Monday, October 29, 2007

Open Forum: Pursuing a D.Min

All posts are open to feedback and comments, but Open Forum posts explicitly ask for input from readership.

I think off and on about pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree.

Let me first say that this is not something that I would start tomorrow. My excuse used to be that I'm not far enough removed from academic life yet. By the time I was handed my M.Div, I had been in school for 20 years straight and had become quite tired of it. As it turns out, you need three years of ministry under your belt for eligibility, and that one's almost taken care of. Still, my new main reason is simply not feeling ready to take it on. I suppose that does tie in to how long I've been at this and how long I've been out of school.

Second, I want people to note that I specifically say D.Min and not Ph.D. I once had a dream of being an academic, but I don't think I'm cut out for that any more, if I ever really was. I like the D.Min route because it may be more applicable to my call and career path, and yet still leaves a door open to teach liturgy and homiletics, the emphasis and qualifications for which, I believe, are different than teaching other disciplines. A D.Min suggests a more practical and professional emphasis, which I like.

Finally, I'll go ahead and let you know that I've thought about areas of focus for a D.Min project before. I'd want to do something related either to preaching or being missional in a mainline context. So there.

Why do people pursue D.Mins, anyway? Well, that's the question. Here are the reasons I've come up with, though a few of them only raise more questions for me.

1. The title. Isn't that the main reason pastors pursue this degree? I suppose that "I want to learn more about ministry" could be the other main reason, but if you're already in a ministry position, you're already learning more about ministry...that is, unless you just hole yourself up in your office all day except for an hour on Sunday morning. The real main reason is the end result: being able to be called "Reverend Doctor" or just "Doctor." It commands a higher level of respect, denotes more years of rigorous study and deeper book knowledge. A lot of mainline denominations require that pastors have M.Divs, but you pursue a D.Min as something extra, explicitly so you can add that title to the front of your name.

2. The pay increase. This reason is more anecdotal for me, but I have to imagine that it's true in many places. I know of larger churches that require, explicitly or implicitly, their senior pastor to hold a D.Min. Given the size of the church and the degree level that applicants need to have, it's gonna pay well. If you hold a D.Min, isn't the expectation that a church should pay you more vs. just having an M.Div? If you hold a D.Min, larger churches with bigger budgets will open their doors to you. Smaller churches might pass, because they can't keep up with the pay level that your degree demands. Is there really a such thing as being overqualified to serve a particular church? How weird is that concept?

3. The books. The prospect of getting another degree is most exciting to me on the grounds that I'd get more books. Granted, I'd have to drop $200-300 a semester for them, but seriously, more books. Uh...that's all I can think of for this one.

4. Because I can, because it's there. I once remarked to Mrs. Jeff that I wanted to get my D.Min from Harvard Divinity School, just to say that I have a degree from Harvard. They probably wouldn't take me, but it'd be fun to say if they did. What I really wish is that Michigan had some sort of Ministry department so I could say that I have a Michigan degree, and sometimes I seriously consider applying to some generic Liberal Studies program or something just to do that besides. But anyway, I'd love the feeling of personal accomplishment that would come with getting a D.Min. It's there, it would be the next (and probably last) step of my academic journey, and I could if I wanted to. So why not?

Those are the answers I'd imagine people usually give for getting a D.Min. If one just really likes academic study, that could be added as #5. These reasons seem very self-centered, and understand that I don't mean "selfish," I mean "centered on the self." There could be reasons related to how it benefits parishioners and churches that I'm just not considering, and that's what the whole Open Forum concept is for. In the meantime, acquiring a title, earning more money and being considered by larger churches, and a sense of fulfillment are all reasons that focus on the person earning the degree. One could say that about any higher education pursuit, but a lot of careers at least require a Bachelor's and some a Master's. A lot people pursue those degrees because they need to if they want to fulfill career goals. It seems to me that people who pursue D.Mins have already fulfilled career goals: they're in ministry positions. Now they just want another degree.

I wonder, though, how a D.Min could benefit the people I serve. That, to me, would be the real point of getting one. What experience would I get back in the classroom that would augment what I'm doing right now? Perhaps it would serve as a labratory of sorts to help process what I do (which is actually how a lot of D.Min programs seem to be structured), but that's what Continuing Education opportunities are for, and they're much cheaper.

I don't mean to knock the D.Min or people who have or are pursuing one. I've already been clear that this is not off the table for me. "Because it's there" is my #1 reason...that and the books. But is that enough? I suppose that what can be taken away from the above ramblings is that I question getting a D.Min on ideological grounds. It'd be cool to earn one, but why else?