I commend the letter which appeared in the December Lutheran Witness and suggested that congregations consider assisting pastors with their educational debt. The average educational debt that 2008 seminary graduates carried into the pastoral ministry was more than $27,300. Since this is the average amount, there are many new pastors who have much higher educational debt levels. While not uncommon for those who have completed eight years of undergraduate and graduate-school education, this average level of debt is a matter of concern when compared to the average first-year salary of nearly $38,000 for seminary graduates in 2008.
This debt can certainly affect the emotional well-being of recent seminary graduates and their families. It can also have a negative impact on longevity of service in the pastoral ministry. While some pastors might be reluctant to discuss their educational debt load, I encourage leaders in congregations served by recent seminary graduates to initiate the discussion of this issue in a spirit of love and concern.
The LCMS seminaries and the Synod’s Board for Pastoral Education are addressing this issue. It is complex and challenging. Thanks to a grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, three separate groups will address the challenge in three separate component parts: (1) Debt incurred prior to seminary enrollment; (2) debt incurred during seminary enrollment (coupled with the necessity to maintain the fiscal vitality of the seminaries); and, (3) creative ways of assisting pastors with educational debt following seminary graduation.
Let me be quick to add that what I have noted above is also applicable to teachers, directors of Christian education, and all commissioned workers. Once again, I commend the letter published in the December Lutheran Witness and encourage congregations to implement its recommendation.
Dr. Glen Thomas
LCMS Board for Pastoral Education
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