Millennials and Marriage: pt 3, some hope

In the continuing conversation about Millennials and Marriage, too often the soundtrack is one of negativity and diminishing expectations. This leads older generations to think poorly of the succeeding generations. Of course this seems to always be the case.

However, with Millennials there is some hope in how they are approaching the topic of marriage. Though the data is thin on some of these points there are some positive takeaways for churches and ministry leaders that will hopefully be of encouragement.

As we’ve previously discussed, finding the data behind on Millennials is a difficult task. We also must acknowledge that there is a changing cultural landscape taking place underneath Millennials Marriage Hopeour feet. For Millennials, marriage will be approached differently, but that doesn’t mean they devalue marriage or will never be married. It simply means it will look different.

In fact, and this is the most important statistic available, 70% of Millennials want to get married.

Though that might be lower historically than other generations it is still an important statistic. For a generation that is the largest, most diverse, and most affected by divorce rates, Millennials are still, largely, optimistic about some key life issues.

Maybe they don’t care much for compartmentalization of politics, or for justifying class warfare, or even seeking out “traditional” forms of anything. Millennials do still care for some basic life issues. Notice that poll from Pew, Millennials still desire, by and large, to get married and, even more, to have children (74%.) Perhaps this is a good starting point.

Also, the delay of marriage signals that Millennials are careful about their commitment to another person for marriage.

marriage educationIt is often seen, by older generations, that delaying marriage is a bad thing, however for many Millennials it is due, in part, to a desire to find a suitable mate. Coupling this will continuing education, indebtedness, unemployment or underemployment, and the desire to fulfill some life goals (hiking Europe, digging water wells in Africa, seeing the world) before marriage add to this delay. Cohabitation is also part of this, though I would still argue the negatives outweigh the benefits long term. Yet all these factors

Millennials desire a truly egalitarian relationship between spouses.

While older generations still idealize June and Ward Cleaver, even though they didn’t exist for the vast majority of Americans, Millennials desire equality between the spouses. This means that decision making is not autocratic but communal. Both spouses are valued in the marriage and have a voice. Now, how Millennials work out spiritual leadership or even final decisions is not data that is available. The initial indications are that while both spouses are fairly independent, they do have more desire to come together and collaborate in decision making for many family issues.

With a growing egalitarianism, regardless of your view, there is something which needs to be egalitarian marriagepointed out about education. Right now female Millennials are 33% more likely to graduate college than their male peers. We are seeing a social shift where women are more finishing school on time and entering the workforce at a higher rate than men. Soon enough “Fair Pay” issues won’t be discussed because the women with the degrees and credential will be running the place more than men. (Surely there are other factors here but allow me this point.) It also means that women are now “marrying down” and having trouble finding suitable men. This is a significant moment of opportunity for churches and ministries with the guts, and credibility, to do something about it.

The Pew poll which is adding much of these conclusions does provide a helpful comparisons to Gen Xers. Between these two groups there are some noticeable trends that should be carefully weighed. If we were to compare these trends to Boomers and Busters, then we would certainly see wider gaps.

Our hope in working with Millennials and Marriage still should be something that sparks us towards innovation and re-engagement rather than distance. For our next, and final discussion, we’ll take a look at some ways we can do both of these in light of the data, the changing landscape, and the hope that exists. 

Apr 2014



PhD Languages: Thoughts on Finishing

The bane of many a PhD in humanities (and perhaps other categories) existence is often not the endless research and papers to write for seminars, those are indeed difficult, but it is the requirement of two research languages that is attached to their degree. While many PhD candidates are fine intellectuals there is something about a foreign language that is indeed difficult.

If you’ve been around a PhD candidate for very long you’ll inevitably hear laments about their program requirements. Generally, most humanities PhDs (of which biblical studies, theology, and history are part of this larger category) require each candidate to demonstrate sufficient reading ability for two research languages that is appropriate for their degree. Often, for theological students, these languages can be taken from French, German, and Latin. Given the amount of primary and secondary source literature in the fields of theological studies, being able to engage with these works will round out one’s studies. (I’ve written previously on this here.)

My own experience has been no different.

