A ministerial shortage is practically our tradition

It’s hard for me to get too wound up about the prospect of a perceived ministerial shortage in the parishes, as reported in the UUWorld. (“Demand for interim ministers outruns supply“)

Until a generation or so ago, ministerial shortages were common. Low pay, poor prospects and frequently harrowing conditions meant that ministerial supply has been less than demand, often leading churches to do without a minister, or share one. A broader view of ministry means you can’t limit faithful service to the parish, and the whims of those who dwell therein.

What’s different today is that there are more ministers, but evidently no more who are willing to face the parish. And with so many churches reputed to be “clergy killers” or otherwise dysfunctional, who can blame them? And even if the church is even-keeled, the pay may be far less than what one’s skills would fetch in another field. Is it the minister’s duty to bear the time and cost of preparation, and then effectively subsidize the church through lost income?

Ideally, the burden should be (at least) shared. And since I don’t recall the same measure of concern in that relatively brief period when there was an oversupply of ministers, I have to wonder if the ministerial college isn’t expected to sacrifice too much again. Having a rich pool of ministers for parishes to choose presents huge costs for those preparing for the ministry and a huge financial and professional cost for those who have to necessarily “sit out” this year or that, and take whatever other employment is available.

Good people have left parish ministry, but not the ministry itself. The ecosystem will have to adjust, and congregations seeking ministers will have step up, or adjust.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Very insightful comments, Scott, regarding an issue about which both churches and seminaries should have been more proactive years ago. Unfortunately, the Association of Theological Schools is not exactly what one would call “progressive in its thinking”.

  2. This “shortage” may also be due to UUA-MFC ineptitude. People are waiting past, often long past, graduation to get appointments with the MFC for the stamp of approval for parish jobs and have to take community jobs or some part-time gig not requiring a credential — so that when they finally are cleared for settlement they may be less inclined to uproot the family again.

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