The cost of seminary vs. the benefit.

A recent article on this site brought some attention to the costs of seminary.  Having graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in 2008 I know all too well the cost of a seminary education.  The cost is high, and yes I will carry student loans for quite some time.




The value of what I was taught cannot have a monetary value.  Let me explain the benefits of our residential seminary programs.

  • The instruction is first rate, and no internet video link can replace the experience in and out of the classrooms.  I would like to see gemütlichkeit done through distance education!  Then again, maybe I wouldn’t.  Also, there is nothing like hearing the Gospel in the office of a professor or receiving specific instruction in theology.
  • The chapel experience in Fort Wayne was probably one of the most formative things about seminary.  A lot of pastors will tell you that chapel is what they miss most about seminary days.
  • Having to move multiple times actually helped prepare my family and I for life in the parish. (being removed from the hometown was good [hometown prophets receive no honor]; having to give up the past life was also good [dropped the nets and moved on])
  • The friendships established there continue on today and often provide for mutual conversation and consolation.
  • The content of what was taught is a deep well that I draw upon in everything I do as a pastor.
  • At seminary men are trained to preach the Gospel, and laborers for the harvest are sent.  Who can put a value on that?
  • Nowhere else do you find such expertise in so many theological topics as among the faculty of our seminaries.  Imagine not only sitting in class, but having conversations with them during after chapel coffee, around the beer keg, among the cigar smoke, or even while eating meals.

For all of those men thinking about seminary, don’t cut it short and try anything but the real deal, the full-time experience.  You will not regret it, and Lord willing, if you are given hearers to be a preacher for, they will not regret it either.

Here are some thoughts of things to help lower the cost of our seminary programs on seminarians.

  • Donate money to the Joint Seminary Fund, more info on it here.
  • Adopt a seminarian (even $20 a month helps!), more info here for Fort Wayne; here for St. Louis
  • If you know someone going to seminary, offer to help buy some of their textbooks.  Both seminaries bookstores are operated by Concordia Publishing House and should accept CPH gift cards.
  • Support the Co-ops at the seminary.  These provide food and clothing and many other things for seminarians and their families.  For the Fort Wayne coop see here.  St. Louis also has a co-op program I believe.




About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


The cost of seminary vs. the benefit. — 69 Comments

  1. There’s no doubt that the cost to go to Concordia (Theological) Seminary is astronomical. But, if they are doing (and have been doing) as good of a job as we make them out to be, why are LCMS congregations struggling? We can point to the theological depth of C(T)S grads, but the bottom line is that theological depth doesn’t pay the bills. A few very wealthy members or several middle or low income members pay the bills. So, several pastors at some point in time did not (or did not equip the laity to through their vocation) evangelize (isn’t this part of ‘rightly handling’ God’s Word?) either a few very wealthy people or several middle or low income people. Congregations have building maintenance costs, utility bills to pay, and taxes. I’m not sure that Lutheran birthrates are a legitimate excuse for the “EVANGELICAL Lutheran Synod of Ohio, Missouri, and other states.”
    A shortage of pastors and a shortage of calls (at BOTH seminaries; don’t kid yourself St. Louis) don’t equate. We do have a shortage of people in the pew and dollars in the plate. Can anyone offer a statistic that says anything else?
    Taking this into account, what sense does it make to a financially strapped congregation to take on a rookie seminary grad with astronomical debt? This recent grad is going to need a higher salary to pay his higher student loans. Churches can’t offer a higher salary to this guy who paid too much for a very enriching chapel experience, because his chapel experience doesn’t pay his student loan or any other bills. I’d be interested to see the starting salary rates for sem grads 30 years ago compared to what those same pastors are making now, compared to the starting salaries of last years grads.

    So why is it that congregations with a long line of (top-notch) seminary grad pastors can no longer afford a recent rookie seminary grad?

  2. In response to Pastor Scheer’s explain of benefits of our residential seminary programs…

    I’d like to point out that his first three points are experiential…not unlike CoWo!