Since January I set out to learn and pass reading exams for two research languages for the PhD candidacy. My two languages were German and French. Having already done some preliminary studies (about twenty fifteen years ago…yes that’s it) in high school, and after forgetting most of it, I began with German.

However, for both my method was similar. I set out how long I had to finish my language with an exam and the developed a study plan.

1. Chose an appropriate primary textbook and secondary support material. For German, I already had Modern Theological German: A Reader and Dictionary by Helmut Ziefle. I supplemented this with German Quickly by April Wilson. For French, since I primarily did my study through an online program, I was assigned Reading French for the Arts and Sciences by Edward Stack. To this I added Reading French: A Guide for Students of Religion and Theology by K Janet Ritch.

2. After laying out my calendar (and noting times when my ministry responsibilities would call for more time than studying) I noted when I would work on a chapter in the primary texts and corresponding assignments.

3. Since one of the best lessons I was taught by my Greek professor in seminary was that “a language is caught not taught” I made sure that every day something was done in the particular language. As a result I also began translating specific biblical passages that would help in getting a sense of the nature and vocabulary of the language. So every day, depending on the language, I would make sure to translate something from an assignment and Scripture.

4. During my translations and exercises I used the dictionary that I had purchased for use during the exam. This helped with getting to know the dictionary.

5. For the assignments, and this is just the way I learn, I wrote out, by hand, the entire lesson and went back over it several times, reciting aloud what the author had written. This helped in getting the sense of what was being required.

6. As I neared the exam date I began sitting down and translating fresh passages (usually from one of the readers I was using, not Scripture) to see how I was doing in assimilating the language.

7. Once I had some initial lessons under my belt, I began going to German and French newspaper sites to read stories with as little help from my dictionaries as possible. For German I used Der Spiegel and for French Le Monde. This helped with learning basic vocabulary.

Learn the languages so you can read this guy...again, and again, and again...

Learn the languages so you can read this guy…again, and again, and again…

By the time I got to my exam, for German it was in March and for French it was August, I was comfortable with the language and able to work through the exams. While I make no illusions that I can produce highly readable translations right now, I do rejoice in passing my two exams.

One of the larger challenges for English speaking students is getting the sense of an inflected language and how they are different from English. Since I had much of the basics for German already in place, it simply became about re-familiarizing myself with the basics and then building on that foundation. French was more difficult since I had no ideas about the language.

So, for PhD candidates worried about the languages, perhaps this above rubric for learning and preparing will help.

My own experience might not be helpful, but it worked for me. I still recommend that PhD candidates be required to show reading knowledge of one research language halfway through their seminars. While my program did not require this, the languages are required prior to dissertation work, it is beneficial and for the students.

I’m still working on my languages since several primary source texts for my dissertation are in either French or German.

So how do you learn languages? What are some ways you’ve found to confidently grow in reading another language? What are some pitfalls to this approach?

Sep 2013



Recommended Books for Recent Seminary Grads

Every spring, and often in the fall, our seminaries are turning out new crops of graduates who hope to enter some role in pastoral ministry. Hopefully, during seminary, each graduate has developed some reading habits that will last them for the rest of their lives.

What are some particularly helpful books for recent seminary graduates to read to help make the transition from academic life to pastoral ministry?

After having read some substantial theology for the last several years, there are five recommended books that some of my fellow ministers have recommended for recent graduates:

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke. This was one of the first books recommended by a seminary professor for graduates. It is the classic text that, in a concise 57 pages walks recent seminary graduates through the transition from academic discussion to application within local church ministry. Others have attempted to match it but this is still the classic text.

Brothers, We are Not Professionals by John Piper. Arranged in 36 chapters, Piper’s text develops a practical pastoral ministry for pastors who are both new to ministry or are veterans. Piper’s paradigm for pastoral ministry seeks to rediscover the shepherd’s task and heart and move ministers away from the professionalization that has lost its connection with biblical ministry.

