“[S]he might soon learn…not owe
the most valuable knowledge we could any of us acquire—
the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty,
to the lessons of affliction…”
Jane Austin, Mansfield Park
Our perception of the number is that “economic downturns actually serve to increase enrollment” based loosely on the perception that a difficult or declining job market offers—in addition to limited employment opportunities—the opportunity to either pursue further training (careered individuals) or delay market-entry (recent graduates).
When this is the extent of our observation, we prepare to respond in this manner:
• “Yes, lots of people are enrolling in light of the economy and job market”
• Finding a job later may be easier with a higher degree of training as the economy improves.”
• “Investing in education now will pay off when the job market improves.”
I cannot help but wonder if our correlation is too narrow, effectively reducing stronger enrollment opportunities. And rather than a 1=1 ratio (down economy = higher enrollment), we should be asking what about a down economy (besides the obvious job market) may be factored into the equation.
Our current equation makes it a financial matter exclusively. But could it not also be an issue of stability or security or eternity? I think down markets should be viewed as one part of a greater category: crises. A down market (or may be) a crisis—and crises, more than comfort, challenge us to examine fundamental beliefs and values. Only as someone is faced with difficulty is he forced to answer questions which, in times of relative peace or prosperity, can be easily ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. Bernie Madoff could quip ambiguous responses to questions on his investment philosophy—when times were good. The failure of his hedge fund has forced him—and those working or invested with him—to answer questions long-neglected questions of life’s ultimate purpose, value and meaning—beyond financial stability, and subsequent public exposure.
Going to graduate school is one kind of response to a crisis. The billionaire, Thierry de la Villehuchet—who lost over $1.5 billion through Madoff—chose a different response: suicide. The benefit of viewing economic difficulties as but-one example of a type of situation (resulting in the pursuit of graduate school) is that we change the way we look at other recruitment opportunities.
Yes, the current financial and economic situation is a crisis, as were 9/11 and Katrina. But so were the recent UVA shooting of 2007, the floods in the Ohio River Valley in 2008, and the current impeachment of Illinois Gov Rob Blagovich, and so forth. The fruit of such crises is long in playing out—but the fruit of another crisis is daily lived out in the testimony and ministry of Chuck Coleson.
Every crisis offers an opportunity for some group of people, or individual person, to ask those lasting and eternal questions—the kind that result in decisions to pursue seminary.
We know crises play such a role in our lives. Post 9/11 saw a spike in church attendance unparalleled in recent decades. Though not a lasting response for some, many were converted in the days, weeks, and months immediately following that event. How will the effects of Katrina upon New Orleans eventually play out to break the back of witchcraft and dark spirituality in that community? (Which crisis event caused the radical change in the life of Anne Rice—from sexual and sadistic vampire novels, to those portraying the humanity and deity of Christ Jesus in her newest trilogy?)
The privacy of people often prevent us being aware of the individual crises that they are encountering—a rebellious child, a recent miscarriage, death of a close family member, a rocky marriage, or some kind of destructive pattern of addiction. Only as these are revealed can we offer the best kinds of responses. In this way, personal crises offer a limited opportunity to engage people with the deep questions of purpose and meaning.
Which is why our recruitment responses to a public crisis is so important. Community crises become a personal crisis for individuals with a direct exposure to the effects. Jews and Arabs alike, in my community, have responded differently to the current war between Israel and Hamas in the Gazs region—differently than each other, and differently than myself. We can graph this as follows:
Community crises become a personal crisis for individuals within a given segment based on a direct correlation. Our recruitment in the above situation would be concentrated on those individuals who are experiencing a community crisis on a personal level.
Another example would be to look at the effects of 9/11.
We can assume that all people in the World Trade Center faced a crisis moment during the 9/11 attacks—as did many (if not most of their family members), the residents of New York, the nation, and the world—to ever lessening degrees than those closer to the event.
In this event, it becomes more difficult to identify those individuals who were processing a public crisis in an individual manner. But the point is made—that as individuals process a public crisis, those individuals are in a place to “owe the most valuable knowledge we could any of us acquire—the knowledge of ourselves and of our duty, to the lessons of affliction…” (Jane Austin, Mansfield Park, 473).
Seeing financial or economic turmoil as a kind of crisis changes the types of responses we can have to “crisis applicants”—particularly for career transition people going to seminary:
What are the immediate changes we can implement in response to this reality?
Questions to Ask “Crisis Applicants”
• Good Question: Why are you thinking about seminary now?
• Better Question: Has there been an event in your life that has caused you to pursue seminary at this point?
• Good Question: Has the economy been a factor in your pursuing seminary at this point?
• Better Question: How has the current economic situation affected your decision to pursue seminary at this point?
Having a mission statement regarding crises is also helpful. Instead of assuming that the inquirer is considering seminary for financial reasons primarily, a statement reflects our broader appreciation of crises—as a seminary, observing not simply the external possible realities, but the internal spiritual reactions that take are either present or potential:
We believe that all crises—personal, familial, communal, national, environmental, economic, or global—are an opportunity for people and nations to ask fundamental questions about good and evil, and the purpose and meaning of life. Crises are also an opportunity for the church, as the body of Christ, to proclaim the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ, in response. And we believe that—like Esther—God raises up ministers and messengers for such a time as this. Our commitment is to encourage and advise you in this time to help you discern your role and response in light of whatever current crisis caused you to consider seminary—so that you can answer to yourself, and those who ask: And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?(Esther 4:14)
The other benefit of this type of approach is that it broadens the opportunities for recruitment. Instead of seeing periods of economic instability as somehow unique recruitment opportunities—we can begin to see smaller and more localized crises as recruitment opportunities within key areas, regionally or within certain demographics.
In summary, we improve the quality of our response and the possibility for recruitment interaction through broadening our understanding of types of crises, and having approaches that address individuals along the spectrum of response—those transitioning because of the “lessons of affliction” more than just a weak job market.