    Having to move multiple times…is actually quite terrible logic. It also downplays the importance of a call, and equates it with the clergy shuffle we see in the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches. This is like the difference between a GeoMissionary living among the people and a servant event at a DYG.
    The Financial Aid offices and student accounts staff, put a value on being trained to preach the gospel…quite a hefty one I might add.
    While the seminary faculties may be great theological minds, we also have universities that likewise do. I’ve been told that there are faculty at both sems that have been rejected from teaching at the university…because there wasn’t a place for them at the confessional/conservative university. On the other side of the coin, being a great theologian does not make one a good pastor. Most people would believe that Dr Scaer is a decent theologian, but would not see a place for him in parish ministry. It may be true that some alternative programs may need to be beefed up theologically, but thankfully a need to be beefed up isn’t the same as needing to be closed as we might not have one or both of our seminaries.

  3. I am trying to reconcile comment 45 and 50. There can’t at once be both too many and too few pastors/candidates. So, which is it, too many or too few?

    As for churches not wanting to call someone who doesn’t currently have a call, it seems that those without calls should be first in line. What do I not understand?

  4. @PSW Confessional #51
    Theological depth may not pay the bills, but it takes care of souls.

    Quick question: based upon Jesus’ words about how things are going to progress for the Church as a whole – is it going to grow in terms of numbers as time goes on, or shrink?

    Also – you may want to read Luther and our LCMS Father’s on the topic of “the Gospel as a passing rain shower” – I think you will find the answer to why churches are shrinking.

    @PSW Confessional #52
    I would like to see your explanation of pastoral formation that doesn’t involve experience.

    Before you run down the reputation of Dr. Scaer (which one?) you may want to reread the 8th commandment. Glad you speak for “most people” (and anonymously too!)

    By the way, what in your mind makes a “good pastor” since you obviously have stated that you know what makes bad ones?

  5. @Mrs. Hume #53

    Mrs. Hume,
    There is much I do not know, but I do know this. Congregations choose to call whom they will. It is the decision of a given congregation whether to call from the field, the CRM list, or from the Sem. It is also the congregation’s decision to ask one of their men to go through the SMP program, or to become a deacon.

    In other words, if a congregation chooses not to consider a man from the Seminary, or from the CRM list, that is their decision to make.

  6. Dr. Noland.

    I would love to see some of our pastors and laypeople draft a resolution for Synod that requires the COP to revise their CRM policies especially in regard to encouraging calling congregations to give serious consideration to these pastors. It is probably too late to do this at the earlier 2012 district conventions but, if some action could be taken by later district conventions, it would help Synod in 2013 to resolve an on-going wrong.

  7. @David Hartung #55

    De facto leadership of church is the clergy. The pastor in a congregation, the DP in a district. The laity has a large penchant of looking to its leaders. So when a congregation has to come up with a call list, how often do they ask for and/or are sent a list form the DP? Now the DP is hopefully a leader among leaders, hence he is the DP. We hope he uses wise judgment to help find men that would be a good fit, some of which is based on personality, age and experience, geopgraphy (do they understand the culture they will be moivng into), etc. But we are all sinful. And whit if cetain DP’s use po;itics as one of their motivators, caveat: they might not fully realizing they are doing that. Let’s be honsest, members of the two political sides thinks the others are doing church completely wrong, and wouldn’t want to dare place those pastors and screw up the LC-MS even worse.

    Now as to you comment in #45, about a current and upcoming patroal shoratage, if it si true and as large as you say, then the is absolutely NO excuse to have more than a handfull of guys on CRM (say 3 dozen across the synod, just to throw out a number) and EVERY seminarians gets placed. The harvest is full, the workers are few.

    And when do anecdotes become witnesses to situations? When do the numbers get large enough to develop into patterns? Why are we waiting for a crisis to respond to instead of proactively striving for a goal? Like all the Ablaze mission startups, and the congregational revitalizaitons? Let’s try Herbert Hoover (I hope I credit this right) “a Lutheran church in every community, a pastor in every congeregation.”

