Thursday, August 5, 2010

Piled Higher and Deeper

As I contemplate an undesired but likely shift in my employment status in the near term future, I find myself strongly considering something that I've not considered before. That option is a return to school. After seven years in the ministry, I'm at more or less the right point in my pastorly life when a doctorate would be something to think about. It makes a ton of sense from a career perspective. Congregations in my neck of the woods expect advanced degrees, mostly 'cause pretty much everyone in this hifalutin' area has an advanced degree. And my Masters of Divinity doesn't really count. That's the baseline. If I want to have a whisker of a chance of serving a church after the last grain of sand drops through the hourglass here at Trinity, I'm going to need to hit the books again.

While it's both necessary and practical to be thinking about that now, I do struggle a bit with the purpose of it. Having done the pastor thing for a while now, my sense is that a traditional academic Ph.D. is almost utterly pointless if congregational ministry is your calling. The specialization required for a classical academic doctorate seems to provide exactly the opposite of what most congregations actually require.

Pastors are, by necessity, generalists. That's particularly true for ministers who serve little struggling churches like mine. I not only preach and teach and counsel. I need to be on top of church finances. I need to have a good working knowledge of building issues, up to and including knowing how to use a drill and circular saw, and being comfortable mucking out downspouts on a high roof.

But the need to be a generalist isn't just for the teensy churches. Even the Big Parking Lot pastor needs to have a broad range of well-developed skills. Yeah, they need a golden tongue, and they need the ability to convey the message of the Gospel. But they also need to be able to lead effectively. They have to understand congregational and programmatic dynamics. A big church pastor who preaches real good but fails to grasp the intricacies of their church...well...they'll fail.

This has lead me to think that perhaps, perhaps, a D.Min. actually makes sense. The D.Min. is a degree that gets no respect. I've heard it mocked as a degree for folks who lack the academic chops to get a real doctorate. It's a lame degree for church careerists. isn't. As I look into some of the D.Min. offerings at nearby institutions, I find myself seeing some real possibilities for it strengthening my ability to meet the day-to-day needs of a community of faith. Honestly, that feels more relevant to my calling than a traditional Ph.D.

Whichever way, I find myself surprised that having resisted the concept for a while, it suddenly seems both relevant and desirable.