The survey of 2,512 entering Protestant, Catholic and Jewishseminary students is among the most comprehensive looks at the future ofAmerican clergy and includes one surprising figure: Barely half areplanning to work as congregational pastors or rabbis.
Fifty-six percent of rabbinical students and 40 percent of mainlineProtestant seminarians plan to work in local congregations, while only35 percent of Catholic and 28 percent of evangelical students havesimilar plans. Female students are also less likely to train forcongregational ministry.
In another surprising finding, half of those who will occupy churchand synagogue pulpits have switched denominations or faith traditions. More than half of seminary students are over the age of 30 --significantly older than their peers in law or medical school. Half ofall seminarians are women, and most have worked as professionals for atleast 10 years before entering seminary.
The bulk of students come from the white middle class and are evenlyspread out between urban, suburban and rural backgrounds. Nine out of 10students say they are attending their first-choice school -- partly dueto high acceptance rates at most seminaries -- while one-third say theyhave "inadequate" finances.
A major divide develops, however, between older, professionalstudents and younger students straight out of college. Younger studentstend to be better educated, but older students have their own strengths,according to the report.
"The older students who now dominate theological education bringdimensions of quality, especially commitment and diversity, that youngerstudents lack," the report said. The report continued, "Younger studentsoften lack interest in and commitment to ministry, especiallycongregational ministry, and although they more often grew up inreligious communities, they are currently less involved in church life."
Seminaries need to attract the best from both groups, the reportsaid, by raising admissions standards to become more selective andhelping to make pastoral life attractive to those who might nototherwise attend. "Religious communities cannot assume that aprofessional degree from an accredited theological school guaranteesgenuine promise for ministry," the report said.