  8. Thanks for this pastor Scheer!

    I would further expound on what others would refer to as the fellowship found in residential seminaries.

    Theology, like no other subject not only tweaks the brain, but also tweaks soul. In the classes I attended, I was often deeply moved as I learned things I hadn’t known before. I simply had to talk about it with others! To have my brothers going through it with me was of great import. In fact, I don’t think I would have made it past the first year were it not for a few 4th year guys who calmly listened and responded to the myriad of questions that were bubbling up in my brain.

    There were multiple informal theological discussions among myself and my classmates every single day, there were more formal study groups to help us survive and understand professors like Hummel and Nagel. Sometimes we would argue, sometimes we would correct and rebuke; other times we would counsel and sooth each other with the Gospel. No matter what we did, it was all deeply meaningful and helpful to go through it with others.

    I tell my confirmation students on the first day of class. “This class is different from any other class you’ve ever had in school.” The same is true for seminary. It would be wrong to compare it to any other academic pursuit because the substance of a seminary education deals with things that are eternally significant. All other academic pursuits study the things that God created, Seminarians study God himself.

    God set up the church (assembly) so that we could learn and grow together. “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” To me, a distance learning seminary education would be as odd and empty as attending church by means of computer.

    Now to the matter of cost and inconvenience:

    Indeed the residential seminary program costs money, it can also be inconvenient. If that’s a problem for a prospective student, I would suggest that perhaps he ought to seek a different profession.

    To put it simply, the pastoral ministry has it’s costs. Most men in the ministry could be making twice or three times what they make in secular jobs. Each year of their life that they serve as a pastor, they lose that opportunity to make all that money. But they knew that coming in.

    Likewise, Pastors are sometimes horribly inconvenienced by their calling. They sacrifice family time, vacation time, private time…because emergencies that require their care and expertise do seem to arise. So if you’re into scads of money and you like everything to be convenient for you. Please do not go into the ministry. It’s not for you.

  9. When Jesus called fishermen to become disciples and eventually apostles, St. Luke records that Peter, James and John “left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). For more than three years, they would follow Him, sit at His feet and learn. They would be tested by temptation, poverty and the blood soaked scene of Calvary. Yet in the end, they would see and hear the Resurrected Christ who commissioned them to go into the entire world.

    There was a day in our Synod when most new pastors had spent their lives from their late childhood or teenage years preparing for the office. Many today are second career students. While I love and admire both, the second career men are a great example of the lived call to discipleship. In some way, God has given them such a profound sense of vocation that they, as those fishermen long ago, leave everything and follow Him. They spend years at a Seminary which, as fine as our Synod’s two schools are, can in no way compare with the experience of sitting at the feet of Jesus in His own classroom.

    To become a pastor through the residential programs of the Seminaries requires tremendous sacrifice. A man and his family must live by faith and not in the security of established professions, homes and communities. He will go forth as called by God perhaps to a place he never heard of before “call night” at the Seminary. But whoever receives him receives a man whose life is committed to the pastoral vocation.

    I have no doubt that distance educated pastors will for the most part be godly and pious men who want to serve their Savior. But for whatever reason they will chose to remain in their fishing boats rather than leave everything to follow him. What level of commitment to the Office do the congregations of Synod really want?

  10. In post # 55, David Hartung rightly points out that congregations have the right to call their own pastors.

    Question for anyone:

    As has been pointed out, some congregations have had to ‘make do’ with less-educated pastors simply because there were no well-educated pastors available. What about current times, in this country? Is it right to choose a man of little education (distance learning, no languages) over a man with a proper education while there are so many educated men from which to choose?

