Where Did New UMC Ministers Go to Seminary?

on December 19, 2014

What sort of theological training has shaped the new clergy coming through the United Methodist Church’s pipeline?

I recently obtained some official statistics from the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) about where United Methodists ordained in the United States last year received their seminary education. This includes a relatively small minority (less than five percent of the total) who received their ministerial education via our denomination’s “Course of Study” rather than the more traditional M.Div.

A couple summary observations are worth highlighting.

Asbury Theological Seminary, an independent evangelical institution in the Methodist tradition, maintains its dominant position. Of the 414 members of the ordination class of 2013, 64 (15.46 percent) went to Asbury, more than seven of our denomination’s thirteen official seminaries (Boston University School of Theology, Claremont, Drew, Gammon, Iliff, the Methodist Theological School of Ohio, and United) combined, continuing a long-time trend on which I have reported earlier. For those of you who like ratios, this means between one-in-seven and one-in-six newly ordained United Methodist ministers are Asburians.

Meanwhile, Claremont School of Theology and Iliff School of Theology, arguably our denomination’s most theologically radicalized seminaries, on which we spend a lot of offering-plate apportionments to prop up each year, only educated 4 (0.97 percent) and 10 (2.42 percent), respectively, of 2013 ordinands.

With 41 alumni entering the ranks of the ordained, Duke Divinity School maintains its position at the top of the UMC seminaries. Compared to a similar study of the ordination class of 2009 (which separately listed those ordained through the Course of Study), Duke saw its numbers fall rather significantly in the intervening four years. Over that same time period, Asbury saw its numbers slightly increase from 61 ordinands in 2009 (14.63 percent of that year’s class).

It is important to keep in mind that due to our denomination’s arduously long ordination process, there is a some inevitable lag time before differences in current student enrollment will be felt when alumni are finally ordained a couple years or more after graduation. Thus, the relatively unimpressive numbers for United Theological Seminary in the 2013 ordination class are probably related to it having been in really bad numerical shape a few years ago. Given how rapidly enrollment has increased since United’s newfound institutional commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy, we can expect much larger numbers of United grads among the ordination classes of the near future.

Winning the contest for the other denomination whose seminaries educate the most United Methodist ordinands is the Presbyterian Church (USA). Of the UMC class of 2013, 25 (6.04 percent) went to one of six PCUSA seminaries. Of course, despite that denomination’s recent hard-left turn, its seminaries are far from being a theological monolith.

Another 13 (3.14 percent) attended either a Southern Baptist or an independent, expressly evangelical seminary (Ashland, Fuller, George Fox, and Gordon-Conwell), though some of these include a bit of an “evangelical left” element.

It is also important to remember that plenty of people survive theological schools of a certain bent without ultimately reflecting the dominant perspective within their alma mater. After all, I’m an evangelical United Methodist who after three years of ultra-liberal Harvard Divinity School was no less theologically conservative than I was when I began.

Which non-UMC seminaries United Methodist seminarians go to is shaped in large part by our denomination’s University Senate. This body regularly decides which non-UMC schools will have their degrees accepted for United Methodist ordination. Over the years, they have removed quite a number of schools from the “approved” list, with such decisions often seeming to be driven by short-sighted institutional protectionism and perhaps theologically liberal biases rather than what is best for our seminarians or the long-term mission of our church. Rather than rushing to eliminate “competitors,” the University Senate would do better to actually look into why so few United Methodist seminarians want to go to liberal denominational seminaries like Boston University School of Theology, despite all the denominational pressure and financial incentives to do so. The University Senate’s removing evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from the approved list 16 years ago, despite it being such a major national seminary with many United Methodist ties and an impressive track-record in urban and multi-cultural ministry, was a significant blow against faithfulness and effective ministry within the United Methodist Church. To be fair, we probably did not lose much when liberal seminaries like Andover-Newton were also de-listed.

Quite a number of the ordination class of 2013 attended seminaries not currently approved by the University Senate. I was told earlier by a GBHEM official that if everything else is in order, one’s seminary education at a non-UMC seminary will be accepted as long as that seminary was on the approved list at the time the student was enrolled, regardless of what the University Senate did later.

