During this Thanksgiving season, I have been reflecting on people who made my seminary education possible. They invested much in shaping me for future ministry leadership. Last week, I told you the story of two families who paid for my first seminary degree. Here’s the second part of the story.
My first pastorate was at Green Valley Baptist Church – a working-class church in St. Joseph, Missouri. We had a pastor/deacon church government model. Most of the deacons were union-members, factory-workers, blue-collar guys, or retired military. There was only one college graduate among them.
After serving the church for a few years, I believed God wanted me to go back to seminary for a doctoral degree. I was accepted into both a PhD and DMin program, which meant I had a decision to make about which to pursue. In those days the PhD required moving to a seminary campus, while the DMin required three, one-month study periods on campus over an 18-month span. For various reasons, I decided to pursue the DMin option first.
So, in a Sunday night Deacon’s meeting, I presented the options and made my requests. I asked for three, one-month study leaves over an 18-month period. I offered to use my vacation time and other holiday leave to offset the missed work time. I also offered to take the time unpaid, if necessary, or to negotiate whatever compensation they deemed fair. The men asked some questions and then sent me home so they could deliberate the options. They promised the deacon chairman would give me their answers the following day.
On Monday afternoon, the chairman got off work and came to my office – in his dirty uniform from a day on a factory floor. He said something like this, “We discussed your proposals and here are our answers. First, we believe in your future and we want you to get a doctorate. Second, we want you to take the study leaves to get it done. And, forget about using your vacation time. That’s for your family. We are going to ask the church to give you paid time off to get your doctorate.”
I expressed my appreciation with heartfelt thanks. Then he said, “And one more thing. We checked on the cost of this doctorate. The deacons have decided we are going to pay for it.”
I was flabbergasted. Tears are in my eyes as I type this – and the tears really flowed that afternoon. A group of working-class deacons put up the money for my doctorate. Others may have helped, and they may have asked the church to allocate some funds, but the deacons took care of it. I am Dr. Jeff Iorg, Seminary President, because a group of men believed in me enough to put their money on the table!
Last week, I told you the story of two families who paid for my Master of Divinity degree. Now you know the rest of the story, how some deacons paid for my Doctor of Ministry degree. I am thankful for people who invested in me!
The primary reason prospective students and current students do not attend seminary is financial pressure. They are not living frivolously, but are struggling to pay rent, groceries, and the expenses of childrearing. As economic pressure mounts, something has to give. All too often it is paying for seminary.
You can make a difference. If you know a seminary student, find a way to help them pay for seminary. Contact their seminary directly to discover ways to do this. And, if you are not able to pay the whole bill, consider asking your church to provide tuition support for students from your church.
Perhaps God will use you to train a future leader who impacts more people than anyone could ever imagine!
Gateway supports the education of students who are called to the mission field, and helps provide funding for students to learn about missions first-hand on short-term Beyond Trips. Make a gift today to help us shape the leaders who will bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to every corner of the planet!
Pastor Jon Varner shares what he learned developing a practice of combining his daily Bible reading and prayer.