One of my jobs as writer of this column is to spot trends and report them, especially trends among the emerging generation now in college. The most recent trend I’ve seen is our college seniors are willing to work for almost nothing if the working conditions are right.
This started a few years ago but it has escalated enough to become a significant trend. Many of this year’s graduating seniors are quite happy to take “internships” at a church for a year or so—even for $100 or $200 a week. We actually have high-talented grads turning down $40,000 youth pastor jobs that were offered to them to take $10,000 internships.
Why is this happening? What has changed? Here is my take on why some graduating seniors will work for less:
1. Extended development. It is no secret that today’s college students are delaying adulthood into the late 20s and early 30s. This period is variously called extended adolescence, delayed adulthood or provisional adulthood, and it is a real thing. It is here to stay and can’t be scolded away by Boomers who got their first church at age 22. Most of the emerging generation considers all of their 20s to be a “Decade of Development,” and we can no more change that than we could get 12 year olds to “get serious and take a church.” Thus, many graduates expect their 20s to be a period of fun, growth, and development—in short, “8 more years of college life.” Churches offering $40,000 jobs expect work and production out of these kids, and they want more freedom like they had in college. Churches offering internships are landing great graduates because they recognize college seniors want more time to grow and develop.
2. Fear of failure. Most of today’s college graduates have been insulated from failure by “helicopter parents” and “helicopter colleges.” The expectations in the ministry are higher than ever—people just don’t accept fumbling. They realize a “residency” program in a church doesn’t bet their entire ministerial career on their first year’s success or failure. If they take that high-paying job running the youth ministry in a church of 1000, expectations are high and the consequences of failure are astronomical. So many take the internship or residency job where the expectations aren’t as high, and there is a safety net for them to do their wing-walking over.
3. Clarifying their call. I don’t like this, but it is true. Many of today’s college graduates are still clarifying their call. We boomers knew we were called at age 18 and took our first solo pastorate at 22. Many of today’s graduates are still “exploring my call” and intend to do so until they are about 30. This irritates District Ordination Examination Boards that are packed with Boomers, but it is a massive change and if we don’t recognize it we’ll be left in the dust with a dry old wineskin designed for boomers. The denomination that does not provide for delaying ordination until 30 or 33 will be left in the dust. You can’t force 22 year olds to get ordained any more than you can force them to get married—they are delaying both. Many of today’s graduates want to work part-time in a church internship (and maybe work at Starbucks too for 15 hours) while they clarify their calling. Getting today’s 22 year old to be “certain of their call” would be like trying to get the boomers to have done so at age 14. Today’s kids are not “immature” or “irresponsible,” they just are. Boomers weren’t irresponsible because they didn’t walk five miles to school in four-foot snowdrifts and start working 40 hours a week at age 12 like their parents said they did. Neither are today’s kids immature because they didn’t have the life of their parents—after all these are the Boomers’ kids! Times change and developmental patterns change. A part-time internship allows 4-5 more years for graduates to get certain about their call. And an internship provides the place to clarify a call—not in a college dorm, but in the local church.
4. ObamaCare. Political decisions have religious consequences. Few political decisions will have a greater impact on graduating college students than Obama’s health care plan allowing kids to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26. This law ratified age 26 as the first date when a young person needs to begin transition toward adulthood. The effect of this law is huge among young adults. It has functionally doubled the college years—from four to eight. Graduating seniors do not have to worry about the $10,000 health insurance policy that comes with a full-time job. They can take a part-time internship, risk less, learn more, and their parent’s health insurance will pick up the tab, letting the local church where they work save the ten grand. Knowing that your insurance is covered makes it easier for seniors to take a part-time job in a church.
5. Low debt. The wide perception that college graduates come out with about $40,000 debt per person, $80,000 per married couple, is false. It is true that college costs about $100,000 total. But as many as 40% of the graduating ministerial seniors (especially the best students) have no substantial college debt whatsoever. Financial advisors say a college graduate should not have more debt than their first year’s salary. Well, for those students with no debt, they don’t have to get paid very much! This low debt position of many allows them to take a part-time internship. And if they have a ministerial loan grant from their denomination, they might be able to pay that down 20% a year by their service as an intern or resident pastor in a local church.
There are other factors, but before this column gets too long let me outline how a church can get in on this sale. From my conversations, the total package doesn’t impress them—here is what they are looking for. Even average churches (maybe especially average churches) can hire top notch seniors for a hundred or two hundred dollars a week:
1. A cool workplace environment. They want a church staff that works together as a team, who likes each other, drinks coffee together, laughs at things, and has fun together at work and even outside of work. In short, they want “dorm life” in a church staff.
2. Time off. They are willing to work for less but in exchange they want to be able to take a month off in the summer to hitchhike across Europe or go visit one of their college buddies teaching in Somalia. And of course many graduating seniors are still not married so they need the freedom to travel and date the people they forgot to marry in college. In short, they want time off—something more like their college schedule.
3. Shorter commitment. One of the scariest things about full-time jobs is that many Boomer pastors and boards are insisting on a five-year commitment. Five years is too long to commit for today’s seniors. We know when Boomers make such commitments they don’t take it that seriously and allow “the Lord to change my mind.” These Christians take such commitments very seriously—they think a five-year commitment means they can’t even pray about another offer for five years—and it is binding even if they marry someone in Nebraska who won’t move, or they want to go to seminary after all. They take their commitments so seriously that a shorter commitment is very attractive to them—so internships are really attractive.
4. Mentoring. Boomer graduates didn’t know how stupid they were—we just planted churches and grew them big on trial and error. These graduates know. They believe they are woefully prepared for pastoral work, and they now want to get “the rest of my training.” College does a pretty good job of educating ministers but does a poor job of training them. Ministerial training happens best in a local church and these graduates know that. They know if they take a full-time job, Boomer senior pastors will pay them well but expect them to “produce or perish.” They don’t think they are ready to “produce” what is expected today—they want more training. So, they’re willing to give up $20,000-$30,000 a year of a normal salary to get it. So you can get one of these quality graduates by offering your time to “finish their training” in a local church setting.
I’ve held off on writing this column until some of the churches already tuned in to this change have landed the best grads—but there are still some loose at my school and in other Christian colleges if you can make up the right “package” for them. And I’m not talking salary package, but a package of the things I just mentioned above. Graduation at IWU, where I teach, is this coming week, so many of the seniors I’m talking about have already taken part-time internships and ministry residencies at churches. But this column gives you time to figure out if you can get in on this “sale on seniors” next year. Hiring a promising college graduate to work with you may not be as hard as you once thought. There’s a sale on now—a sale on seniors.