Without further ado, here are the full statistics for the seminary education of American United Methodism’s ordination class of 2013, with our denomination’s thirteen official seminaries in this country listed first:


School Ordinands % of Total
Duke 41 9.90%
Perkins 38 9.18%
Candler 34 8.21%
Garrett 23 5.56%
Saint Paul 17 4.11%
MTSO 16 3.86%
Wesley 16 3.86%
United 12 2.90%
Drew 11 2.66%
Iliff 10 2.42%
Boston 6 1.45%
Claremont 4 0.97%
Gammon 4 0.97%
Total UMC 232 56.04%
Asbury 64 15.46%
All other schools 118 28.50%
Phillips (DoC) 8 1.93%
Dubuque (PCUSA) 7 1.69%
Memphis Theological Seminary (Cumb) 7 1.69%
Christian Theological Seminary (DoC) 6 1.45%
Hood (AMEZ) 6 1.45%
Ashland 5 1.21%
Austin Presbyterian (PCUSA) 5 1.21%
Erskine (ARPC) 5 1.21%
Palmer (ABC) 5 1.21%
Princeton (PCUSA) 5 1.21%
Union Presbyterian (PCUSA) 5 1.21%
Fuller 4 0.97%
New York Theological Seminary 4 0.97%
Sioux Falls Seminary (NAB) 4 0.97%
Eden (UCC) 3 0.72%
New Brunswick Theological Seminary (RCA) 3 0.72%
Pacific School of Religion (UCC) 3 0.72%
Sewanee (EC) 3 0.72%
Vanderbilt 3 0.72%
Brite (DoC) 2 0.48%
Colgate (ABC) 2 0.48%
Gordon-Conwell 2 0.48%
Lancaster (UCC) 2 0.48%
Louisville Presbyterian (PCUSA) 2 0.48%
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (ELCA) 2 0.48%
Union-NYC 2 0.48%
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (UCC) 2 0.48%
Andrews (SDA) 1 0.24%
Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC) 1 0.24%
Eastern Mennonite (Menn) 1 0.24%
George Fox Evangelical 1 0.24%
Harvard Divinity 1 0.24%
Interdenominational Theological Center 1 0.24%
Moravian Theological Seminary (Mor) 1 0.24%
Northern Baptist (ABC) 1 0.24%
Pittsburgh (PCUSA) 1 0.24%
Southwestern Baptist (SBC) 1 0.24%
Yale 1 0.24%
Grand Total 414 100.00%


Key to abbreviations for denominational affiliations:

ABC = American Baptist Churches USA

AMEZ = African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

ARPC = Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Cumb = Cumberland Presbyterian Church

DoC = Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

EC = Episcopal Church

Menn = Mennonite Church USA

Mor = Moravian Church

NAB = North American Baptists

PCUSA = Presbyterian Church (USA)

RCA = Reformed Church in America

SBC = Southern Baptist

SDA = Seventh-Day Adventist Church

  1. Comment by Oldview2 on December 19, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I think the larger issue here is that there are only 414 people in seminary across the US, while we have a massive number of preachers rapidly headed toward mandatory retirement. Where they go is sort of important but not as important as the low numbers that are actually out there. This, more than anything, shows just how much trouble we are in.

  2. Comment by Samantha on December 20, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    It’s not that only 414 people are in seminary, rather only 414 new members were ordained in the UMC. This number does not reflect those ordained in other denominations, nor those serving our church in lay roles, or who are currently preparing for ministry. In fact, Asbury Theological Seminary enrolls over 1,500, though not all of those are heading into full-time pastoral ministry.

  3. Comment by David L. Keys on December 19, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Not represented:
    Azusa Pacific Univ. Graduate School of Theology, CA
    Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO
    Seattle Pacific Seminary, Seattle, WA
    Trinity Evangelical Seminary, Deerfield, IL
    Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan, Marion IN
    Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS

  4. Comment by John Lomperis on December 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Seattle Pacific Seminary was added to the approved list a few years ago – I understand the first time the University Senate actually ADDED a school in quite a while. But with the lag time I describe in my article, 2013 was too early for UM students who enrolled there to start showing up in the stats of people who eventually got ordained.
    Given how seminary is such a transitional time for many people – with seminarians making decisions about switching denominations and withdrawing from candidacy processes or deciding to pursue an ordination track they had never previously considered – it seems that looking back at the alma maters of people who actually get ordained in the UMC is a much more “hard” statistic than looking at current student enrollments. Because once they’re ordained, the UMC has official “got em.”

