I often wonder if I should add another job title to my business cards: Crusher of Other People’s Dreams. A budding scholar walks into my office. She’s fallen in love with the idea of teaching theology and the vision of training Christian leaders so they are better equipped to serve the Church. And she just wants some advice on how to go about doing that, how to pursue a theological vocation in the academy. And although I usually try to lead with something warm and encouraging, I eventually have to drop the hammer: the job is harder than you think, the economic realities are worse than you think, and many spend years on the chase without ever catching the unicorn.
These are generally not fun conversations.
I say more than that, of course. I happen to think that I have one of the greatest jobs in the world, and I’ll support anyone who is truly convinced that the unicorn is worth chasing. Before they start, though, I want to make sure they know that the unicorn is a sneaky beast. If you’re not careful, it will tear you in half with its pearly white horn.
To explain what I mean, I want to focus on two issues. First, the economic challenges facing anyone just starting to pursue a theological vocation in the academy. And second, some of the realities with which those of us already in place must deal. And I’ll conclude with just a few thoughts on some things we might need to consider moving forward, though I recognize that there are no easy solutions.