Preach for America

Everyone is familiar with “Teach for America”, where individuals are placed in underserved urban public school settings to live and teach for two years. This program attracts a variety of folks but holds an especially strong appeal to new and recent college grads, often from prestigious schools, who sincerely desire to use their gifts and skills to impact their world for the better. It is not a Christian program by any means, but I know many Christians who are attracted to it and who have chosen to participate.

The Teach for America vision is not that every participant is going to choose a career path in urban education. Rather, the expectation and hope is that, as participants move on to graduate schools and professions ranging from law to medicine to movies, they will carry with them a changed perspective on poverty and education as a result of their two year immersion. And as these folks move into positions of power and influence in their communities and in our nation, they will be “lifelong leaders for expanding educational opportunity (from the TFA website).”

There is another program that this reminds me of, and I don’t know if it is still around. It was big during the Clinton years so my guess is it has gone by the wayside in the changed political climate of the last few years. It was called “Americorps”, and the idea was that an individual, after or before college, could do some sort of community service-related job for a year. After the year was up, that individual would receive a stipend that could either be used for tuition at a college or university, OR it could be used to pay back student loans. I have a few friends who greatly benefited from this program, saying nothing for the communities where they diligently served!

With these in mind, I would love to see some wealthy individual, family, or institution take a cue from the secular world and initiate a new program called “Preach for America.” This program would encourage seminary grads to give themselves in service to churches in impoverished, underserved areas for a specified number of years (five maybe?) and at the end of that time, receive a financial stipend to pay back seminary loans.

Doug and I have struggled immensely as vocational ministers called to serve the poor. We have run into varied prejudices against us, ranging from the expectation that to do so we must be relegated to “tent-making” or “bi-vocational” ministry situations, to the unspoken attitude that the poor don’t really need (interpret deserve?) leaders who are seminary trained. One of the greatest obstacles we have encountered is the challenge of financing a seminary education without taking on a huge loan-load that would require us to seek high-paying ministry posts after seminary. Some of our deepest disillusionment came when we arrived at Fuller and, at repeated junctures, were told by administrators and staff that we just needed to go and find a wealthy church to be a part of–and we watched in dismay as so many of our peers did exactly that. (disclaimer–I received the very generous Menlo Park scholarship and was able to afford three years at Fuller as a result; it was Doug’s education that we were, and still are, struggling to finance)

I wonder what kind of impact it would have if seminary grads flooded our nation’s urban communities for a few years before going to serve on staff for the best and the brightest. What would it do to the missional spirit of these pastors? What breed of humility might emerge for these folks? And how many gifted leaders like my husband might receive the training and education they long for so that they might lay their lives down for the marginal?


  1. The change would be transformational. My wife and I support an urban missionary in Philly. Its great to get churches involved, but it’s even better to see the lives that are changed.

  2. Americorps is alive and well! I have a friend in that now and another in Teach America. Fantastic ideas! It’s sad but even with teachers in college they tell us the districts that pay really well and those are the ones to go for. I have told my parents that I want to work in the inner city when I graduate and they were disgusted with me. I’m not to bothered. I feel ya sister!

  3. Not to burst one’s bubble (I actually think this is an idea with tremendous potential, and I am also frustrated with the need to be bi-vocational to serve in many areas yet still be able to pay the rent), but based on my wife’s experience in a church for several years in East LA, you might well find that many, many of these seminarians get “burned out” in a very short amount of time (as you probably know, burn out is already a major problem for people in ministry), and leave ministry altogether. (My wife has not left ministry altogether, but has found it extremely difficult to find a place to safely practice ever since that East LA experience)

  4. Good thoughts, Mark. The statistics are truly overwhelming as to how many seminarians leave the pastorate (if they even go into it in the first place as is true with so many Fuller grads) and clearly being sent to minister in places made more difficult, and likely less supported, is problematic. My friend who is in Teach for America shared with us how many folks left THAT program after only weeks of serving. The dropout rate is high, I believe, and that would prove similar in my scenario as well.

  5. As a seminary Grad who left ministry, I see your idea as a great one, to serve in a impoverished area would teach what one does not learn in Seminary, humility, servanthood and true servant leadership. The idea would be even more effective if it were connected to other leaders, pastors etc, a small group of other likeminded folk who would be accountable, supportive and offer counsel, wisdom and a listening ear. This would go miles to keeping one from burning out and help the young grad to go for the long haul. A Barnabbas support group.

  6. Dave,
    I think your idea about support and accountability touches on another very critical piece–sounds similar perhaps to the way field education was conducted at Fuller (weekly meetings with a supervisor for theological reflection, attendance at workshops relevant to our ministry posts, and participation in a small theological reflection group). This would go a long way in building us up, in community, as ministers and servants.

  7. I am a current college student who is planning on participating in Teach for America. I was curious as to whether there is a similar program for those looking to get into ministry, but my search only came up with your page. I think that it is a very necessary concept and you should attempt tp share this concept with denominations, churches, and independent ministries alike. I hope that we will be able to see something like this come into fruition.

  8. Nathan,

    I think it would be so valuable! I wish I knew better how to pitch the idea and get people excited about it in a bigger-picture sort of way!

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