They Found the Secret by Raymond Edman. Moving towards a more devotional topic, one of the questions that I’ve had for established ministry leaders when I am able to take them to lunch or sit and talk with them, is “What books impacted your life the most?” One of the books that I’ve consistently heard from so many was this one by Edman. It is a classic on finding the “exchanged life” that can help each of us focus our ministry trajectory at an early stage.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. Seminary does many things well, but one of the challenges that we see all too often is that there is a lack of actual ministry preparation. We learn plenty of wonderful things about theology and biblical studies, but actual pastoral ministry has less to do with those and so much more to do with leading people. Maxwell’s text is, in my opinion, the best at helping us understand several key leadership rules to will help us, along with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, motivate people to life change.

Good to Great by Jim Collins. Obviously this list is less theological, but as we all find out in ministry, the pastorate is less theological than we hope. When I first sat and read this text, in my first church out of seminary, it shook my world and help refocus my leadership goals. Collins has brought together some of the best practices of making good organizations great. When I’ve asked that question about who pastors read, Collins’ text has also made that list of some of the most dynamic pastors who have built Jesus loving, God glorifying churches of all sizes.

Certainly there are a number of other texts I could put on this list, but I wanted to keep it slim. Every year when I organize my yearly reading schedule (outside of seminar and research texts) I try to read three of these five.

Seminary prepares us so well for the rigor of ministry and these texts will, hopefully, add to the practicality of ministry. While some might decry the lack of substantive theologies, in reality for most seminary graduates we need a dose of reality in our first pastoral role that familiarizes us with the beauty of our parishioners.

So, what other books would you add? What practical texts have help mould you for ministry?


Seminary: What is it Good For?

Millennials are challenging many facets of our social expectations. It should not be surprising that as they approach traditional educational avenues they will seek out different goals and applications of their degrees. Of course, approaching continuing education with a non-traditional goal is not limited to Millennials.

Recently, a survey of seminary students by the Association of Theological Schools reveals that only 41% of seminary graduates (of their accredited institutions) plan on pursuing pastoral ministry upon graduation. This is down from 51% in 2001 and obviously far below the 90% recorded in the 1950s.

This is more data about the changing face of ministry training. Seminary is becoming increasingly seen as ancillary for vocational ministry but also a reasonable alternative for individuals who want a deep theological training as they pursue a vocation outside of a traditional ministry role. There are two sides to this coin, but it is noteworthy to point out that for many seminarians the MDiv isn’t the requisite degree for pastoral ministry. Other degrees (MACE, MRE, MAT, etc) provide just as qualified a theological education and, for many evangelical churches, they simply are looking for candidates with a Master’s degree from an appropriate seminary. Now, the study should give us pause. One of the things to celebrate is that, perhaps, this data reflects a growing missional movement among seminarians who want to receive world class theological education and then go apply it in secular marketplaces. This is a kind of tent-making industry view that allows them to advance the Gospel where traditional ministers cannot reach. If this is the case this is a good thing.

One challenge though is that a clergy which lacks appropriate theological bona fides (I’m not saying an MDiv automatically provides this) can create churches that lack theological depth and inquiry. I doubt there are few serious ministers who would say we need more shallow, consumeristic, cosmetic Christian churches in America. To be a pastor, or church leader, requires that one be well rounded theologically (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 3:2, 6.) While seminary provides a platform to advance in our theological growth, I’m not entirely certain it is solely the place for this and nor am I convinced our seminaries (by and large) are developing ministry-ready pastors.


However, I’m going to give some push back on these numbers as reflecting the actual ministry environment for seminary studies across the United States and even globally. Since the ATS survey is limited to only its member institutions it does not take into account non-ATS schools which are accredited by another agency (TRACS, SACS, etc) or are unaccredited. Many ATS schools are affiliated with mainline denominations which are seeing lower numbers of members desiring to enter the ranks of their clergy. The true growth of pastoral minded seminarians is likely outside ATS schools and inside these other schools. I would venture to guess if we were able to tack all of these seminaries we would find the numbers of students planning on entering pastoral ministry would jump, maybe as high as 60%.

Perhaps more clarification will come. We can certainly look forward to that, and in the meantime celebrate the possibility that there is a move afoot to take theologically trained leaders into the marketplace to grow the Kingdom of God in significant ways.

What do you think? How is seminary education changing? How are students changing seminary education?

Jun 2013