Friday, May 09, 2008

Ministerial Students, Calling, and PhD Studies

Every year, I meet with a number of seminary students who are interested in pursuing PhD studies. Usually, the first question I ask them is: "Why? Why do you believe that doctoral studies are part of God's calling for you?" And the most frequent answer falls into a pattern that I have seen at the three seminaries where I have been privileged to work.

You see, most (male) students come to pursue an MDiv degree because they believe that God has called them to ministry in the context of the local church. Most frequently, that has some connection to preaching, teaching, administering the sacraments, praying, leading, and counseling--the basic functions of either a senior, solo, or staff pastors.

Many come to seminary with a very romantic view of the ministry--having grown up in churches, many of which were strong and stable, it appeared that the senior pastor's life offered security and significance. In addition, these students may have had someone who impacted their lives in a profound way: perhaps a youth minister, campus minister, or senior minister who took time with them and discipled them in the basic practices of the Christian faith. In a response of romance, gratitude, and epiphany, these students come to seminary desiring to be used by God in a similar way.

Until they get to seminary. And then they discover several things: one is that seminary can be difficult. They struggle with Greek and Hebrew; they find that their wives and children serve as sanctifying agents in ways they hadn't before (amazing what an 800 sq. ft. on-campus apartment can do); God begins to peel back their hearts in ways that had never happened before. Their wives may go through a period of questioning them--why did you lead us away from Egypt (or Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Los Angeles, or wherever) to bring us to the wilderness?

Another is that ministry can be difficult. Through field education, as these students begin to spend time as interns or directors of ministries in the context of the local church, they see the other side of ministerial life: the grace-filled thorns that the Apostle Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12. They are exposed to infighting among ruling elders or among church staff members; they engage in the less glamorous parts of ministry (one internship I had at a church led to hours spent in the church's tape room making copies of sermons for distribution to the congregation); they sometimes feel a bit ignored.

A final discovery is this reality: as one friend put it, that while they were the rising star at their local churches--the one surrendered to vocational ministry--when they come to seminary there are hundreds (at Covenant Seminary, 350 MDiv students) just like them. Suddenly, they don't feel so special any more, which can lead to profound doubts and questions about calling.

Suddenly, they begin to look at their seminary professors in a whole new light. They seem suave, secure, significant; they have time to read books and write learned essays; they control the classroom and have no one to say them nay; their families seem protected, isolated from churchly toil, struggle, and infighting--plus, the seminary profs get paid for all this. The sense of calling with which the students came--an internal call matched by the church's approbation that they had pastoral gifts for local church ministry--begins to shift.

This shift coincides with the particular interest that academic work can bring: for example, they have a faculty member whose class opens a whole new world for them in their class or discipline; they write a paper that brings genuine satisfaction, a satisfaction that the internship just doesn't match; they serve as a teaching assistant for a favorite faculty member, doing grading and even a taste of teaching. Maybe, maybe, God really called them to ministry in general and is now calling them to the academic life in particular.

All of this adds up for them and brings them to my office. Now, there are those who come for whom it seems that God may have an academic career in mind. For these, I try to be as honest as possible--you do have academic gifting, but you have to recognize that there are a glut of PhDs in the job market; that competition for jobs is ruthless; and that you are probably more likely to find a job at a college or university, which is why you should target your students as widely as possible (instead of OT or NT, go to a university for a PhD program in religious studies; instead of church history or historical theology, go to a university for a PhD program in history; etc.). In addition, I have to tell these people how unlikely it is for them to teach at a seminary that is serious about training pastors if they themselves do not have some pastoral experience (which, for some reason, always seems to surprise them). Still, for these, I encourage them, write references for them, and try to provide appropriate guidance as they walk along the path.

For others, I try to raise as many questions as possible--are you really sure you have the academic gifting or interest (for these, I usually ask them to tell me what books in the field of interest they have read outside of class in this past semester. That is an excellent barometer for gauging whether they will succeed in a PhD program)? What has happened in their lives to cause them to reevaluate their sense of calling? Do they really understand how unlikely it is for them to find a job--would they really be willing to go through the pain of PhD studies if they knew they didn't have a job at the end? Do they really understand how insecure academic life is? Will they listen to me tell them how unsatisfying academic significance turns out to be? These students tend to leave my office discouraged; some still try to do PhD work, but very few complete their programs and/or find teaching posts.

