Monday, November 11, 2013

Is There Still a Need for “Doctors of the Church”?

Mark Wingfield, associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, recently posted a blog challenging the assumption that a doctorate degree is always a good thing for pastors to have.  Wingfield presents a good case that not every ministry situation requires someone with a doctorate (Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Education, etc.) and that some churches may just be on an ego trip when they seek a minister with a doctorate.

If a church just wants someone with some initials after their name or a title, they can give the candidate a few dollars and point him or her to the internet. We all know that getting a certificate that says one is a “doctor” is different from earning a recognized doctorate degree in a field.  Pastor search committees really need to be asking potential pastors, “Are you a life long learner?”

Churches need ministers who are continuing to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually. A minister of the gospel faces new challenges regularly for which the best seminary education did not provide training.  A minister who does not continue to grow will become stagnant and incapable of dealing with the challenges that God sends his or her way.

Earning a doctorate is one way of improving one’s skills and insight as a minister.  Several years ago, someone suggested to me that someone who had received a doctor of ministry degree (a professional degree for ministry) should go back in twenty years and get another one!  I am not sure that my friend meant that literally.  I think he meant that learning was an ongoing process, so even if you have a professional degree, you should not stop learning. 

Ministers can continue to grow in a number of ways—intentional reading, participating in peer group or learning communities, sabbaticals, spiritual retreats, continuing education programs, leadership coaching, and degree programs.  Whether the growth leads to a new academic degree is not as important as the desire to continue to grow, learn, and serve as a competent minister of the gospel.

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