  11. @PSW Confessional #51

    Dear PSW Confessional,

    You perpetuate some of the fuzzy thinking I have seen come from the “moderates” in the synod. I can’t judge your own theological position from what you have said so far. I will assume that you are “confessional,” since you make that claim. I will also assume that you are only repeating what you have heard and have not done any independent research yourself. So in the following, I am not arguing against you, just against the common “fuzzy thinking” that pervades talk in our synod. . . .

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    On the matter of the ARGUMENT FROM DECLINE of LCMS membership, this argument is analogous to a prevalent “church growth” argument. For example, Kent Hunter came to my congregation several decades ago and told my people, “You are declining. You will go out of business. You have to move to the outer suburbs or be faced with certain death.” That was a self-predicting prophecy, and the result of his consultation was that many people left our congregation for congregations in the “outer suburbs” of Evansville. And not all of them joined Lutheran churches. This is what I have been told by my members here. I don’t think this was Hunter’s intent, but it was the result.

    So, all that the ARGUMENT FROM DECLINE does is hurt morale, cause people to leave for “greener pasturers,” and in many cases, cause people to argue and fight against each other.

    This is an ARGUMENT that I have seen repeated in David Luecke’s book “Evangelical Style, Lutheran Substance” (pp. 8-11 demonstrates the priority of the ARGUMENT for his book) and in Gerald Kieschnicks “Waking the Sleeping Giant” whose sub-title is “The Birth, Growth, DECLINE, and Rebirth of an American Church.” It was also repeated in James Burkee’s book, “Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod” (pp. 182-183). Burkee says about the LCMS “A once thriving church poised for growth had become an ALSO-RAN, struggling for existence and relevance even as it continued the fight to define itself.” It is an ARGUMENT that needs reasoned and critical response.

    I responded to Burkee’s claim about LCMS decline here:
    (see toward the bottom of the post where I respond to the third theme and Burkee’s pages 182-183).

    The Rev. Dr. James Kellerman commented in agreement, and added that all denominations have seen a decline in the period under discussion, if you compare apples and apples. I don’t know if that comment from him is still there, but he had the facts.

    Okay, you aren’t convinced. I was convinced the day I sat down with the OXFORD Atlas of American Religion (copies at both seminaries) and a map that plotted LCMS congregations and their populations.

    If you don’t have those resources, go to National Geographic “Concise Atlas of the World” (2008). Most public libraries should have that. See page 60, in the US section, under the map “Most Prevalent Religious Group” (by county) on the bottom of the page, compared to “Population Change” (by county) on top of page.

    You will see, visually on the maps, that almost all the counties where Lutherans are prevalent in the US have seen a negative population change in the period 2000-04. And that is just in a four year period. Something like 70% of our congregations are in those counties and are fighting against demographic decline in their county. Where people are living is the biggest factor determining the membership decline in Lutheran churches.

    It is interesting to me, looking at the stats in another way, that ALL of the US denominations that have a Lutheran or Calvinist view of the Lord’s Supper have seen decline in the 20th century. Whereas all the growth by denominations in the US has been in churches with a Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper (Baptists, Pentecostals, most non-denominational churches). Nobody yet has made comment on THAT FACT, among “church growth” experts. I wonder why? Are they just looking for data to match their pet theories? That’s hardly scientific. Sounds like twisting the facts to prove your points.

    Anyway, does it make any sense for congregations to call pastors who have lesser qualifications, and cannot “rightly handle the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15), as a way to stop decline, when we consider who is growing?

    The strongest points of the growing Baptist and Pentecostal churches has been the fact that their ministers have a thorough command of the Bible (though obviously in error on many doctrinal points). They can recite all sorts of Bible passages from memory, right to the point of an argument, and their preaching is filled with the Bible. We will not be able to compete against these churches, unless our pastors are able to “rightly handle the word of truth.” When I pointed this out to a former Chief Executive of the Concordia University System about ten years ago, his response was “We don’t want our LCMS univerisities to become a bunch of Bible colleges!” Well, I agree, but he didn’t get my point about the importance of Bible knowledge in our CUS graduates. Obviously, he didn’t do anything about it either.

