Seminary grads job prospects vary

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Divinity students face low salaries, but most aren’t in it for riches. Photo credit: Christopher Saul

Baylor University first-year Xavier Adams wants to be a youth pastor after he graduates from Baylor and then seminary. His father is a pastor in Kansas City, Kan. where he is from, but it wasn’t his dad’s vocation that led him into the ministry.

“I was adopted and then my birth-mother died,” Adams said. “It got me thinking about the big questions like life, death, fairness and why anyone would want to do any good if there is no God.”

A 2012 study by University of California Berkeley sociologists Mike Hout, Claude Fischer and Duke sociologist Mark Charles reports that 20 percent of Americans said they have “no religion,” double the number who said they had no religion in 1990.

Young people ages 18 to 24 are the most likely to say they are not religious, according to the General Social Survey, a highly cited biannual poll conducted by NORC, an independent research institute at the University of Chicago. According to the poll, 32 percent of young adults are self-labeled “non-religious” people.

The number of churches in the United States is also shrinking. According to the Barna Group, which studies religious organizations, the number of mainline protestant churches in the United States has decreased from about 80,000 in the 1950’s to around 72,000 in 2009.

None of this should worry those who want to minister. There are plenty of jobs available outside of the church walls. While the church still needs people in the pulpit, seminary graduates can also find employment as chaplains in hospitals and in the military, and as counselors, headmasters, campus pastors and even televangelists.

“There needs to be people who are called and trained to be leaders for the church,” said Father David Charney, the associate rector at Christ Church of Atlanta. “We need people focused on morals and what is right and what is wrong, who aren’t swayed by public opinion, or other outside factors like money or power.”

Although there are some notable exceptions, like televangelist Creflo Dollar, who earns millions, religious leaders can stand to make about $28,000 per year, according to the National Association of Church Business Administration. That’s not a whole lot for a person who, according to The Christian Post, just plunked down $35,000 to $50,000 for postgraduate studies at a seminary.

“I became a pastor because I wanted to get rich!” Father Stephen Rankin, SMU’s temporary dean of student life and head chaplain, said with a wry smile.

In addition to leading the Sunday evening university worship in Perkins Chapel on a weekly basis, Rankin is available to counsel students, a job that many chaplains who have graduated from seminary find themselves in. Students often come to his office seeking counseling.

“God called me to the ministry. I believe God speaks to, moves and guides people,” Rankin said.

Rankin’s father was a pastor too, but unlike Rankin held a post as a minister with a set congregation in a church. Due to the Rankin’s denomination, they moved quite a bit when Rankin was young. To meet new people, Rankin played sports and dreamed of being a coach when he grew up.

“I wasn’t the best player on the team, but I was always able to contribute,” Rankin said. “I thought I would take my love for sports and become a coach.”

By the time Rankin was in his late teens however, he was convinced he was called to the ministry instead. His suspicions were confirmed when he picked up the phone one day and Jack Fogleman, the district superintendent of the United Methodist Church, was on the other end of the line. The phone call was the first contact Rankin would have with the man he said had the biggest influence on his decision to become a minister.

Michael Dearman, an SMU senior, plans to earn his divinity degree but not become the pastor of a church. He wants to teach in a seminary and train future ministers. He is drawn to the teaching role, because he feels today’s pastors are not able to preach what’s in the Bible and defend it.

“My main concern with churches today is their tendency to abandon sound doctrine,” Dearman said. He believes many pastors and their churches will throw away biblical teachings because they are unpopular or difficult to understand. “Often times a church will sacrifice sound doctrine because they think it is complex or irrelevant, but it’s not.”

Rankin, is constantly surrounded by young people at SMU and is in charge of their spiritual well-being. He said that the only way to get young people back into the church is to be open with them.

“The church gets young people back when the church not only demands skilled leadership, but transparent character witnesses as well,” Rankin said.

The jobs that cater to these souls will take place outside of the walls of the church building, according to many of those who minister.

“No one will ever tell me, ‘my life was changed forever when I went to a [church] potluck,’” Dearman said.

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