Robyn Carnes moved to Denver from Hospers, Iowa, when her husband, Jay, accepted a position with the Colorado Children's Chorale. Shortly after moving, she applied to Denver Seminary to become better equipped for family and children's ministry.
Because of the sluggish economy, Robyn had a tough time finding a post related to her interests, so she took a job as a waitress. The Carneses agreed to dip into their savings and take out some loans to finance her degree, and Robyn started classes in the spring of last year.
"Once we'd lived here for a few months," Robyn recalls, "we didn't know if we'd be able to continue." After working at the restaurant for several months, she resigned because of the strain it placed on her schedule. But a few weeks later, she accepted an on-campus position as a student ambassador, assisting with recruitment and admissions. This ten-hour a week job quickly developed into twenty hours per week. The extra income helped Robyn and Jay as they adjusted to the higher costs of living in Denver, but the financial strain was still substantial.
Then in the fall, Robyn got some good news. She was one of three women awarded the seminary's Julia Amen Scholarship, which assists female students. This scholarship paid a substantial portion of Robyn's tuition.
Not long after, Robyn was offered a position as an intern at a local church. During her job interview, the director of children's ministry asked, "Would it be helpful if we could, in part, fund your education?" As part of the seminary's church partnership program, this congregation agreed to pay half of Robyn's tuition. Between working, help from a local church, and scholarship aid, Robyn will be able to complete her seminary education with very little debt. This means she will be able to focus on her studies and on her true passion—ministry to children.
Robyn Carnes's story could be told of students at theological seminaries and graduate schools all across the nation—people who took a step of faith in response to God's call, then watched the hurdles they thought might stand in the way of their ministry goals disappear.
Nathan Bettger was confident that God was calling him to attend seminary in preparation for ministry, even though he had no idea how he would be able to pay for a seminary education, especially since he had accumulated significant debt from college. But he stepped out in faith and applied to Bethel Theological Seminary. Then he was nominated for and received a full-tuition scholarship from the Kern Family Foundation. Money is a factor in higher education, but not a deal-breaker for most students pursuing theological degrees.
Jumping the money hurdle
Theological training is different from other forms of graduate education in several ways. One way is money.
Those who pursue graduate degrees in business or psychology or education—almost any field, in fact—typically do so with financial considerations in mind. Many of those pursuing graduate degrees do so with an eye toward increasing their earnings potential. Thus, if they have to borrow money—even several thousand dollars—it's not a big problem since the projected increase in income can fairly quickly cover the investment and more. Sometimes lots more.
Education that prepares men and women for ministry is different. Those who attend seminary give a variety of answers to question of why they have made that choice. Some say it's because they have a passion to serve people. Some say it's because of a call from God. Some say it's to fulfill a particular ministry dream. But one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would respond, "To increase my earnings potential."