Tag: theological education

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!

Seminarians Opt Out of Church and What We Can Do To Change That

“Students don’t want to serve in the local church when they graduate; they want to do something more exciting.”Southern Baptist seminary administrator

A prominent seminary administrator made that comment to me several weeks ago.  I’ve been rolling it around in my head since then, disturbed and challenged by its implications.  If his comment had been the first I had heard, I might not be so concerned.  But several months ago, another seminary leader expressed the same sentiment — seminary students are not planning to serve local churches.

Of course, this might be their perception because they did not conduct a scientific survey.  But, let’s assume it’s true — that seminary students see themselves serving in more exciting settings than the local church.  If that is the case, then we have some serious work to do.

First, those of us in local churches have to ask ourselves, What signals are we sending that turn off seminarians? Some answers come to mind very quickly:

  • churches can be slow to change;
  • established congregations are typically older and certainly not cool;
  • most churches are single staff settings;
  • pastoral ministry isn’t viewed as cutting edge;
  • most church programs are inward-focused; and
  • denominational politics turns young adults off.

Those are the answers that popped in my head immediately.  I’m sure you and I could think of more if we really tried.

Second, the more pressing question is, How can we help seminarians in their quest for meaningful ministry? Here the answers come more slowly, but I have a few thoughts:

  • Embrace the age of change. I’ve written before that church as we know it is going to change dramatically and soon.  Those of us in churches need to recognize that trend and dialogue with seminarians about where they see church heading. After all, whatever future the church has is in their hands.
  • Underwrite experiments in ministry. Most of us in mid-life are not going to start a coffee shop church, or an arts enclave, or a neomonastic order.  But seminarians might, and they could try out those ideas under the sponsorship of existing churches who have the funds and resources to help make those ministry experiments happen.
  • Participate in reverse-mentoring. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, had all his senior management reverse-mentored by younger employees.  The younger employees understood the value of the internet, mobile computing, and social networking and Welch wanted his senior managers to learn from them.  Churches and current church leaders need to do the same.  Seminaries could create space for reverse-mentoring workshops where local church pastors and denominational leaders could sit and listen and learn from the emerging generation of church leaders.
  • Provide seminarians opportunities for service. Seminarians need hands-on opportunities to minister at the local church level.  Most seminaries require field work, but I’m talking about a real position with real ministry responsibility.  The Lilly Endowment has offered grants for new seminary graduates to work full-time in a local church setting. While this is an encouraging approach, too few grants are available.  Churches and seminaries could figure out how to do this in a way that gives seminarians good church experiences, allowing them room for innovation in their area of responsibility.

Churches of all denominations are facing three converging crises — clergy shortage, declining church attendance, and aging congregations.  No wonder the current crop of seminary students wants to work any place but the local church.  Time will tell if current church leaders will engage with this new generation of church leaders to forge new expressions of church ministry.  That would be exciting.

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