Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership

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Program Snapshot

70 Credit Hours
4 Years to Complete
Modular Learn more

The church deserves the very best leaders.

The Ph.D. in Leadership is a multidisciplinary degree designed to shape students as confessional scholars in the following primary areas: communication and pedagogy, organizational philosophy and strategy, and theology and human development. This degree is for leaders and educators in ministry, higher education, Christian schooling, and educational administration.

Modular format – relocation to Louisville not required.

Students will complete this program with trips to campus twice each year for doctoral seminars. Each seminar session will last two weeks. Travel to campus only required during the Ph.D. coursework stage.

Advance your education. Grow in your love for God.

Students choose from two possible concentrations: Organizational Leadership or Educational Leadership.

Phd Student Stage
Course Number Description Credit Hours
81020 Graduate Research Seminar 2
81260 Foundations for Theological Studies 2
81270 Course Development and Design 2
81300 Higher Education 2
8 Seminars 32
4 Colloquia 4
Prospectus Development 1-4 4
96800 Empirical Research Methods 4
Comprehensive Exams 2
Total 54
Phd Candidate Stage
Course Number Description Credit Hours
81910 Dissertation Writing & Defense 16
Total 16

Total Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership: 70


All Leadership students complete 6 Leadership Core Seminars, 2 seminars in a particular Leadership Concentration (either Organizational Leadership or Educational Leadership), 4 Leadership Colloquia, Prospectus Development 1-4, and Empirical Research Methods.

91090 Leadership Character and DevelopmentExplores the theory and practice of leadership development. Engages the spiritual and personal life of the leader, including themes related to leader character and sanctification.
92500 Philosophy for Leadership and DiscipleshipAn engagement with significant philosophical models and issues germane to the scholarship and practice of educational leadership and redemptive formation.
95300 Theological Analysis of Educational AssumptionsAn investigation of the theological presuppositions that inform the education and leadership assumptions of ministry praxis.. Students will articulate and evaluate their working philosophy of ministry in light of biblical theology and systematic theology.
95700 Biblical and Theological Foundations for LeadershipStudents examine leadership theory from a biblical worldview perspective by critically examining the theological assumptions that underlie various models of leadership. Examines theological themes that directly impact leadership practice. Builds a theological foundation for the practice of leadership.
96300 Organizational Theory and DevelopmentExplores psychological and developmental underpinnings of organizations. Presents classical and contemporary theories and principles of organizational development. Students gain skills in the analysis of organizational culture, communication processes and staff training.
97000 Theological Anthropology and Human DevelopmentA study of classical and contemporary perspectives on image bearing, human nature, human constitution, sex/gender, the body-soul relationship, human agency and the freedom of the will, sin and its destructive dimensions, and human embodiment. A particular focus will be the systematic and practical theology of holistic embodied existence from conception through eternity.

Organizational Leadership Concentration Seminars:

93610 Communication and Team DynamicsA study of team/group dynamics theories and their application to organizational leadership. Issues of team leadership and team effectiveness are explored. Examines theory and practice of professional communication in organizations and its impact on team process.
96400 Change and Conflict in LeadershipAn analysis of the change process, the role of power and authority in the development of change and conflict, and approaches to conflict management.

Educational Leadership Concentration Seminars:

93420 Curriculum Theory and DesignAn exploration of the major curriculum developments in Christian education including a review of historical trends, the design of curriculum frameworks and teaching-learning sessions, course redesign, instructional planning and design, and the supervision, design, and critique of curricula. This course is designed to be highly interactive in exploring principles and practices of curriculum theory and design in the local church and Christian higher education.
95600 Teaching and Learning: Theory and PracticeAn analysis of learning theory and contemporary models of teaching with an emphasis on instructional techniques used in higher education.

Students can be supervised by the following faculty:

Justin A. Irving

Professor of Leadership

Timothy Paul Jones

C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry

John David Trentham

Associate Professor of Leadership and Discipleship

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctoral students signing during graduation

No. The Ph.D. in Leadership is available in a modular format, requiring two trips each academic year to Louisville for doctoral seminars. Students should plan for each campus session to last two weeks.

Winter seminars are typically held during the last week of November and the first week of December. Summer seminars are typically held during the second & third week of May each year.

Refer to the academic calendar for current year seminar dates.

Applicants should have (or be on track to graduate with) a Masters of Divinity or its equivalent (72 credit hours minimum in specific disciplines). Alternatively, student may apply with a Master of Arts in Leadership (at least 60 hours in specific disciplines).

If you do not have an M.Div. but you do have a M.A. or other masters-level divinity credit, you may submit a doctoral equivalency evaluation to the admissions office to find out if you qualify for SBTS PhD programs.*

A minimum master’s level cumulative grade point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale is expected.

For a complete listing of doctoral admissions requirements, see the “Admissions & Cost” tab.

*International transcripts must be evaluated by a NACES approved organization for both admissions consdiration and for equivalency requests.

