.  In many cases, men are retiring from congregations that are thankful to finally be relieved of the burden of a full time pastor.  Not an especially Christian attitude, but also not one likely to lead to the long anticipated “clergy shortage”.


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