Dr. Haste talking with student outside

5 Reasons Why Pastors Should Consider Pursuing a Doctor of Ministry

Matthew D. Haste — July 8, 2024

At the close of each academic year, the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention confer degrees upon hundreds of graduates, including dozens who receive a Doctor of Ministry. Most of these DMin graduates will take their new diploma home, perhaps hang it on an office wall, and then get back to work doing the same ministry they were doing at the beginning of their program. If that is the case, you might wonder what a Doctor of Ministry is designed to accomplish. Though seminaries have been awarding this degree for over fifty years, the purpose of the DMin is not as well-established as other degrees.

In fact, when the Doctor of Ministry first became popular in American seminaries, a leading scholar questioned the legitimacy of the degree and expressed concern over the “D-Min-ization of the ministry.”[1] David Wells should be commended for both his memorable quip and his cogent critique of various poor reasons to pursue the degree. I heartily agree with Dr. Wells that no one should seek a DMin to attain professional status, to alleviate a sense of inferiority among others, or to chart an easier path to obtaining a doctoral title.

If your motivation for pursuing a DMin sounds like that list, I would encourage you to stop reading this article and get back to the work of ministry. But might a DMin help increase your capacity for that work? Could a professional doctoral degree strengthen areas of weakness or deepen your theological understanding in ways that might make you a better pastor? I believe it can. As someone who works closely with DMin students at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I want to offer several reasons why pastors could benefit from pursuing a Doctor of Ministry.

First, it may be helpful to clarify the formal purpose of the degree. The DMin is an advanced professional degree designed for pastors and ministry leaders who want to build upon the foundational training of their master’s program and the accumulated wisdom of their own ministry experience. It was originally introduced as a means of serving churches by offering clergy the opportunity for continuing education. A typical DMin program will include coursework in an area of specialization as well as a capstone project that applies academic research to the student’s ministry context. Such programs are designed for part-time study alongside ongoing ministry responsibilities and can typically be completed in around three years.

So why should you consider pursuing a Doctor of Ministry? Here are five benefits I have observed in the lives of my students.

1. To expand your practical expertise for the sake of more effective ministry

The term professional has both positive and negative connotations. No, brothers, we pastors are not professionals, but thoughtful attention to the practical challenges of ministry can be used by God to produce a more effective pastor. Training and secularization are not synonymous. That is why John Piper closed his excellent book about the dangers of professionalism in ministry with an exhortation to pray for faithful seminaries.[2] The antidote to professionalization is not the absence of training, but better training aimed at equipping ministers to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15) in the power of the Spirit. A well-designed DMin program should deepen your theological convictions and expand your competency, while reinforcing the importance of depending upon God “who gives the growth” to your ministry (1 Cor 3:7). This development takes place through both the coursework and your interactions with fellow ministry practitioners, who are often facing similar challenges in their own ministries.  

2. To address a local ministry problem with extensive research and reflection

Imagine applying the work of several years of supervised research toward a particular problem in your church. That is what most DMin students do in their capstone project. The goal is theological integration combined with contextualized application. At SBTS, our students begin their projects in their first month of the three-year program by answering a simple question: What needs to change in your ministry context? That answer is then expanded over several years through extensive research into the biblical and theological foundations of the issue, exploration of relevant historical and practical considerations, and the formal implementation and evaluation of a particular ministry initiative. Students are strengthened in the work of ministry and churches are the beneficiaries, as their research is applied to their own ministry context.

3. To grow in knowledge in order to better train others

Some DMin students are motivated by a sense of stewardship in service to others. They recognize that God has given them an opportunity to train others toward effective ministry and they want to be faithful to that opportunity. This reality explains why many graduates will happily continue serving in the same church after completing their program. They did not pursue the degree to advance in their career, but to make the most of their calling. This motivation is appropriate for a professional doctoral program and distinguishes the degree from a master’s program. In a master’s course, you learn how to preach and counsel and make disciples. In a doctoral seminar, you increase your knowledge so that you are better equipped to train others in such tasks.

4. To specialize in a particular area of study

A DMin can provide a way to “continue in what you have learned” (2 Tim 3:14) in a way that strengthens your convictions and helps you prepare for new challenges. A typical DMin program will provide an opportunity to choose a specific concentration or track as the focus of your coursework. For many students, this specialization is informed by either a perceived lack in their previous training (think of the pastor who wants to counsel more faithfully, but had only one counseling course in his master’s degree) or the recognition that a particular task (i.e., preaching) is so central to their ministry that they want to learn everything they can about it. In either case, a series of seminars taught by expert practitioners can be a helpful tool in continuing to grow as a pastor and leader.

5. To become a more effective communicator

This specific aspiration is rarely at the top of the list for incoming students, but I have talked to many graduates who have mentioned it as one of the unexpected blessings of their program. A doctoral degree will require a great deal of writing. Along the way, you will learn better ways to craft a clear and compelling argument. The extensive feedback you receive from your faculty supervisor will often bear fruit in other areas of communication. A student recently shared with me that someone in his church had commented that his preaching had improved since he started his DMin. This is an ancillary benefit to the extensive reading and writing that you will do in a doctoral program, but it is another practical way that your degree can benefit others.

A Doctor of Ministry is by no means necessary for faithful ministry, but it can be a helpful tool. There are bad reasons to pursue any degree, but that should not stop thoughtful pastors from pursuing additional training that could strengthen them in their labors. If you sense the Lord may be preparing you for further studies beyond your master’s, you can learn more about the doctoral programs at Southern at https://www.sbts.edu/doctoral/.

[1] David F. Wells, “The D-Min-ization of the Ministry,” in No God but God, ed. Os Guiness and John Seel (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 175–88.

[2] John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 261–66.

Matthew D. Haste is Director of Professional Doctoral Studies and an Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an elder in his local church and has pastored churches in Kentucky and South Carolina.

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