During the application process you will indicate your preferred supervisor and be asked to describe your research interest but both can be subject to change until you are accepted and enrolled in the program.

During your faculty interview and during on-boarding to the program (if accepted) you will have the opportunity to discuss and receive advising on both your supervisor and your research topic.

Your final research area(s) will be determined in close consultation with and approval by your supervisor, this generally occurs during the coursework stage of your program.

Admissions for the Ph.D. program consists of:

Initial Application Submission

  • All required materials must be submitted to the Office of Admissions by the appropriate deadline (see “Admissions” tab for more information).

Entrance Exam and Interview

  • Students who are believed to have a reasonable possibility of acceptance are invited to participate in entrance exams and faculty interviews.
  • Exams and interviews are held remotely via Zoom (travel to campus not required) once each month.
  • For more information on Entrance Exams, click here.

The Ph.D. program is structured for 48 months (4 years). Students who take longer than four years will be assessed an additional $2,000 fee for each semester of extension beyond the four-year limit.

During the PhD student stage (coursework stage), students will complete eight seminars, usually five seminars in their major and three seminars that may be completed in any area.

Some concentrations, such as biblical studies, historical and theological studies, and philosophy and theological studies, will require four seminars in each of two separate areas. All students will take the four RDS general education courses, four colloquia, and four installments of Prospectus Development.

In addition, students must demonstrate proficiency in two research languages (for School of Theology concentrations) or research methodology courses (for Billy Graham School concentrations).


Admissions Prerequisites

To be considered for admission in our Ph.D. program we require the following for applications:

  • An M.Div. or its equivalent (72 credit hours minimum in specific disciplines) for most concentrations (exceptions are listed below):
    • For the PhD concentrations in Christian Apologetics, Christian Philosophy, Christian Ethics, Ethics and Public Theology, and Philosophy and Theological Studies, the 72 hours may consist of an M.A. or equivalent in the field (60 hours minimum in specific disciplines), with the addition of 12 credit hours in biblical languages
    • For the PhD concentrations in Christian Worship, Biblical Counseling and Practical Theology, Leadership, Missions, Evangelism, and World Religions, an M.A. or equivalent in the field (60 hours minimum in specific disciplines) may be acceptable.
  • If you do not have the required hours for your program of interest but you do have some masters-level divinity credit, you may submit a doctoral equivalency evaluation to the admissions office to find out if you qualify for SBTS PhD programs.
    • Students requiring additional coursework may attend Southern Seminary as a “Doctoral Leveling Student” online or on-campus.
  • A minimum master’s level cumulative grade point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale is expected.
  • International transcripts will require an official evaluation from a NACES approved organization (World Evaluation Services is preferred).

*For more information about our equivalency standards, leveling options, or to request an equivalency review based on your master’s level work, please email

Application Requirements

  • All applicants must receive a reference from the local church where they are a member. Family members may not complete this reference. If you are the pastor of your church, please select another church leader (associate pastor, elder, deacon, etc.) to complete the church recommendation. Recommendation forms are automatically emailed to references via our online application.
  • Two additional academic recommendations. We suggest that a professor or a business acquaintance who can speak to academic performance complete the 2 additional recommendations required for doctoral students.
  • Transcription from the educational institution or institutions that conferred any required degrees should be submitted to the Admissions Office. Contact the registrar or academic records office of your previous institution(s). They may e-mail the transcripts (directly or via 3rd party such as Parchment) to or mail copies to our physical address. Transcripts must come directly from schools either electronically or in sealed/unopened envelopes.
  • A graduate level research paper in the same field to which the applicant is applying must be submitted along with the application. You may upload this research paper directly onto the application.
  • $40 application fee – paid after application submission.

Application Deadlines

All application materials must be received by:

September 1 – Spring matriculation

March 1 – Fall matriculation

Entrance Exams and Interviews

Entrance Exams are exams designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their comprehension of the subject area in which they are applying and sometimes in related fields. Students will be notified soon after submitting all application components as to whether they are invited to participate in the entrance exam and interview.

Exams and interviews are held on one Friday each month and are administered remotely (travel to campus not required). Click here to learn more.

Ready to learn more?

Prospective doctoral students are invited to visit Southern Seminary.

Doctoral Visit Opportunities

Program Cost

$1,000 down payment, and remaining balance due equally over 48 months.*

Total CostMonthly Payment
Total cost for SBC students$27,670$555.62
Total cost for non-SBC students$39,140$794.58

*Program tuition shown is for the 2024-2025 academic year. Additional fees are subject to the current fee schedule.

Financial Aid

Southern Seminary does not offer fully-funded scholarships or grants for the PhD program. Limited financial aid may be available for students that meet certain criteria. Click here to view our financial aid page to learn more.

Close up of male student on campus


Contact Admissions

Phone: (502) 897-4200

Text: (502) 305-3554


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