Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers (ECFFM)

The ECFFM initiative encouraged seminaries to address and develop strategies to prepare ministers-in-the-making for the financial realities they would likely encounter upon graduation. Earlham School of Religion seeks to not only educate students with regard to financial matters but also explore new models of ministry and strategies for funding them.

Areas of focus

Through the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers grant funded by Lilly Endowment, ESR provides resources to support three areas of focus.

Financial acumen

This strategy seeks to help students understand the power of money and debt and make responsible choices about investment and expenditures.

Bivocational ministry

The goal of this study was to understand the joys and the challenges of this form of ministry, understand how this context should inform ministry preparation, and introduce appropriate changes to the curriculum.

Alternative ministry

Research teams examined alternative and emerging groups where people are going in their search for meaning, spirituality and community.

Financial acumen

People think about money differently, with many of those attitudes and practices rooted in what was observed in our formative years. Frankly, ESR’s experience during this financial acumen program confirms a suspicion carried into the study: people are rarely well-taught or well-informed about money matters. Spendthrifts and big spenders alike may well be nurturing values or battling fears without being aware of it. U. S. society encourages the accumulation of things. Self-worth becomes entangled with net-worth to the degree that one can lose sense of the things that matter. Deficit spending becomes a way life. Meanwhile churches encourage giving for the Gospel, often while investing much of those contributions into organizational preservation. These mixed messages complicate attitudes toward money. 

There are multiple ways to tackle the matter of financial acumen. Two opposing views often proposed are to want less, or to earn more. If one wants less, one needs less. Problem solved, so the logic can go. The value of the approach is that it tempers, or not disconnects, from the accumulation mentality that drives much of economy and fuels much personal debt. Earn more sets out to avoid drowning by staying higher than the water line. Its value is that it encourages initiative and responsibility, but a person only has so many hours in a day. Family and self-care matter, and must not be forsaken in the process.

The strategy undertaken here seeks to help students understand the power of money and debt, and from that to make responsible choices about investment and expenditures that will have lasting ramifications on their financial well-being throughout their lifetime. Accepting that ministers did not answer their call with the expectation of riches, can we nonetheless help them avoid a life of poverty and hardship? 

Project Resources

Bi-vocational ministry

Full time pastoral ministry is still a possibility in most church traditions. However for many groups, those locations are scarce.  Many congregations choose to employ a part-time minister. Those who choose that path are quick to acknowledge that the only thing part-time about arrangement is the compensation! Reduced hours are a stated expectation, but when ministry needs arise, the minister needs and wants to respond.

Among Friends and other denominations, the number of part time pastoral opportunities is greater than fully employed opportunities. One consequence of this transition is that those entering ministry must think about how they will fund the remainder of their financial needs. The bi-vocational response is becoming popular, and not just among pastors. Those involved in the ministry of chaplaincy report an increase in part-time rather than full-time positions.

As part of understanding the realities, financial and otherwise, of this ministry model, Earlham School of Religion conducted a survey of bi-vocational ministers and their congregations. The participants were from multiple denominations.

Alternative ministry

People’s attitudes, commitments and practices with regard to religion are changing in the United States. That is one of the messages being heralded by certain research institutions. One consequence of these shifts is that many persons look beyond the church for communities and opportunities to experience spiritual meaning and nurture. These changes may create peril for established congregations, but it also creates opportunity for those individuals drawn to non-traditional ministry or more interested in service-oriented approaches to community involvement.

Earlham School of Religion has witnessed an uptick in the number of students who anticipate their ministry to be outside of the church and who, themselves, share some of the discontent with organized religion as often practiced even as they remain vigilant with nurturing their own spiritual practices.

These shifts have implications for the basic definition of ministry and the forms it takes. It will impact the places where ministers serve. Without the traditional congregational structure, thought must be given to funding issues. And, a seminary that wishes to be engaged with this trend in ministry must retool its curriculum to supply these individuals with a set of skills that are not necessarily part of a seminary curriculum.

Issues such as these gave birth to the Alternative Ministry Project in which teams including a faculty, member, student and external constituent researched alternative and emerging groups where people are going in addition to or instead of the church in their search for meaning, spirituality and community using tools such as the Founder interview and Group interview.