"Should I pursue a doctoral degree?"
This is a question a few of my friends have been wrestling with recently. Maybe you have wrestled with the same thing. Perhaps, you earned your MDiv or another seminary degree years ago, and now are thinking about the benefits of pursuing a doctoral degree of some kind. I think this is a good thing to wrestle with.
While I believe pursuing a doctorate can be very beneficial for some, I am not convinced it is the best move for everyone. In light of this, let me offer 11 questions to ask, think, and pray through before applying for a doctoral program.
1. Where is your heart? Why are you pursuing a doctoral degree? What is your motive...really? Am I doing this for the Lord and His glory? If your heart is not in the right place right now, wait until it is...it will be a much more beneficial, God-honoring experience.
2. Are you pursuing this degree for the "title"? Sadly, some believe that if they can simply get the title of "Dr.", somehow this will translate into greater influence in life and ministry. It doesn't. Nor should it. Godly character and humble, loving, servant-leadership is what Jesus calls us to in His church. A title that comes from earning a degree has nothing to do with these things. The greatest leaders I know may have numerous degrees, but they would never let you know it. They lead with love and integrity, not a title.
3. How will this degree help you better serve others? This is an important question to think about. Higher education is a gift and privilege. How will pursuing a doctoral degree better equip you to serve Christ and others?
4. Do you have the time for this? Looking at everything that is on your plate, do you have time to actually do this? Do you have the margin to actually attend classes and follow through on the assignments and work load required for this degree?
5. Do you have the discipline to finish what you start? Pursuing any doctoral degree takes a ton of work and persistence. Many people start doctoral degrees but never finish. It is only wise to consider how motivated you are and whether or not you can see this through to the end.
6. What does your family think? There is much sacrifice involved in pursing a doctorate. Sacrifice of time and energy spent apart from your family. Consider the season of life your family is in. Can you be a great spouse and parent while pursuing this degree? Don't forget that your #1 ministry is your family. What do they think? How do they feel about this?
7. How are you going to pay for this? Doctoral degrees are not cheap (at least if you plan on attending a strong academic institution). You need to think through how you will pay for this. Can your family afford it? Is your church or denomination able to help? Are there scholarships available? If you must take out loans, how can you do so wisely?
8. How does your church feel about this? If you are a pastor on staff at a church (or even if you aren't), how do the other leaders in your church feel about this? Have you asked them for counsel? Do your pastors/elders feel this would be a good investment of time and energy for you in this season? That it is a strategic way to invest in your growth as a leader? Know this, if you pursue a degree, others on your church staff will be making a sacrifice too. Make sure it is one they are willing to make with joy. Bottom line: If your church is not on board, now might not be the right time to pursue a doctorate.
9. Do you enjoy reading and writing? Here's the deal, in a doctoral program, this is what you do: You read and you write, and then, you read and write some more. Seriously, even if you have graduated from seminary, the amount of reading and writing in most doctoral programs is another level. And it should be! You must be motivated and able to read and write...alot.
10. Is pursuing a DMin or PhD a better way to go? This is a very important question to consider in light of your wiring and what you feel called to do with your life. While not a hard, fast rule, the DMin degree is primarily designed as a practical theology degree to better equip those who are called to pastoral ministry in a local church context. A PhD, on the other hand, is typically designed for those who feel called to the world of academia, teaching full-time at the college or graduate level.
Hear this: the issue when it comes to a DMin vs. PhD is not which degree is better, the issue is which degree is a better fit for you? They are simply two different degrees. Each has a different purpose and focus. If you desire to one day teach full-time in some arena of higher education, you definitely want to pursue a PhD. If you desire to serve and lead primarily in a local church, a DMin is usually the best way to go...though again, there are exceptions. A DMin will often allow you to serve as an adjunct professor, if teaching a class here or there is a desire of yours, but most institutions require a PhD (or its equivalent) for full-time faculty.
11. Which school should you choose? Let me shoot straight: Not all doctoral degrees are created equal. Heck, I recently heard that for $500 you can "buy" a PhD online! I'm actually not kidding. Putting that option on hold for a moment, I'm assuming you fall into the camp of desiring to pursue a "real" degree from a "real" institution? In doing this, you will quickly observe that there are all kinds of different programs out there. Be wise in this...some doctoral programs simply aren't as challenging and beneficial as others. If all you want is the title of "doctor" than sure, take the easy road and find a degree you can get quickly. But I doubt if you are reading this post that this is you. You want to be stretched! You want to grow and become the most effective leader you can be for the sake of the Kingdom. If this is true, do the hard work of researching different programs. Talk with those who have graduated from different institutions. Read up on the different academic expectations each school and program requires.
Pursuing a doctoral degree is a big deal. It isn't for everyone but it is for some. Be thoughtful and prayerful about this. Spend some time wrestling with the questions above. If the Lord does indeed lead you to pursue a doctorate, remember, this is going to be your last degree (let's hope!), so do it right. Go all out! Don't settle on an institution that won't challenge you and stretch you. Trust God, work hard, and grow for His glory and the good of His Church.