Funding Future Leadership. No, it’s not just a sentence, it’s a brand new ministry of the Iowa Conference.
I’m writing these words while seated at a table in the quasi-library of Eden Theological Seminary. Later today and into tomorrow I will join with the other Trustees of this important institution as we struggle with important (and vexing) leadership challenges which, if not addressed well, will impede the seminary from serving your churches as well as we ought. The purpose of this institution (and other seminaries), of course, is to form pastoral leaders who are equipped to lead local congregations with faithfulness, creativity and purpose. The decisions we make during meetings like this one can help or hinder that work.
Some of our challenges are fiscal – plain and simple. This seminary (like almost all mainline seminaries) is not wealthy. We rely on a three legged stool of financial underpinning – student paid tuition, gifts from donors and income from endowment. Three legged stools are (at least in theory) inherently stable, but in this case, the legs of this stool are all short – maybe too short to create a stool useful to the accomplishment of our mission.
I won’t trouble you with an explanation of the typical business model which undergirds a seminary – but suffice it to say that tuition income is important. But setting tuition is an exasperating challenge. The management and trustees at all seminaries are well cognizant that our students will enter a profession (ministry) that is poorly compensated and that incurring too much debt undercuts the capacity of the future minister to actually be an effective leader. We can’t set tuition too high or our graduates will not be able to afford to accept a call to a typical congregation in Iowa – the ministry to which God has perhaps buy lasix over the counter called them. The fact is, however, that the tuition levels at all seminaries are already much lower than that at non-theologically oriented graduate schools – but our costs are not significantly lower than in those other institutions. Yikes!
In the meantime, the church still longs for well-educated clergy. Yes, in the UCC we have opened the door to those formed for ministry apart from the seminary – and it is right that we have done so. But our long-term welfare is still advanced if a significantly large mass of our leaders are formed in places of rigorous intellectual challenge – graduate schools of theology!
Ultimately, the church must be willing to pay for the formation of our leaders. People do not enter ministry for themselves (well, some try to, but our processes of discernment work to direct these persons away from ministry!). Individuals enter ministry for the welfare of the church. And as church, it is right (and appropriately in our self-interest) that we ensure that our young ministers do not enter this profession unduly burdened with debt.
On January 15 congregations in the Iowa Conference were challenged to receive an offering for this very purpose – the “Funding Future Leadership” challenge. This annual offering will create a fund from which scholarships will be offered to individuals entering seminary. Did your church receive the offering? If not, why not? And if not, it’s obviously not too late. There was nothing sacred or essential about the January 15 date (well, except that Martin Luther King, Jr. and I share it as a birthday!). Take the offering next week, or next month, or whenever, but DO RECEIVE THE OFFERING!!
Thank you and blessings to each of you!
UCC in Iowa