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Confessions of a Small Church Pastor

Thinking About a DMin Program? Ask Yourself 5 Questions


If you have a Master of Divinity degree, you might be thinking about taking the next step academically — obtaining a doctoral level degree.  If so, I’d recommend you check into a Doctor of Ministry program, a practical theology degree rooted in the practice of ministry.  One advantage to DMin programs is they are designed around a working pastor’s life and do not require full-time residential study like PhD programs, so you can stay in your current ministry field while completing your degree.  As a matter of fact, most DMin programs require that you have 2-3 years ministry experience before entering a program.  If you don’t have an MDiv, Some programs will let you combine your Master’s level work and DMin work in a longer program.

While they do offer flexibility, DMin programs are not without their challenges.  Ask yourself these 5 questions if you think you want to get your Doctor of Ministry degree:

  1. Do I have time? Fuller Seminary (where I am pursuing my DMin) estimates that DMin candidates need 15-20 hours a week to devote to reading and study before and after each seminar.  I’m getting ready for my final seminar now (yay!), and I have been reading almost non-stop since November, 2009.  Reading takes time, and some days my schedule doesn’t allow it.  Fuller requires 4,500 pages of reading for a 12-hour course, and 3,000 for an 8-hour course.  I’m doing 8, but that’s still 12 complete books and 2-page book reviews of each.
  2. Will my church support me? Most DMin applications will require church approval because DMin work is done in the local church setting.  The benefits are that a DMin program makes you a better pastor, and provides the church with the latest thinking in your chosen field of study.  The downside is that it will take some of your time, and you need church support to be able to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m writing a paper tomorrow.”  My church has been very gracious and supportive since I began my DMin in 2006.
  3. Can I commit 4-7 years to the process? Fuller allows a total of 7 years to complete the degree, but it could be finished in 3-4 years, including the final project.  Changing churches in the middle of the program is not unheard of, but may interrupt your academic schedule.  I took a year off the program while we were building the community center here because I didn’t have extra time to devote to both.  I’m still on-track to finish early, but not by much.
  4. Do I want an accredited degree or just the title? A wide variety of programs exist under the DMin banner.  Some are accredited by real accrediting agencies, some are not.  Some require little more than light reading, a short paper, and a big check to grant a degree.  You have to decide if you want to be called “Doctor” more than you want to learn.  Resume’ inflation doesn’t happen just in the business world.
  5. What criteria will I use to select a DMin program? When I selected Fuller, I did so because Fuller offered the option of individualized learning tracks, and I liked the schedule of 2 weeks on campus each year.  Some DMin programs meet more frequently, some are designed for commuting students, and some can be partially completed by distance learning.   However, some programs are pre-defined so that all DMin students take the same courses.  You’ll have to decide what you want to study, where you want to enroll, and what schedule you need.  Of course, there’s also the little detail of paying for it, too.

I am delighted with my DMin program at Fuller and would recommend their program to anyone interested in this degree.  But, other fine programs exist that might suit your needs better.  A DMin program requires commitment on the part of church and pastor, enough time to do the work and complete the program, and careful scheduling of courses.  Are any of you considering a DMin, and if so, what decision-making process did you go through?  I’d love to hear from you!

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4 replies

  1. Chuck,
    I like this post. I finished my D.Min at Asbury and it took five years. I did the distance learning track, like you, and it worked fine. I agree with all five of your suggestions.

    Blessings on your journey!

  2. Several years ago I considered doing a DMin but a pastor friend of mine suggested it would be merely for “window dressing” (what you call “resume inflation”). That is certainly not true for everyone or every DMin program. However, as I went through a process of discernment similar to the one you outline here, I realized what I really wanted was not a practically oriented DMin but a research oriented PhD. I left my ministry, moved my family across the country, and began graduate studies at a reputable institution, not knowing how it would all work out. It has been a long, difficult, and exciting journey, but I’m almost done now. I know what I’ve done is not for everyone, but I’m glad I chose the path I did.

  3. Interested in the DMIn programm.
    I am an international student.

  4. Thanks for sharing Chuck. I am currently looking at enrolling in the Fuller DMIN program. Your insights are very encouraging.

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