When friends or family have asked about this new doctoral program that I started this year, I have explained it all to them again and again. And as I describe it to other people, I realize again: if I were going to make up a DMin program that fits for me and my interests, this is it! People constantly say things to me like, “yea, that sounds exactly like your kind of program.”
Looking back, I have been pleasantly surprised to see how my DMin work has fit into the rest of my life. There have been some intense periods when it felt like everything was due at the same time or where there are more assignments than I had wanted to do, but in general it has become part of the flow of my week.
A year ago, I was so excited to get started with the program, but didn’t have any idea of what all it would entail. One area where I have had to grow and change is in my schedule and work habits. I was struggling to fit in all the new doctoral work with everything else that I had going on, and then I read Deep Work by Cal Newport which was incredibly helpful! One of the important changes for me this year was becoming more disciplined with my time and making space for doing “deep work” week by week.
One of the exciting parts of this program for me, is that it has led me to share about the books, topics and ideas that we talk about with my church. I am becoming more confident about bringing a more “global perspective” to my congregation, in our programing and my preaching, which has been one of my goals throughout.
The base for our learning has been our ongoing interaction with Jason Clark, the Lead mentor, especially through our readings, blog posts and weekly Zoom video chats. Unlike a research PhD, where you might just go get lost in the library stacks, our journey has been really curated by Jason with the readings we have done.
If my dissertation topic is a narrowly defined stream, then the readings we are doing help form the larger river around it. Some of the readings relate directly and will become a source in my own writing, while others simply spark connections or help mark out the contours through which my dissertation may run.
One of the truly unique, exciting and important parts of our program is the international Advances we take together. Since this is meant to be a practical degree, one that will bring scholarship and ministry together, taking these “in the field” excursions is a key. For me, being in South Africa last Fall was the perfect opening to our program.
Doing “contextual learning” is similar to “contextual leadership”, in that, in both cases what you are studying or how you are leading relates directly to the real history, culture, people, and place where you are. This helps to bridge the academic side of our program with the leadership and ministry outcomes. Having that “on the ground” experience in South Africa, gives insights into my own setting in the Bay Area of California, even though it is different. Sometimes it takes the kind of dis-orientation of being in a new setting, to offer a re-orientation to one’s own home.
The reflective practices we have done, such as the PLDP, have also been important this year. With an academic degree like this one, especially with a distance-learning model, it can be easy to let everything stay in my head, and never let it move into my heart. As we are being formed ultimately for Christian ministries, as well as for our own lives, there is real benefit in including “matters of the heart” within the program.
It is an unusual gift for me to be given an “assignment” that includes the kind of self-reflection and intentional time to consider my own life. This is a part of the program that was a surprise to me, but has also been a joy. Being on a learning journey that includes head, heart, and practical skills makes this the integrative, whole-life experience that I have been seeking. I look forward to all that is still ahead!