What is a Doctor of Ministry?

What is a doctor? For some, a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) first comes to mind – a person with training and expertise in healing and health. For others it may bring to mind a teacher or scholar, or one skilled in an art or craft (see Oxford English Dictionary definitions and etymology). We generally understand a doctor to be the highest level of expertise in one’s field.

Professional versus academic doctorates

Many seminaries, including George Fox, offer a “Doctor of Ministry” degree.

What exactly is this degree, and how does it fit in relation to other academic and professional doctorates? Most professional doctoral degrees suffer somewhat in comparison to the PhD, the most prestigious of academic degrees. This may be an unfair comparison, as they are two different things. The PhD is research doctoral rather than a professional doctorate as with degrees such as the DMin, EdD, PsyD, and DBA. Both degree types differ from one another in purpose and scope.

stethoscope on open book on a white background
Photo Credit: Dr. Farouk via Flickr

M.D. vs PhD, an analogy from medicine

A comparison from outside of ministry and theology may help clarify this. In the field of medical science there are two sides to the discipline. On one side is the research scientist possessing a PhD and doing research in the lab–studying science, advancing the discipline, and developing more effective treatments. On the other side is the M.D. in the clinic whose expertise is in diagnosis and treatment, applying the research scientist’s findings with patients. Both are scientists, both with expertise.

If I suspect that I have symptoms of a medical issue, I don’t go to the scientist in the lab for help; I go to the M.D. in the clinic.

The relationship between the researcher and the practitioner is mutually supportive.The M.D. depends on the PhD for the best research and latest treatments and needs to be conversant with that world in order to prescribe an effective treatment plan for the patient. But we don’t expect the the M.D. to have the research skills to develop his or her own medicines. Nor do we expect the research scientist to have the same experience and skill set for diagnosis and treatment of ailments with patients. They need one another.

Doctor of the church

I suggest that the Doctor of Ministry compares better to the M.D. in the clinic than it does to the PhD in the lab. The M.D. is a scientist and a researcher, certainly, but with a view toward application of the science to promote patient healing and health–a practitioner-scholar. The M.D. may conduct tests with the patient – blood work, x-rays, etc. – but the purpose is not simply to better understand the disease. The focus is on diagnosis, treatment, and the overall well-being of the patient. The medical doctor is engaged in the practice of medicine.

The Doctor of Ministry (DMin) is likewise concerned with the practice of ministry. The church in its various manifestations is the patient. The Doctor of Ministry is in a practical sense a “doctor of the church,” whose concern is with drawing from the best research and scholarship for diagnosis and treatment, for the health and well-being of the church. A Doctor of Ministry is a practitioner-scholar rather than research scholar. But, a scholar nonetheless.

Frequently, ministry professionals may leap too quickly to solutions before truly understanding the problem. Correct diagnoses are essential. A DMin is intended to provide ministry professionals with a set of skills in application-oriented research. These skills will enable him or her to critically assess and diagnose ministry problems, then create solutions uniquely designed for that ministry and its context, rather than simply borrowing a solution from someone else.

In light of the challenges to the health and vitality of the church in today’s world, we definitely need some good doctors in the house!

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