Do Good or Default?

Reading a wide variety of online resources like blogs, news articles, and online magazines is a regular part of my daily routine. Some resources are useful and others simply entertaining. Most do not leave a lasting impression, but periodically, a piece won’t let me go. Instead, it lingers around my mind seemingly determined to make an impression or to inspire my own writing.

Most recently, two divergent resources return again and again to my thoughts. Just a couple of weeks ago, PayScale, a website devoted to human capital, released some data entitled Best Jobs for do-Gooders, and then last week, the New York Times published an opinion in its Sunday Review with the provocative title Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. At first glance, these articles might appear unrelated. But, in fact, each addresses significant issues of priority for Central Seminary.

The Best Jobs article compiled ten jobs for those who “do good” and earn more than median salaries. It lists Senior Pastor as #4 among jobs that seek to make a difference in the world. Their data reports that pastors and other clergy report high job meaning with 98% telling PayScale their job makes the world a better place. The article is quick to point out that these persons do so largely without huge salaries and often without the financial incentives and benefits of other vocations. Following closely behind in #5, Non-Profit Executive Directors identify with organizational mission, sacrificing large salaries and reporting high stress. However, 95% still say their work makes a difference.

The NY Times opinion, Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans, chronicles one man’s journey of accumulating educational debt for both undergraduate and graduate studies and his own subsequent decision to choose default. His difficult, yet deliberate, choice has rendered him a fugitive from Department of Education and collection agencies (which Central does not endorse or recommend!). However, he makes a couple statements that demand consideration.

“I could give up my vocation… and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt… Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with particular usefulness to society.”1

Central’s Mission is “to prepare women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.” We educate and encourage those who desire to do good with their lives, and many of our graduates are serving in those best jobs of pastor and non-profit director. Because we spend our time with passionate, spirited students, we are not surprised to learn that these careers are worthwhile and satisfying.

Unfortunately, we are no long shocked to discover that some of our students are terribly burdened by prior educational debt. Though Central is pleased to have a perfect 0% in the default category, we recognize that this record comes through the commitment of students to make good on their promise to repay even when that means sacrifice… perhaps even the sacrifice of a ministry vocation in order to service student loans. Like the young man who chose default, ministers with high levels of educational debt may be forced to choose between financially lucrative careers and vocations that impact the world for good.

Central’s Economics of Ministry: From Classroom to Congregation project seeks to address these overlapping realities in a variety of ways: financial literacy education for student pastors, partnerships with congregations, encouraging conjoined ministry as a valid model, and funding creative ministry start-ups.

The Economics of Ministry $ummit, scheduled for October 1 this year, brings together experts in theological education, congregational finance, clergy compensation, community ministry funding, grant writing, and personal financial literacy to provide continuing education for ordained clergy and lay ministry volunteers. The $ummit will focus on finding balance between finance and fulfillment, both for your pastor and your congregation.

Register your staff and your volunteers now!


1 Siegel, Lee, Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans, NY Times, 06/07/2015.

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