What is a Doctorate in Ministry Degree?
A doctorate is the opportunity to expand one’s horizons to the maximum and to do deep and original research in an area that one feels the need to explore. A doctorate in ministry takes this model and, hopefully, focuses the student toward some areas that will help the people of God glorify Him by helping Him accomplish His purpose. Therefore, doctorates in ministry can be the source of deep thinking and reflection on theological truths, of genuine rethinking of church ministry in new contexts and new configurations, and of an almost infinite amount of possibilities of practical ministry to the communities of faith and to the unreached world.
The process is not necessarily a long one. On the other hand, finding the answers to the questions could take a lifetime. Basically, each doctoral student begins with a few unanswered questions that they really would like to have answered or which they might want to investigate themselves to answer. The university works with the student from the very beginning to assist the student’s quest.
Usually, there are doctoral-level courses in research methods and procedures, as well as in the art and science of writing a dissertation. There are usually many, many opportunities to investigate literature resources (“expanding one’s horizons”) and to hear and share with experts inside and outside one’s normal circle of influence and experience. This is both enriching and challenging, and almost every doctoral student will find themselves asking more questions than ever.
Content courses given on a doctoral level are given with the intention of illuminating the students’ own investigations. A course on God’s mission in the world could influence a student’s perspective on the context of his/her ministry. The student could find that their previous assumptions were only valid from a narrow viewpoint and possibly, were quite incomplete. Yet, this too, is an invaluable part of the learning experience.
The most famous experience of a doctorate is the writing of the dissertation. Every doctoral graduate has a story of the seemingly impossible task of reducing their thousands of hours of study, investigation and application into a short, concise-but-thorough response to their ministry question. Untold hours of following investigative leads and writing about them, might have led into a “dead-end” – something that didn’t answer the question. It was important to check, nonetheless.
There are untold hours of checking and substantiating facts: a quote in one book might have led to another researcher or a significant update of material. Likewise, there are many hours of painstakingly precise writing, where the crafting of one single sentence might change the understanding of the question or alter the response by the reader. The dissertation itself is not intended to be left in a theological library; it is intended for a particular time and context, even if it touches universal truth. The effort of a doctorate of ministry dissertation is to be given as an offering to God and His people. It is always hoped that the questions that are answered make a significant difference, because this is not an investigation for the advancement of research but is a labor of love for the Church. If it does not help God’s people, it was not worth the sacrifice.
Almost thirty years ago, a missionary asked a lay church worker about their newly acquired ministry accreditation: “This new piece of paper changes nothing. Will you minister any differently than before?” The answer, of course, was, “No. It changes nothing.” And, truthfully, nothing changed in that church worker’s ministry for almost ten years. However, the worker himself was changed, and it was the Lord who guided the entire journey, starting from that early beginning.