    In contrast to his attitude, the Fort Wayne seminary’s move toward a greater exegetical focus on the Bible in their new curriculum is RIGHT ON THE MONEY. We should commend both of our seminaries for doing a great job, and responding to changing times. We should not keep repeating the mindless mantra to “close one seminary.” That would only hurt our church, not help it.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. # 52: “Most people would believe that Dr Scaer is a decent theologian, but would not see a place for him in parish ministry.”

    You have no idea what you’re talking about and owe both of the good doctors an apology.

  13. #52: I know both Dr. Scaers very well as they are my colleagues. I would take either one as my pastor in a heartbeat and would break out in a loud Te Deum. Both are treasures of the Church and outstanding pastors as well as theological professors.

  14. @PSW Confessional #52

    Not So Dear PSW Confessional,

    Sounds like you are one of those disgruntled students who thought you should have gotten a better grade at seminary. Classmates know who some of those guys are. Although seminary professors cannot reveal grades publicly, it is interesting to see how students who do poorly in seminary classes spend the rest of their careers demeaning, vilifying, and trying to get rid of the professor who gave them a poor grade. When it was really the students own fault for not doing the work . . .

    We have a very public case of this in synodical history–and absolutely embarrassing for the synod. I only bring it up because of “PSW Confessional.” Eduard Louis Arndt was a professor of Concordia College, Saint Paul 1897-1910. In about 1910, he gave an “F” to a student, who was the son of a very prominent synodical leader. The student complained to Papa, who made sure that Eduard Louis Arndt was fired. Arndt went on to found the Ev. Lutheran Mission to China in 1912, became a missionary himself to the Chinese, and set the pattern for all future successful LCMS missions. He was obviously a brilliant and dedicated man, and well loved by the Chinese as their pastor.

    So, PSW Confessional, you have completely destroyed your own credibility. Better change your name again, so we can’t figure out who you are, and you can continue to make unChristian and demeaning remarks about faithful servants of the Word. If you are any sort of Christian at all, you will ask the Web-master to delete your vindictive remarks.

    Both Dr. Scaer’s are not just decent theologians, they are tops in their respective fields, and also have served effectively and compassionately in parish ministry.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  15. “If Satan can turn God’s Word upside down and pervert the Scriptures, what will he do with my words — or the words of others? ”

    @Pastor Joshua Scheer #54
    You’re absolutely right. Theological depth does take care of souls. This is a pastors job. But, if we are going to stick with this traditional model of full time clergy and have a goal of putting one in every congregation, we must pay the bills as well. Unless of course you’re advocating bi-vocational pastors (which is what some of our alternative routes do)…but it seems like you’re advocating the exact opposite. My point being that no pastoral training program is perfect. They all have their flaws.
    I’m also not convinced that poor stewardship of the Lord’s financial blessings is good care of souls. I’d challenge any seminarian to go into student accounts at the sem and tell them that you can’t pay tuition, but you have some great theological depth and you plan on taking great care of some souls.

    I would expect that if God’s Word is rightly going out of the mouth of a pastor, that it would not return empty. I would expect the Holy Spirit to work through the Word of God and bring about faith and repentance. If the Church is supposed to be shrinking, what’s going on in Africa? What words from Jesus about church size are you referring to? Did I misunderstand those texts?

    Where can I find the readings on “the Gospel as a passing rain shower”?

    My observation on experiential pastoral training and CoWo are just that; an observation. Many in our camp are quick to bag on the CoWo form of worship because it is experiential, yet will hold up another form of worship (vocation …and it’s training) as ideal because it is experiential. It was not a judgement, just an observation, a statement of perspective.