There are a (very) few who want to do a PhD in order to equip them better for pastoral ministry. For these, I simply rejoice and try to encourage them not to allow the apparent blandishments of academic life to sway them from the God-given trajectory they are pursuing. For what our churches need are pastors who can bring the critical thinking skills that PhD studies teach to their tasks. Notice that I didn't say pastor-scholars: I fear that all too often we say that and the mental picture that forms includes academic (biblical or theological) essays for sermons; thirteen hours in the study each day; and a focus on the call of the academy instead of the needs of the church. But what PhD studies do provide are critical thinking skills--the ability to discern and divide issues, the larger and more sharply honed knowledge base, and the writing skills which should translate into preaching--all of which strengthen pastoral ministry, all of which strengthen the church of Jesus.

I do wish that we had more of this last group. What I find, however, is that even these students are open to a particular struggle--the divided mind of the pastor-scholar, the tug-and-pull between pastoral ministry in the context of a local congregation on the one side and academic ministry in the context of a college, university, or seminary. As one friend has told me, for most of these students, to have to resolve the division on one side or the other often feels like death, having to close off one part of themselves to engage the other side of their gift mix and calling (there are very few churches like Tenth Presbyterian or Bethlehem Baptist, which see their senior minister's writing ministry as a significant part of his calling; and on the other side, most seminaries generally frown on extended, weekly preaching ministry on the part of their faculty).

All of this makes the Jeremiah Burroughs' quote just below this post even more apparently elusive--how to be sure of God's call in whatever engages our hands to do? I think it is probably by taking another part of Burroughs' direction for contentment to heart: "Exercise faith by often resigning yourself to God, by giving yourself up to God and his ways. The more you in a believing way surrender up yourself to God, the more quiet and peace you will have" (Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 219). Regularly returning to the Lord and offering up our hearts to him, saying again and again, "Lord, I serve at your bidding. Guide your servant as you see fit," will grant us quiet, peace, and confidence in God's calling in our ministerial lives.


Bobby's blog said...

Dr. Lucas,
Thanks for that. The further I've gotten entrenched in post-seminary graduate studies, the more I want to finish (sometimes quit!) and "get on" with full-time ministry.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Never went to seminary, nor am I a pastor, but I recognize a great, insightful essay when I read it.

Major kudos.

carpediem365 said...

Good stuff, Sean!

Kyle A. Roberts said...

I've been thinking quite a bit about this phenomenon since beginning my teaching career at Bethel Sem. a few years ago. I've been surprised at the number of students who want to go on for a Ph.D., rather than dive headlong and straightaway into the ministry. I've determined now to probe these students more rigorously for their motivations and to try to dissuade a good number of them away from the academy and back into the church. The problem is that I feel a bit hypocritical in doing so. I can understand (for the very reasons you mentioned) the allure of the academy, particularly having observed first-hand (largely through my father's ministry) the trials and travails of the church. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I found my seminary experience to be just like you described. The amount of course work involved with taking classes was insane (I had to work full-time to support my family) compared to my undergrad and graduate degrees--not mention how insane the price of seminary is at a respectable school. I eventually ended up leaving--costs too much, too taxing on your marriage, and some churches are drama filled. I can definitely see the bent towards teaching.

I think seminaries "glamorize" the life of a pastor at times. I agree that stable churches provide a false image of ministry--especially American churches.

dogfreid said...

Fantastic essay.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Dr. Lucas. We must choose our pastoral models with realism and humility. Few are called to high visibility, publishing, conference speaking, etc. To have anything at all to do in the Lord's vineyard is a privilege. Just to be saved is a privilege. To accept that, to be a grunt in God's army and be okay with it, is freeing and happy. "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hi, Kyle: I can understand your feeling. I too feel hypocritical at times--both in terms of the reality you describe (ministry is difficult observed first hand) and in terms of my own struggle with my calling (I described myself toward the end of the post; the comment of the divided self was counsel given to me).

That being said, there are two things that override that feeling of hypocrisy: 1) God has placed me in that moment to offer pastoral counsel to the student and guide them; 2) teaching at a seminary--especially Covenant, but I assume this is the same for Bethel--means that I am there for our mission: to shape and train pastors. Part of that process is to help the students work through their discouragements regarding their calling and move forward with renewed confidence toward parish ministry.

Joshua Butcher said...

Timely thoughts!

As a current PhD student who is not (nor ever has been) in seminary, I can sympathize with regard to the fancies of academic existence and the stark realities that do not often coincide.

I am also reminded that many see the PhD as a way of gaining knowledge and credibility that they feel they are lacking in themselves. However, such motives reveal an insecurity that fails to see the sufficiency of Christ--for knowledge comes from God, and credibility from a life lived in faithful obedience in Christ.

