Imagine an institution that requires its leaders to attend not only college, but graduate school. Imagine that the graduate school in question is constitutionally forbidden from receiving any form of government aid, that it typically requires three years of full-time schooling for the diploma, that the nature of the schooling bears almost no resemblance to the job in question, and that the pay for graduates is far lower than other professions. You have just imagined the relationship between the Christian Church and her seminaries. – From “The Seminary Bubble” by Jerry Bowyer.
I awoke this morning inspired to tell the tale of raising money for my seminary education. This may prove challenging since I haven’t actually paid for said education yet, but I thought I would get the ball rolling. First let me provide a brief history of seminary education and its cost over the years.
So what is a modern seminary anyway (I used the qualifying word “modern” because seminaries have been many different things over the centuries)? Modern seminaries are a graduate school. Seminary is where one goes to obtain a Master’s degree or Doctorate in Christian studies. Seminaries also offer certificate programs and seminars. For the first 1600 years or so of Christianity there wasn’t any formal, structured, consistent training of “preachers” (unless you were a Catholic priest). Before the early 1800’s, when the first modern American theological seminaries were established, pastors were trained via an apprenticeship program in which the aspiring pastor lived and worked side by side with an established pastor. Depending on the skill levels of the pastor this could have disastrous or glorious results. One thing was for certain… there was no consistency. Dissatisfaction with these inconsistencies is what lead to the growth of our modern seminary landscape. Although, let us not discount that God has been blessing these institutions and their goals as well which has resulted in that growth.
The first theological seminaries were set up within church denominations. I imagine there was the attitude of “Let’s train these guys (sorry ladies it was just men in the beginning) how to study the bible”. You see the first seminaries (and even some seminaries today) were set up to train men just to be theological scholars. The training had little to do with teaching pastors how to lead a congregation, preach from the pulpit, or council members on a myriad of issues. Seminaries took the “leave us alone and let us study the bible!” attitude toward their local churches. Again, dissatisfaction crept into the the training process and a change was needed. Thus ushering in the modern seminary landscape of the last half of the 20th century.
Two things started to happen in recent memory. The first was that new non-denominational seminaries started popping up all over the country. The second was that the more responsive established seminaries recognized they needed to change. The focus of seminary training, while still rooted in theology, started to include more practical training in the general pastoral duties of a modern church leader.
Okay… enough of a history lesson on the birth of the modern seminary. What I presented was a very simplified overview that any scholar could pick apart and destroy me on the details. This post isn’t meant for them, it is meant for you, my friends and family.
On to the high costs.
Because the first seminaries were denominational based, there was no cost to the men attending. Parishioner’s tithes were paid to their local church, their local church sent their apportionment’s up the line, and the seminary was a line item in some past church accountant’s hand written spreadsheet. Even just thirty years ago the cost of attending most seminaries was completely free.
That is not the landscape of today.
Seminary costs today range from free (rarely) to over $800 a credit hour. ( See: Big List of Seminaries and their Cost.) The average seems to be in the $500-$600 per credit hour range.
The seminary that has chosen me (more on that in the forthcoming Part Three of my testimony) is Asbury Theological Seminary. Asbury’s per credit hour cost is $575 for a full-time student. I will need a minimum of 96 credit hours to earn my Master of Divinity. If I plug those numbers into my calculator app (who owns a real calculator anymore?) it totals at least $55,200 for tuition alone. Of course that doesn’t include books, fees, and other expenses. Those other expenses add up to about $600 per semester, three semesters a year plus “intensive” studies in January and June, bringing an estimated grand total of approximately $70,000 over the next four years of studies.
Ironic isn’t it? A profession that teaches God’s word that says … Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.- Romans 13:8 requires you to gain an education that results in high debt?
Now here is the good news… correction… here is the great news! Asbury Theological Seminary, and its leaders, are dedicated and committed to equipping men and women for their call into ministry. They have formed and created many scholarships, scholarship programs, and church partnering programs. They have created an institution capable of turning out highly trained, educated, and motivated teachers, pastors, ministers, and missionaries with zero student debt.
As my friends and family, some of you have already had conversations with me, or emails from me, detailing an amazing scholarship program that I have been accepted into. For those of you that haven’t heard from me yet, allow me to explain…
I was one of eight new students accepted into the Ministry Partners Program. The MPP (I must shorten the name or my fingers are going to fall off from all of this typing!) is a program that equips students with fundraising skills and experience that they will use in their future ministries. The MPP provides the student with a full tuition scholarship. That’s right… a free $55,200 education and Master of Divinity degree. The student is still responsible for housing, books, and other administration fees.
Here is how the program works, and it is where I am asking for help from you, the reader. The student “partners” with their local church(es), friends, family, congregation members, and/or complete strangers. The partner church(es) contribute at least $500 per school year to the fund set up by Asbury Theological Seminary. The student’s partners also commit to donating to this fund. It is suggested that the student form this partner relationship with at least 12 individuals who will commit to donating a suggested $45 a month towards their education (can be paid yearly, quarterly, monthly, or one lump sum). And just to clarify, both the partner church and partner individuals only commit to these donations while the student is attending. Once the student has earned their degree the donations are no longer required.
Let’s simplify this explanation even more… If I raise a minimum of $7,000 per school year via my partners I will receive unlimited free tuition. That $7,000 can be raised through any combination of sources. If I have 30 partners, their donation need only be $18 per month. If I only have 5 partners they would need to contribute $108 a month.
Partners will receive all the benefits of being a supporter of Asbury Theological Seminary. This includes all donations being tax deductible, the opportunity to visit Asbury’s campus and tour the facilities, and frequent updates on my progress and experiences.
The partners also commit to contributing to the student’s success in a far more powerful way than money… and that is through the power of prayer. Your prayers will have a much bigger impact on my time at Asbury than any dollar amount you may give.
Because of this, what I find most exciting about this program has nothing to do with finances. After all, money is irrelevant when we believe it all belongs to God and he provides all we need. What I look forward to having is a group of supporters that will hold me accountable. Knowing that a group of people are giving up some of their hard earned treasure to help provide me with an education is a powerful motivator. Knowing that I have a group of supporters that I can turn to when the thousands of pages of required reading has me overwhelmed. Knowing that Jennifer has people she can turn to when her husband has his nose buried in a book, or a computer monitor, pouring over research. Knowing that I have a group of supporters praying for me, for my wife, and for my children. Knowing that all of these things are provided to us is a powerful reminder of God’s promises kept in our lives.
God has created my path to ministry and to seminary. God has surrounded me with loving, caring, supportive friends and family that are an amazing blessing in my life and the life of my family. God has also created a way for me to receive this incredible education completely debt free. I have faith that his Holy Spirit will work through that support network to fund this Ministry Partner Program.
And because of that faith…
I most humbly ask that you the reader, you my friend, you my family member, and even you the complete stranger, prayerfully consider becoming one of my partners. I do not ask this lightly. I do not ask this quickly or haphazardly. I ask this after prayer, deliberation, and time talking with God.
If you are lead to donate and become one of my partners you may make your contribution at the following website:Ministry Partners Donation Link -Be sure to select my name from the list of students, but also consider making at least a small donation to any and all of the students in the program. Please be aware that I have a deadline in July for all of my partners to make at least their first donation by then.
I thank you for considering this call to give, no matter the dollar amount given (even if it is a one-time gift of just $5). I thank you for considering this call, even if your support is only through prayer. I thank Tammy Hogan and the leadership at Asbury Theological Seminary for creating and administering such programs. I thank those of you that have already committed to partnering with me.
And most importantly I thank God for each and every one of you in my life.
I love you all.
– Jason A. Hyer