  5. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Don’t know about the others, but the Nazarene Theological Seminary is not conservative/traditional.

  6. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    What is it that makes NTS not conservative/tradition (since we are talking about Methodism, I am assuming “conservative toward Wesleyanism”)? – As a ’94 NTS grad. (and a ’91 Trevecca Nazarene U. grad, & an ’07 Asbury grad), I am sincerely asking for your thoughts. – Thank you

  7. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 20, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    My experience with NTS was in 1983. Rod Staples (and other profs there) snorted at those who believed in the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s word – read “anyone who believes in the inerrancy of God’s word is a fundy and we certainly are not fundies; we are evangelical”…so, I have to believe they are liberal. I remember vividly Rod Staples bragging how he went to a theology conference once and sat with the liberals and then told them he agreed with them. Another time he denied that demon possession was real. Of course your definition of liberal is probably anything to the left of your theology. Another prof there – I can’t remember his name at the moment – denied right in class that I Cor. 1:16 was inspired. I am not impressed at all with that place. Two profs stood out as exemplary tho, Dr. Lawhead (OT) and Dr. Deasley (NT).

  8. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 21, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Well, that is why I said that I assumed we are talking about “conservative toward Wesley.” – I can’t speak to the whole thing of setting with the liberals, etc., but certainly Rob Staples was correct about a Wesleyan understanding of Scripture (and he & Dr. Deasley would be on the same page with that). – Both are very consistent with the Methodist/Anglican articles and the way Wesley used Scripture. – But, yes, from a different perspective, a Wesleyan position on Scripture might seem “liberal.” Wesleyans, of course, would deny this. – That same position, is what one would find at Asbury, as well.

    As for the whole demon possession issue, I would not be surprised if Dr. Staples would have said that. And I would agree that I would disagree with him on that issue, as you have.

    1 Cor. 1:16? About Paul not remembering if he baptized anyone else?

    In any case, while I might not agree with everything that everyone has ever said at NTS, I think that one would be very hard pressed to say that it is not conservative toward Wesley. Rob Staples, himself, was a part of what was dubbed “the Trevecca Connection” (including William Greathouse, Ray Dunning, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop) that actively sought to bring the Church of the Nazarene and the larger Holiness Movement back more closely to Wesley. – I would suggest that NTS is as conservative to Wesley as Asbury.

  9. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 21, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    But thank you for your reply!

  10. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 21, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    And thank you for your replies.

  11. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 21, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    If you deny the integrity of the Scripture you have no assurance that anything God has said is true. You also stand at odds with the Scripture itself. Psalm 19, 119, II Tim. 3:16, II Pet. 1.

  12. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 22, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Yes, your perspective and the Wesleyan perspective view the purpose of Scripture, and thus the way to understand the very passages you have mentioned, differently. The two perspectives also understand the integrity of the Scripture differently. – There are a number of books that discuss these two understandings of the purpose of Scripture, along with how the fundamentalist approach to inerrancy differs from a Wesleyan understanding. (Off the top of my head is Trusdales “Square Peg” book, but there are others and articles in the Wesleyan Theological Journal, as well.)

    I would encourage a closer reading of the Methodist/Anglican articles on Scripture. – Understand, I am not meaning to dissuade you from your understanding of Scripture, but to simply point to places where you might see how that differs from the historical Wesleyan/Methodist/Anglican approach. – It also goes to the whole issue of inerrancy. For example, if the whole purpose of a painting is to emote some particular sense of beauty or a particular emotion, it is out of place for a scientist analyzing the chemical compounds of the paint to discuss some “chemical error.” Despite such analysis, the artist would deny any “error,” because such has nothing to do with the point.

    To bring that a little closer to literature. It is entirely out of place to say that the Bible is in error because Psalm 104:5 states “You set the earth on its foundations, so that it can never be moved,” when we know the earth revolves and rotates and that there are earthquakes. Because that verse is not “scientifically true” does not mean that it is in error, because to view this poetic verse scientifically is in error.

    How one understands the purpose of Scripture will impact how one views issues of integrity and inerrancy. Wesleyanism (Methodism/Anglicanism) understands 2 Timothy 3:14-17 to present the purpose of Scripture in a manner different than those who come at it from a fundamentalist point of view, and the Articles of Religion demonstrate that point of view, as does the placement of the Article on Scripture, behind the Articles about God (the Reformed tradition out of which the fundamentalist perspective arrives places the Bible article first, which, too is reflective of their understanding of the purpose of Scripture and how it functions).

