The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.
“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.
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A primary interest of this blog is the changing social context of ministry in the 21st century. A facet of that social context that has been “front and center” for the past several years has been the economy. As we think about the realities of moving into professional church leadership ministries, it is important to remember that while the need for ministry only increases during periods of economic hardship and displacement the church as an institution is subject to the same economic pressures as the rest of society. The church, after all, is the community of God’s people, and so the church’s economic reality is the economic reality of its people.
One part of the broader economic picture that has received attention during this year’s commencements season has been the rate of unemployment and underemployment (those in part-time positions or employed outside their educational specialization) among recent graduates. A paper by the Economic Policy Institute on this topic has been widely reported in the media. The researchers found:
With overall rates so high, the fact that the numbers today are slightly better than a year ago is little comfort.
Another trend that hasn’t received quite as much attention is that the overall American labor force rate has been declining since 2000 (years before the “Great Recession” began in 2007) because of Baby Boomer retirements. For this reason, “the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago expects the labor force participation rate to be lower in 2020 than it is today, regardless of how well the economy does” (cited from a blog post by Ezra Klein). Recalling the lectures from your Econ 101 class, absent dramatic gains in productivity decreasing workforce participation means a smaller economy than would otherwise be the case.
Tougher employment prospects for younger adults, overall decreasing workforce participation, increasing percentage of the population in retirement—these factors alone mean that any institution dependent upon charitable contributions is going to be facing economic challenges for the foreseeable future.
But if this means that those who are entering ministry today are more likely to have to accept part-time or tent-making calls, then they are sharing in the lived-experience of those whom they are called to serve. Graduates in many fields are piecing together part-time work both within and outside their training. Many are taking internships either as volunteers or with salaries below their professional colleagues. These are some of the realities of the current social context in which ministry takes place.
These experiences are not universal either in the broader society or in the church. If roughly 30% of recent college graduates are un/underemployed, then some 70% are fully employed. Both young women who have served as pastoral interns the past two years in the congregation where my family are members have full-time calls awaiting them after their seminary graduation this weekend. It is hard to say for sure, as some have remarked, “Yeah, they beat the odds.” What can be said for certain is that the institution of the church isn’t recession-proof because its people are not recession-proof.