Is the M.Div. the only way to go?

In private discussions, off-blog, I have agree with others who insist we need well formed ministers, but I worry that the system we have sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, and is always expensive. My large monthly check to SallieMae doesn’t even include the extraordinary amount of money that my seminary put into my education, via its financial aid, stipend, and low-cost apartment. (Thanks, Brite!)

So, I’ll ask again, is the M.Div. the only way to ordained ministry? Before two or three generations ago, it was common enough for a Universalist or Unitarian minister to not have a degree, or if one did have one, it may have come after ordination. The Universalist greats, like Murray (either one) and Ballou (two or three of them, anyway) didn’t have theological degrees, but studied and served under mentors. Part of me thinks the “M.Div.” club is at least as much about social standing as performance. If we all have one, but so many of us don’t make it to final fellowship, can we say that the process works? that we all have what is needed?

What I would like to see is a something like the Church of England and some other churches have in the form of part time skills- and proficiency-geared local study for ordination. Say, three years part time study, possibly serving a church from the second year of study, and serving under license (with annual review and supplemental training) for seven years, after which he or she is ordained.
I’m not so much proposing it, as asking you “would you accept such a person as a minister?” (I would.)

After all, we face a ministerial shortage. Many congregations cannot attract the part-time services of a minister, and our current system makes it almost impossible (for an unpartnered, non-independently wealthy) minister to piece together a living with part-time ministry. Especially if there’s a seminary debt hanging overhead. Christian churches in the UUA are in especially dire shape, and I suspect that past ministerial shortages led many once-Christian churches to accept who they could afford ministerially, and lost their faith in the process. Also, there are so few ministers with the skills to plant churches that our systems collapse around the lack, as if to suggest there isn’t a lack. Lastly, ministerial shortage issues loom in the span of decades, so each generation needs to consider how ministers will be developed three decades from now, not just next year.

I can think of few issues that impact our long-term health as an Association more, but gets less attention.

3 Replies to “Is the M.Div. the only way to go?”

  1. Much of the UU-specific work during my MDiv could have been given in a couple weekend workshops, and not a semester-long class, which was irritatingly brought to my attention when I switched to the MTS program and some UU MDiv classes didn’t count toward the MTS degree. So I think the part-time study that is supplemented in a number of ways would work well. How did you come up with 7 years, btw?

  2. To clarify, I was/am proposing seven years total. A three-year M.Div., year-long internship and three renewals for the MFC is already seven years. I think some of the Vineyard churches use this model.

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