    Please understand, I’m not trying to argue you away from your perspective. I’m only saying that, by the standards you have set up, Asbury, as well as NTS, etc., would be considered “liberal” on those points. But those schools would be considered conservative toward Wesley, and certainly conservative over against the other schools that are not interested in being conservative toward Wesley or anything else.

    This is not meant to be argumentative, but, hopefully explanatory for the context of the original article.

  13. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 22, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Jesus quoted the OT in Matt. 4:4 “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The person whose conviction is limited inerrancy has a real problem with the text of Scripture then. Either Jesus was simplistic (and a fundamentalist), or our theological systems are simply inadequate. Paul said in Rom. 3 “let God be found true tho every man a liar.” To be honest Todd, I don’t need to read another book by another theologian either pro or con. Been there. Done that. And after reading all sides of the debate, I came to the same conclusion Wesley did: “I want to know one thing the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!” You see, I don’t care what Calvinists think about the inspiration of Scripture or what Wesleyans think…I want to know what God thinks…and that is easily discovered.

    Hey, thanks for the discussion. Wish I had friends like you who like to discuss these issues.

  14. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 23, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Just to clarify, to Jesus’ statement in Matt. 4:4, and to Rom. 3, and to Wesley’s quote, those at NTS & Asbury, and the Wesleyan perspective on Scripture would all say, “Yes! Amen!” – In fact, the Matt. quote & the Wesley quote are exactly the way that those at NTS, Asbury & Wesleyan Christians view Scripture! Yes! Amen!

    Blessings to you!

  15. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Blessings to you too. And have a wonderful Christmas.

  16. Comment by Beth Ann Cook on December 20, 2014 at 3:31 am

    Re: David Keys point there is now an agreement between Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesley in Marion and Garrett which will allow students to take classes there. I would imagine for this study’s purpose they would show up as Garrett? Also the lag time issue applies here. Many on our INUMC Board of Ordained ministry (not all) would like to see them approved by the University Senate. Quite a few Indiana UMC pastors are on faculty there.

  17. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 20, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    I have inquired a number of times, but have never received a “real” answer as to why Nazarene Theological Seminary was ever removed from the approved list. It obviously is much more “Methodist” than many of the approved schools. – The only suggested possibility was that NTS did not provide for a UM polity course. Don’t know if that was accurate or not (but, with St. Paul’s down the way, I’m not sure why there would be any issue with that).

  18. Comment by Beth Ann Cook on December 20, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Hi Todd. I don’t know about this particular case. I do personally believe that financial protectionism (funneling UMC students to UM official seminaries to keep them afloat) is an issue in multiple cases. The make up of the University Senate is heavily weighted to presidents of UMC seminaries by the disciplinary requirements.

  19. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    St. Paul’s in “not down the way” anymore. It is now in Overland Park KS.

  20. Comment by Todd Stepp on December 21, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    It wasn’t very far from NTS when NTS was removed from the approved list. And Overland Park is not very far, as it is. That’s where we went to church during seminary at NTS. Still pretty dog gone close.

  21. Comment by Paul Hoskins on December 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    I remember reading about that. Their “campus” is actually in a church now, isn’t it? That’s not a healthy sign when a school can’t even maintain a physical campus any more.

  22. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I think it is in the mega-church Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Ks. But as you drive 435 you will see is building on the south side of the highway that has a sign on it that says St. Paul’s School of Theology. And that building is definitely not the C of the R. So, bottom line, I really don’t know.

  23. Comment by Bob Wood on December 20, 2014 at 8:44 am

    One correction you list Gammon and Interdenomenational Theological Center as two different schools they are the same place. If you declare as a UM your first year you are in Gammon if you do not declare as UM you are “at large” and part of the whole seminary. In other words it is best to think of Gammon as a club inside ITC. The education and classes are identical.

  24. Comment by John Lomperis on December 20, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for the helpful clarification, Bob. I was simply passing on the official listings of the GBHEM, as folk are categorized there. Not sure what’s going on with the single student only listed for ITC, given the reality you describe. Perhaps s/he did NOT declare as UM while in seminary, and so was counted as just an “at large” ITC student, but then sometime after graduation decided to pursue UMC ordination.

