September 26, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
California Baptist University
West Virginia Wesleyan College
Memphis Theological Seminary
Bethel University & Seminary
La Sierra University
Oral Roberts University
Department of Philosophy and ReligionWebsite
Daniel Wueste Ph.D.: Thinking specifically, in terms of an impact on graduates who studied philosophy, I would say yes, because they have acquired skill in critical thinking and have a healthy respect for argument and evidence, both of which are, as it were, casualties of the politicization of the response to the pandemic in the United States. They will, I expect, find this disquieting because it reveals hostility to the destination they have reached, and poses a real danger for the future; more important, setting things right constitutes a significant challenge that, like the novel coronavirus, calls for careful planning, steadfast and diligent implementation, and no small amount of patience.
Daniel Wueste Ph.D.: It's difficult to be sanguine about opportunities in the field, as they require an advanced degree, and, at present, graduate school has lost much of its allure as anxiety about the pandemic's effects on higher education grows. However, because philosophy graduates have developed widely applicable/marketable skills in critical thinking, oral and written communication, analysis, and argumentation, they should do comparatively well even in a job market profoundly impacted by the pandemic.
Daniel Wueste Ph.D.: Technology will impact the field (philosophy) as a topic for philosophical investigation (in ethics and social and political philosophy, for example), and as a force in changing the way higher education is delivered. With advances in artificial intelligence, it is likely to enhance the appeal of philosophy as an area of study, as AI aligns well with the philosophy of mind/cognitive science and epistemology.
California Baptist University
Department of TheologyWebsite
Greg Cochran Ph.D.: Yes, undoubtedly. Quantifying the lasting impact may not be possible right now; predicting the future is a notoriously difficult task. However, some trend lines were already in place, and thus, were accelerated by the COVID-19 disruption. For example, technology had already increased loneliness and isolation among various demographic groups. The response to this pandemic (lockdowns, distancing) only heightened such human isolation.
Graduates entering ministry will need to work extra hard to personalize their ministries. Along those same lines, many people will remain fearful of large, in-house gatherings, thus forcing a reconsideration of all aspects of facility-based ministry from nursery work, to adult Sunday school classes, to choir participation. About half of the pastors in the U.S. are expecting lower in-person attendance when services resume. Many challenges will persist relating to personal relationships, distancing, and isolation.
Greg Cochran Ph.D.: The church-based ministry will abound-and may even increase-throughout the United States. While the less flexible ministries, and those with financial challenges, may not endure through this economic climate, many other churches will adapt and overcome. Graduates with clear convictions, lovingly related to other people, will continue to have work to do. Opportunities will abound because neither human nature nor the nature of human longings has changed. The churches will still possess a resonating message of love, justice, and truth for all kinds of people.
In southern California, for example, a church just this month-while restrictions remain in place--still baptized 1,000 new congregants. Church ministry has endured for 2,000 years. Nimble churches will still be looking for leaders in the next ten years. Probably the patterns will remain the same across the country: churches that adapt will thrive, others will face closing. And new churches will be planted.
Greg Cochran Ph.D.: This question is fascinating. Again, look for the trend lines already in place. Technology is producing more live streams and virtual meetings. Much of this will remain for the foreseeable future. Likewise, church apps will replace bulletins and hymnals. The digital liturgy will probably be a thing.
Giving tithes and offerings online and through apps has skyrocketed through this pandemic and will not likely go away completely. One other area that might be altered through technology is small-group socializing. Social media apps will be tailored to keep churches and small groups connected, without having to scroll through Tweets, posts, and news updates. Look for increased smartphone technology related to ministry. Smart ministry leaders should be investing in smartphone apps and utilization.
West Virginia Wesleyan College
Philosophy and Religious Studies DepartmentWebsite
Debra Dean Murphy Ph.D.: Students who major in religious studies do a variety of things with the degree. We've sent students to graduate programs at Princeton, Duke, Vanderbilt, and several other schools. It's also not uncommon for students to have religious studies as a second major alongside history or art, for example. All of which is to say there isn't just one career path for a religious studies major.
