Why evangelicals should invest in students

I’m not bitter, but I am concerned.

I can’t begin my graduate degree this year because I don’t have enough money.

Earlier this year, I was admitted to a top PhD program in my field, and I had been aiming for this program since I began my master’s degree three years ago. I put forth my best effort in my master’s program, earned good grades, and received recommendations from my professors. But after considering the financial viability of beginning my PhD this fall, I decided to wait one year in order to improve my finances.

These circumstances might, as the kids like to say, be a #firstworldproblem. And I do recognize that my situation could be much worse. I have a supportive spouse, and our combined efforts will likely allow me to proceed to PhD studies next year. And I’m grateful for the experience I will gain in the year ahead by returning to my place of work.

But this whole situation has troubled me. It’s not the high tuition rates charged in universities, or even the disappointment of delaying my studies for a year.

I’m concerned about the evangelical church’s support for higher education.

You see, my field is theology. And my desire is to receive the best training possible so that I can be the best leader possible for Christ’s church. I love the church and I want to dedicate my life to teaching God’s people.

But it seems like receiving the education necessary to train the next generation of pastors and missionaries in a seminary is going to require handing over part of my life to the bank. Even with two years of work between graduate degrees, I will likely have to take on debt to complete my PhD. Not to mention the fact that a PhD involves years of financial insecurity while studying and (for me personally) years prior living the frugal life of a student.

If Christians truly believe that well-trained theologians and pastors are required for our churches, we should be providing more scholarships and funding opportunities for those seeking theological education. And more than that, there should be significant financial support for Christians seeking all manners of postsecondary education.

There are so many fields in North America underrepresented by Christians — the arts, journalism, politics — and without financial support for young believers interested in these fields, it’s hard to envision the gospel reaching the next generation of world leaders.

Ultimately, this is a question of investment. There are many ways a church can invest in the next generation, and I’m thankful that so many do this in some way. But it’s hard to accept that thousands of dollars are raised every year for initiatives like short-term missions trips that often, though not always, have little lasting impact. Financially investing in a future leader may only be to one person initially, but the life’s work of one pastor, one journalist, or one musician can directly affect thousands of people.

I do see God’s goodness in my circumstances as He teaches me the importance of patience, and the ways in which He reminds me how He has gotten me this far. And I know He will provide again.

I only wonder if evangelicalism should be creating more avenues for Him to do so.

Photo (Flickr CC) by John Althouse Cohen.