  25. Comment by SunnyL on December 20, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Not sure what this points to for the future of the United Methodist Church…Will they trend more Liberal/Worldly than ever…Or become more Evangelical???…We are losing members and just this week…CEF pulled their Good News Summer Camp from our church and moved it to an Evangelical Church….So we have fall out big time…..and I will not stick around either much longer if the UMC does not take a firm stand against the LGBTQ…..I will not stay in a Denomination that follows the World leading and not the teaching of the Bible (Word of God)

  26. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I’m not UMC but I am weslyan/arminian in theology and conservative/traditional too. Here in the KCMO area you can’t find a conservative/traditional UMC church. They are liberal at their rotten core. In fact you can’t find a traditional W/A church that sings the traditional hymns. So wife and I stay home.

  27. Comment by Samantha on December 20, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    Harry, I’m sorry that you’ve not been able to find a worshiping community that celebrates the great blessing of traditional hymns. I promise they are out there! Don’t give up. I’ve found them in Pa, KY, and TN, and each one has been a great blessing (and committed conservative/tradition) church.

  28. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 21, 2014 at 12:29 am

    🙂 Thanks.

  29. Comment by Ray Bannister on December 21, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Our PCA congregation (and most others) uses traditional hymns. If you’re willing to let go of your Arminianism and get cozy with “mere Christianity,” you might like the PCA. I don’t normally hear anything in our pastor’s sermons that I would call “hyper-Calvinism” or any form of Calvinism – just basic Christian stuff.

  30. Comment by DirtyHarry1 on December 21, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Been there, was a Calvinist for years but those pesky warning verses kept interfering. Having said that one of my favorite authors is A. W. Pink. I know…wow. And I love reading the Puritans.

  31. Comment by clay walden on December 20, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    I thought the word became flesh, and the authority was in Jesus.

  32. Comment by Namyriah on December 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

    When I worked for the UM Publishing House years ago, in the Sunday school curriculum division, a key complaint was that hundreds of UM churches did not purchase the UM literature but purchased from independent evangelical publishers like Gospel Light and David C. Cook – or (horrors!) from the Southern Baptists. My aunt, who is Sunday school superintendent at her UM congregation, tells me her church hasn’t used the UM curriculum in over 20 years. I gather this is not an isolate case.

    When a denomination’s seminaries and publishing house aren’t meeting the needs of the denomination, doesn’t that suggest that the seminaries and publisher are doing something wrong?

  33. Comment by clay walden on December 20, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    What is conservative, what is academically liberal? Why are you proud to be “conservative”.

    Evangelicals are by a definition a “liberal” group of historical Christianity.

    Is not Christ resurrected enough?

  34. Comment by Paul Hoskins on December 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Why are we proud to be “conservative”? Because liberalism and Christianity are two worldviews that cannot coexist together. Liberals churches do not believe in the basic Christian beliefs, nor in basic Christian morality. I’m perfectly tolerant of people who say they are pro-abortion or pro-gay, but when Christians take those positions, they are just dead wrong.

  35. Comment by Keith Jenkins on December 28, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Paul, I have been a theologically and socially “liberal” Jesus-loving United Methodist pastor for almost 40 years, and I “believe in the basic Christian beliefs” and in “basic Christian morality.” So I guess you’re the one who is wrong.

    BTW, I am not “pro-abortion” (in fact, I don’t know of anyone who is), but I do support a woman’s choice to make her own reproductive decisions. And if by “pro-gay” you mean one who believes that a person’s sexual orientation should be no obstacle to full participation in the Church or the Kingdom of God, then I am guilty as charged. Of course, on the basis of these two statements, you will probably say I am either not a real Christian, or that I am “dead wrong,” thereby proving to yourself that your view is the correct one.

  36. Comment by clay walden on December 20, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    What is conservative, what is academically liberal? Why are you proud to be “conservative”.

    Evangelicals are by a definition a “liberal” group of historical Christianity.

    Is not Christ resurrected enough?

  37. Comment by Mike Ward on December 22, 2014 at 10:25 am

    I wonder if Asbury dominates because it is independent.

  38. Comment by truelinguist on January 24, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    good article

  39. Comment by wesleyangun on February 13, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    Being in the Rocky Mountain Conference of the UMC I can attest that Iliff is doing a great job of killing churches and training people for the transcendentalist ministries.

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