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Anecdotally, I know a lot of bi-vocational and second-career pastors who came from IT. At seminary, I saw a lot of them, and 2 of the 4 pastors at my current church have this background.

I remember reading William Willimon who essentially said there were really only three kinds of professionals who had to read texts closely: lawyers, IT folk, and pastors. That has stuck with me, and led me to see a natural flow from IT to the pastorate.

My question is - do I just notice this because of my own IT background, or is there any sort of statistical evidence that would bear this out? Where could I find a good data source to see first careers of second-career pastorates in the United States?

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One of my (IT) coworkers is now a pastor in his church, and slowing moving toward full-time there. I also recently read an (IT) book by a pastor... it's an interesting question. –  Flimzy Aug 13 '14 at 15:07
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You could throw musical interest into that mix, too. There's a whole lot of music-heads in IT. –  LCIII Aug 13 '14 at 15:48
    
One of my (IT) co-workers is the Bishop of his ward, that's a bit different though, because it's a calling in a lay-clergy position, not a chosen career. I know a couple other Bishops that have computer science backgrounds, and a couple more that are lawyers. For the LDS church it wouldn't be a pursued career change, but it is interesting that men with these backgrounds seem to be more frequently called to the work. Perhaps it comes down to having to be able interpret and understand the intent or meaning of reading materials in those careers (laws, code) and not just passively reading them. –  ShemSeger Aug 13 '14 at 18:00
    
Add me to the count. My first Hebrew professor (an engineering student before being called to ministry) told me that his best Hebrew students came from the following fields: engineering, math, accounting, and computer science. –  Frank Luke Aug 13 '14 at 18:03
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OTOH, I've also had/known pastors who were previously truck drivers, writers, postal workers, pizza delivery boys, and a ton of other things, too. –  Flimzy Aug 13 '14 at 18:51

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I emailed Cynthia Woolever of The Parish Paper and got this response:

The statistics come from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey (Wave 2) conducted in fall 2008 and spring 2009. Almost 700 pastors (693 to be exact) completed an extensive survey about their background, education, and current experiences. These pastors had to be currently ministering in a congregation as the solo or senior pastor to be eligible. Therefore, ministers in specialized positions (like hospital chaplain) were not in the survey. Much of the details are on the U.S. Congregations website. Further details are reported in our book, "Leadership That Fits Your Church: What Kind of Pastor for What Kind of Congregation" published by Chalice Press (2012).

I remember from reading the "raw data" (actual returned surveys) that some pastors had been in IT work before working in a local congregation. However, we did not use this as a specific category when we coded the responses. Here are some of the relevant categories: Lawyers, judges, or legislators (3%) Teachers and professors (12%) All other professionals (28%) Managers and administrators (24%)

Clergy who had previously been in the IT field would have been coded in the "All other professionals" category. Those in this category were also grouped by denomination or faith group. For Catholic priests--39% of those had a full-time occupation before entering ministry were coded as "all other professionals"; For mainline Protestant pastors--31% were coded as "all other professionals"; and for conservative Protestant pastors--20% were coded as "all other professionals."

The entire dataset is available on the Association of Religious Data Archive.

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This was what I was looking for! Wish I hadn't awarded the bounty already! –  Affable Geek Dec 29 '14 at 2:55
    
Wish she emailed me back sooner :P –  Mr. Beatitude Dec 29 '14 at 3:33
    
@yuletide well you could award another one ;) –  fredsbend Dec 29 '14 at 3:35

It seems that you are suggesting (along with Willimon perhaps) that the sorts of people who have careers in IT or excel in IT careers are also the sorts of people attracted to theological study, in-depth scripture study, and pastoral responsibility - either because of they way they think or because of their personalities. That may indeed be a factor and I have also observed the same trend you are describing.

However, I believe simpler explanation exists. IT work in the modern west is just more likely to be conducive to part-time work or attending school on the side. Remote work, part-time contract work, and flexible working arrangements are more likely to be found there than in many other disciplines. The pay is relatively high, such that a successful developer may in fact be able to cut back to half-time and still pay the rent. Things may be really tight of course, but not impossible. For many of these folks, continuing their computer programming work AND becoming a part-time associate pastor/elder/church planter/whatever is something that is actually feasible. The same is less likely to be true for school teachers, bankers, hotel managers, construction works - you name it. For them, attending seminary or changing jobs involves greater risk and uncertainty.

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The linkage between information technology, broadly speaking, and the clergy predates the computer revolution of the 20th century.

In medieval Europe, the great majority of people who could read and write were members of the clergy. Tasks that required literacy were commonly delegated to them. To this day, a task that involves routine handling of information is called "clerical work".

Since this was before Gutenberg, the only practical way to make another copy of the Bible was painstakingly, one letter at a time, a task that took several years worth of labor. It's a stretch to call this "IT", but it's what was available.

Once Gutenberg and movable type made it practical to produce Bibles in much larger numbers, literacy became much more widespread. Translations to modern languages, like German and English were made as well. After a few centuries, there was almost one bible in every household instead of one in every county.

Literacy was still generally taught so that people could read the Bible. Harvard university was initially started as a Bible school. And Bible interpretation was still the province of a professional pastor, except in a few radical denominations.

Ben Franklin was, by profession, a prominent printer. As part of his public service, he devoted quite a bit of time to setting up the Post Office and the public library. This is the beginnings of a systematic treatment of public information. And one thing he did throughout most of his adult life was to support a local pastor, even though he didn't think it necessary to listen to the sermons. Franklin never became a pastor, but in his youth he helped for a philosophical discussion society, the Junto, that could have become the basis for a new way of belief.

So what I'm trying to suggest is that pastors and IT professionals are both in the same larger field, one that I'll call the "knowledge profession". I think this favors movement in both directions, due to both predilection and opportunity.

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