For graduates who are pursuing ministry, I do think the pandemic is changing that landscape. Online church in some form is probably here to stay; there are studies already that seem to indicate that. How that affects the hiring of pastors and what their day-to-day work looks like is unknown at this point.
Debra Dean Murphy Ph.D.: For our students interested in social justice work-NGOs or non-profits-historically, there are have been more opportunities in urban areas than in rural communities.
Debra Dean Murphy Ph.D.: Depending on the particular vocation religious studies major pursue after graduation, technology will have varying degrees of impact. For those entering various forms of ministry, technology is rapidly changing the game.
Memphis Theological SeminaryWebsite
Dr. Peter Gathje Ph.D.: Most of our graduates go into ministry either in a congregational setting or with a non-profit. So, yes, there will be an enduring impact. In congregational settings, people in ministry will be very likely to continue the "virtual" forms of worship, online Christian education, and other gatherings even as in-person worship resumes. The flexibility of virtual worship and the opportunity to participate from one's own home will be attractive to people even beyond the pandemic. Online adult theological education may supplement or even replace traditional Sunday school and Wednesday night offerings. Non-profits will also build upon the lessons learned during this time for virtual meetings, fundraising, and community programs.
Dr. Peter Gathje Ph.D.: One result of the pandemic is that people who have been churchgoers will have become accustomed to not going to church on Sunday. I can see the continuing decline of traditional church attendance after the pandemic. So, graduates are going to have to be creative in their ministry and in finding ministry settings. I don't think regional differences are going to matter all that much.
Dr. Peter Gathje Ph.D.: The influence of online Christian education and online/virtual worship and other gatherings will continue to be important. Those who are more adept at the use of those technologies will be better positioned for sustainable ministry.
Bethel University & Seminary
Peter Kapsner Ph.D.: Difficult to say. It depends upon how long the significant disruption exists where potential societal changes remain. Pre-pandemic, our country was becoming increasingly secularized as the economy was booming, and the next generations are less and less interested in church communities. Missiology is a lost discipline in places like France and the UK, and the USA is not far behind those countries in secularization trends. But the pandemic is forcing different kinds of questions in terms of spiritual things along with meaning and purpose. Disruption has a way of doing that. So I'd say the near term future of missiology depends upon the enduring impact of the pandemic.
Peter Kapsner Ph.D.: Social organizations and non-profits still appear to be thriving in the USA, but their focus is also increasingly less spiritual. Churches have fewer and fewer opportunities. Missiologists undoubtedly will have opportunities to bring "good news" for social and physical needs, as they should, but the needs of the spirit in terms of the historical focus on sin, future, love, life, death, spiritual freedom, and eternity are less relevant to many today.
Peter Kapsner Ph.D.: Missiologists are far less likely to travel to connect with others. Financial support can be very difficult to come by, so I suspect missiologists will be far more comfortable with Zoom connections, etc., that can be done on a shoe-string budget.
La Sierra University
Theology And Religious Vocations
John Webster Ph.D.: We are living through genuinely extraordinary times! But a degree in religion or theology is excellent preparation for times of crisis, stress, and uncertainty. You may well find yourself to be the person for the hour. People are hurting, confused, and fearful of the future. Graduates with a deep understanding of human beings (including their spiritual, emotional and physical needs) and the dynamics of society will be in high demand not only in church circles but also in the public square. Do not lose heart. Whatever your specific career path, our world needs those who care about more than just making money about social justice, values, and caring. We need you!
John Webster Ph.D.: We all want to get our lives back to 'normal.' But we will undoubtedly have to grapple with a 'new normal.' A new situation where we have to make technology (be it social media, digital forms of communication, etc.) a tool for more profound and better interpersonal connection rather than merely a stop-gap. We cannot unlearn 'Zoom.' We need to become proficient in using these new tools, while never letting them distort or control our understanding of what it means to be a genuinely good human being. We need to use technology to ensure that even when physical distancing is essential, it does not lead to social distancing. We are all in this together, and technology can help.