    First, my comment was not directed toward the reputation of Dr. Scaer. It was more of a (clearly failed attempt at a) vocational point. I know several professors with MDivs and Doctorates whose gifts and talents are in academia and not in parish ministry. Vocations are not inferior or superior to each other.
    Really? 8th commandment? On this site? Was the ‘best contruction’ put on my words?
    Where can I find the ‘best construction’ of CoWo? or the MNS BOD? or former Pres Kieschnick? (besides a video of Pres Matt Harrison commending his motives) or church-growth methods?
    While I agree with the positions, I sometimes have a hard time with the way in which things are handled.

    My point about the difference between theologians and pastors was largely missed. If the seminaries are doing their jobs, deaconesses are great theologians but are not pastors. Deaconess Jane Doe is a decent theologian, but there is not a place for her in the pastoral office. Dr. Adam Francisco (who I know personally and have the utmost respect for!) is a high caliber theologian, but a pastor he does not make. There is a German journalist who is well known in the synod who is a great theologian, but that doesn’t make him a pastor. Gene Edward Veith, is a fabulous theologian but that does not make him a pastor. CS Lewis, again not a pastor. None of these fine people went through a residential seminary program, but are theologians to be respected nontheless. While being a good pastor necessatates being a good theologian the opposite is not true. Being a good theologian does not necessarily make one a good pastor. So to bring it back to the main point, how can these lay members be such great theologians having never been through a residential seminary program, but it be impossible for alternative ordination clergy to be good theologians?

    @Martin R. Noland #61
    If I’m a moderate, we’ve got bigger issues in our Synod. As far as my independent research I look at my congregations history. It’s declined drastically in the 40 years of it’s existence. I go to friends and relatives congregations and see dual parish pastors because two congregations used to be large enough to each support a pastor, now they’re only big enough to support 1 between the two of them. I see large church buildings (that I perhaps ignorantly assume) that were at one time full. I see congregations literally dieing out, leaving the church building empty. This is why I asked, if anyone had any stats that said anything different. I thought perhaps my perceptions are skewed and the actual facts and stats would correct me. You bring up very interesting points as to why our churches are empty. Is it wrong to expect our pastors to adapt to populations relocating? I’m not advocating closing a Seminary. In fact, it might even be beneficial to open another one that is not in the midwest.

    @Ted Crandall #62

    @Daniel L. Gard #63
    My perceptions and assumptions appear to have been mistaken. My apologies. See the above response, it was not intended to be disrespectful.

    @Martin R. Noland #64
    ad hominem?

  16. Thanks for this article. I have often thought about trying to attend CTSFW, but the cost is just insane. It is really hard to understand why the synod would put that burden on pastors who are going to be burdened with so much as it is taking care of the souls of their parishioners. My prayers go out to them. I have a wife and four kids and who knows how many more we’ll have; we don’t plan on interrupting God’s intention for us to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ My question is, does anybody go through seminary with families like mine or larger? I obviously don’t have a gauge on the entire synod; it just seems as though many of the young pastors I have seen don’t have a whole lot of children. Don’t know if anybody will see this, but I’m just curious. Thank you.

  17. @Nick H. #16
    You are welcome Nick. When I went to CTS (2005-2008) there were a lot of guys with bigger families there (I can think of quite a few with four or more kids). Since graduating, many of my classmates and myself have been blessed with larger families as well (even more with four or more kids).

    As to the cost of seminary, it is expensive, but again – there is no better place to learn to be a pastor in Christ’s Church. It is too bad that Synod doesn’t offset the cost more. I know that there are a lot of congregations which adopt seminarians (monthly gifts of $10-100s each), but even with those and the tuition reduction (when I left it was still like 55%) and district scholarships (check with your district) it was expensive. What I learned there in classroom, among friends, among the faculty, and of course in the chapel has been invaluable to being a Lutheran pastor to God’s own children.

  18. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #17
    Thanks for the reply, pastor. I still have about 3.5 years left on my mil contract and I would have the GI bill, so that’s something, I guess. I could also have 6 or 7 kids by then! It is good to know that there are men out there dragging their large families along for the ride. Thanks again for the reply; I have appreciated much of your writing here on this blog.

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