I have been on the receiving end of really heart warming encouragement since I wrote about my decision to withdraw from my PhD program and divert my attention to a more ministry-oriented program like the Doctor of Ministry (DMin). You can find out more about that here.
To be honest, I think I’m still processing the grief and sense of loss. And a lot of that was helpfully brought up when I was chatting with a friend who recently became a mother and is wrestling with very similar questions and emotions. Doing a PhD was always a bit of a dream of mine. I love the idea of doing careful research and producing something that will be helpful for the church.
Yet I am also at the same time really excited about this new start. Human emotions are so complicated. It is almost impossible to reduce how we’re feeling into exact words. Perhaps that’s why poetry is so powerful. It communicates in words, rhyme, imagery, rhythm, and the like.
Why say “loss” and “hope” when you can say:
Nature’s first green is gold,Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
In any case, what often follows from warm encouragement are questions like “so why did you choose to do a DMin?” and “why did you choose Talbot?”
These are really good questions – questions that I’ve personally wrestled with extensively before making the decision. So I thought I’d write a short series of articles to explain my thought process. This may help you as you perhaps ask similar questions. And this will give a little more insight for my dear supporters who have been incredibly generous in giving to make my studies possible.
A Program For Pastors
So the first reason for why I’ve chosen a DMin is that it is a study program for pastors.
That seems fairly self-explanatory. After all, why would seminaries or theological colleges offer programs other than those which train and equip pastors?
Well, that is because most seminaries and theological colleges have a vision to train multiple groups of people. These include lay leaders who want to be better equipped to serve as preachers, small group leaders, and elders. It includes the curious Christian who wants to know more about the Bible, theology, and church history. It also includes theological professors in training. And of course, it includes future pastors.
This expansive vision is not a bad thing. In fact, it is really good – though schools need to continue being careful about vision drift. But it also means that seminaries and theological colleges offer a wide range of programs that target a specific group, life stage, and desired ministry outcome.
I completed a Master of Divinity (MDiv) which is a classic ministers training degree. But in the process, I also chipped away at a Graduate Diploma of Divinity (GradDipDiv), Graduate Certificate of Divinity (GradCertDiv), and Master of Theological Studies (MThSt). Each of these are based on careful study of the Bible and theology. But each have a specific target audience in mind.
For example, the GradDipDiv is usually aimed at lay leaders who want to dive a little deeper into the Bible and tend to slowly work on their degrees through night class. The GradCertDiv is aimed at those who want to do that but for a shorter amount of time. And the Master of Theological Studies is usually aimed at a similar group but who want to go a little further. Or, it is used by many in preparation for research studies (which is what I did).
The PhD also has a particular target audience in mind. Traditionally, it has been designed to train future professors. Some of these will include pastors who have a sense of calling for the academy. But it may include those who are academically inclined and want to serve the church by teaching, producing written material, and advancing scholarship in their respective fields.
I enrolled in the PhD with a bit of a dual purpose: firstly with a desire to grow in my knowledge and understanding of Scripture and secondly to prepare for the possibility of training and equipping future pastors (extending my work as a Ministry Director at church where I take on apprentices and interns).
But any good PhD program will be academically rigorous because that’s what it is doing – preparing people for the academy.
This was my challenge – I really enjoyed academic work but I loved the church. I love my calling as a pastor. I loved the work of pastoring. And I couldn’t do both well at the same time.
And so this is why the DMin made more sense than the PhD. One prepares you for the academy – the PhD. The other prepares you to better serve in the church – the DMin.
There is a sharp aim and focus in its outcomes. And that’s what I really wanted and needed.
But notice that I described this as a “program”. And this is not just because it literally is a program of academic study. Significantly, it is also because DMins are intentionally designed to help you think integratively and holistically about pastoral ministry.
The truth is, I can continue my aim of growing and learning by just reading really good books. It is cheaper, there is more variety, and access today is almost unlimited. But a program enables me to be more disciplined, it’ll push me to engage with ideas and read things that I’m not naturally inclined to, it’ll force me to articulate my thoughts and understanding under the supervision of advanced mentors (by way of regular essays and a final dissertation), and it’ll push me in ways that I may not push myself.
And that’s the first reason.
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