John Webster Ph.D.: We will never entirely be the same again. I have a paternal grandmother whose whole family was wiped out in the 1918 flu pandemic, leaving only two young children as orphans. A hundred years ago, that pandemic shaped a generation. This one will do so as well. But the effects need not only be adverse. The crisis can leave us more resilient, more focused on what matters, more adaptable, and more caring. Yes, we have seen selfishness, callousness, and recklessness all over. But what will make an enduring impact be acts of selflessness, kindness, generosity, and hope? May these things endure.
Scott Shauf Ph.D.: Be open to God's calling, especially to places you don't feel comfortable going. A Biblical Studies degree is designed to prepare you for all sorts of possible ways of ministering, and the Bible applies to all areas of life. Remember what you have learned, and always think critically and faithfully. Consider pursuing a Master of Divinity degree, for the church needs educated ministers. But whether you do or not, never stop learning.
Scott Shauf Ph.D.: I doubt it's going to change much, but what will happen is that technology currently used in developed countries will become more available in developing countries. Christian ministers must be prepared to use it well.
Scott Shauf Ph.D.: I'm sure there will, but I won't claim to be able to predict it. To me, the experience has underscored the importance of creating healthy Christian communities. People genuinely care for each other, so that even when we can't meet together, the church will remain secure. We need a church capable of withstanding even more substantial challenges than this, and a church capable of ministering, even when we can't gather together. A Biblical Studies degree will, hopefully, give students tools they need to create and benefit from such communities.
Ray Neste: Our graduates enter a wide variety of different careers with such a degree, but my essential advice would be the same for each setting. Whether entering local church ministry (pastor, youth pastor, etc.), parachurch ministry, missions, or some other field, I encourage them to stay humble and keep learning. Learn from people in your church or workplace who have been there awhile, so you can learn the particularities of the church and community.
Ray Neste: In the field of biblical studies, it is hard to say. Indeed, academic resources in digital format will continue to be significant. But, our area ranges from academic work to pastoral ministry, so which technology is most important will vary, depending on the setting. The critical thing for graduates will be to be aware of what is going on around them, being cognizant, but not chasing fads.
Ray Neste: It is hard to say because people respond so differently, and the pandemic has hit different areas with varying severity. Some younger people have brushed it off as something which does not impact them. I hope it will have a lasting impact in a few ways. 1) Removing the illusion of complacent safety. Life in a fallen world is dangerous, and we will live more wisely when we realize that more fully. We will make better decisions, care for others more fully, and relish the blessings we have more than longing for ones we do not. 2) Related to the first, civilization is fragile, so we must support and cultivate it. It is easy to think that the world will naturally go on, as we have always known it and, thus, we have little responsibility to care for it. I hope, though, that the pandemic effects will help graduates see how fragile civilization is, not so that they might worry, but so that they might see their responsibility to nurture our shared life together. 3) Lastly, I hope that this more stark encounter with death will help us take more seriously our need to hear from God's word, to make the most of life, and to prepare for eternity.
Oral Roberts University
Biblical and TheologicalWebsite
Dr. Christopher Foster: Streaming technology will be essential: cameras, switchers, and editing software. This type of technology helps reach an audience beyond the local community and can increase giving.
Despite the technological tools, with all the bells and whistles, technology must remain relational and dialogical.
Dr. Christopher Foster: Find a local church where you can serve and begin to apply the things you have learned-even if you are not employed there. Many churches hire from within to ensure staff fit the culture and ethos of the community. Remember your agility skills - creativity and innovation will be a requirement. Be comfortable working in an unknown and do not be afraid to innovate. Run with new ideas or test new approaches in this constantly changing environment.
Work is not your life! Focus on who you are called to be (being) and not what you are invited to do (doing).
Dr. Christopher Foster: On the one hand, the pandemic causes graduates who innovate to be even better assets to employers. On the other hand, those graduates who refuse to get out of the box and innovate might need to look elsewhere.
The virtual, streaming, and online component of ministry will likely remain for the foreseeable future. However, we are still in a stop-gap mode. Have we truly innovated? In light of 'Zoom fatigue,' the current virtual approach is unsustainable. We have not yet reached a "new normal." The enduring impact may not look like what we presently suppose.