Educational Return on Investment

I have been considering over the last several years the value of education, and what might be termed the ‘return on investment’ it might provide, especially in regard to the bivocational minister to whom time and money are generally a scarcity. I read an article yesterday that dealt with the overwhelming cost of obtaining a law degree and the crippling effect it has on graduates. I can see this in my own daughter; she just completed a year in law school and I know what debt she carries. The article made the point that in most cases the debt is likely to take many years to get rid of, if at all. There is an overabundance of lawyers and the field is shrinking.

Then there are the theology majors. The so-called ‘entry-level’ degree is a Masters of Divinity. A traditional MDiv will take 3 years of full-time study and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000. The typical graduate will join a field of graduates all vying for pastoral positions which pay in the vicinity of $25,000 in salary (other benefits MAY be included, but no guarantee). As a matter of fact, the average church in the United States has 75 people and the pastor is likely to be bi-vocational. Return on investment? I would say that there is very little.

This raises a question in my mind. If the return of investment is so low, why do it? Especially for a minister who is already ordained, what’s the point? There are only a couple reasons to pursue an advanced degree in ministry. One is to advance your skills or keep your skills sharp. Another is for the ‘prestige’ of an advanced degree. A third reason would be to allow the recipient to teach in a more formal setting (at a District educational center, for instance). A fourth reason, at least in our denomination, is that there is a requirement for ordained elders to participate in continuing education.

A better option might be to take advantage of free or low-cost educational opportunities according to a plan of education you draw up yourself. There are free courses available online from places like Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary. Low cost courses are available from Nazarene Bible College and others. Why not look at a Master’s level program from a legitimate school and see if you can duplicate it, or come close to it, by using these kinds of resources? If you honestly pursue the plan and meet your goals, at the end you could even print yourself a certificate and hang it on your wall.

The typical response by many in our field is that this is simply not the same as earning an advanced degree from an accredited institution. Yet, if it brings the knowledge and skills that you need, who cares? Abraham Lincoln did not seem to find his self-education in law a problem either when practicing law or as a politician. Maybe we are becoming too caught up in the formalities to recognize what the end goal should be…ministry.

(Originally published by Ray Mann in  “”, 1/13/2011)

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