It would do us all well to remember why we have been put on his earth when we consider what is best for s to pursue.

Beloved said...

A friend of mine sent me a link to this post, and I'm thankful for it. I just finished the first year of my MDiv at TEDS and feel the tensions you described, as the school says they're focused on training 'pastor-scholars', but are offering scholar-level programs. Nevertheless, I remain steadfastly persuaded of my calling to plant and pastor local churches for the glory of God and the joy of all peoples, and am grateful for the level of rigor (both academic and consequential) that I have been experiencing.

In my experience, the issue of calling begins really at the point of exigence: What problem do I see in the world that utterly grieves my heart, that I can see myself helping to solve, by God's grace? As we explore the roots of various problems related to family, gov't, economy, media, society, church, etc. and analyze the necessary means to address them, we can begin to see how we might fit into the solution matrix. My rule of thumb is, If God has given you an intense burden for something, it's probably His way of getting you off your couch to do something about it. At the very least, this should get you on the path from which He will lead you elsewhere.

Grace and peace,

Matt Stephens

Anonymous said...

You have described me pretty well. :) I have just completed my M.Div and am still wrestling some with what to do. I feel called to be a pastor, though I would love to have a PhD. I feel that if I did go for a PhD I would go from there to a full-time pastorate. But for the time being I have decided to delay PhD work. I presently pastor a small church in a part-time position so my next move will be looking for a full-time post somewhere.

Like Bobby mentioned above, being in school for quite some time now makes me restless and ready to get out and do full-time work. Perhaps later the doors will open for a PhD. In the meantime, your post is a helpful encouragement and reminder of the need and value and realities of pastoral ministry.

Ron said...

Thank you for this post, Dr. Lucas - I think you described me quite well! I dropped out of TEDS 12 years ago largely because I couldn't decide between academic and ministry callings. I couldn't imagine having to make the choice and felt like I was going to regret either choice I made.

There were other circumstances at play as well, not to mention God's sovereignty. But the result for me was achieving neither and winding up in the business world, constantly dreaming of finishing up "some day". This post really helped me understand what was so painfully happening in my immature heart during that time.

Michael and Mandy said...

Dr. Lucas,

I noticed that after you said, "They seem suave, secure, significant" your self description clarified your standing on security anad significance, but you didn't say anything more on being suave. Surely you rank among the most "suave" among Covenant's faculty. Thanks for being one to emulate.


PS - Thanks for an insightful post.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for a much needed essay! Your insights are gracious and truthful.

If I may: At our Gospel Coalition meetings, you have probably overheard my discussions with Ray and Stephen on this, and especially on dropping the pastoral ministry to pursue the European PhD. Wisely, they have discouraged me - yea, threatened me! - not to leave my post. I am contended to stay where the Almighty has called me and for however long the assignment is there. But I still see things slightly differently because of the plight of my ethnic community. As you know, there are very few African-Americans in evangelical seminary teaching posts in the major disciplines (OT, NT, ST, HT). I have encouraged my best and brightest Bible college students to go all the way for the PhD, which was my original intention before heading to seminary. Our churches (?) need both the "scholarly-pastor" (or discerning one, borrowing from your terms), and the "pastoral-scholar" on campus. We need men to elevate the level of study in our churches, in the truth, and we need men to draw other young men to the seminary campus. We need both sets of these men to write and provide ethnically-sensative / ethnically-contextualized resources for our churches - especially for churches that would reject a great work like Lucas on Dabney simply because the author, subject, or cover art is "white" (I.e., the "what-can-whitie-teach-us?-we-can-learn-from-our-own"-objection). Yet, the local church must remain the focus even in our communities, so we must not push every young African American seminarian toward the PhD; the MDiv (or ThM) will do just fine.

The burden many of us share in our community, and especially those of us who are Reformed, is similar to the burden of many international students coming from a country in which they are still the first generation of those being trained. Often, if they go back home upon graduation, they will plant multiple churches, found a seminary, and head a para-church ministry. As the only ones with any sound theological training, they feel responsible to place the whole counsel of God to as many as possible, but do not have any help. In the States there are a good number of us who are now trained in evangelical theology. But compare the numbers to our counterparts. If you look for those of us with PhD's, the pool narrows exponentially.

You are right: We must fight the Romanticized views of both the lectern and the pulpit. But we must recognize a need for PhD representation in ethnic-minority communities.

On a personal note, my undergraduate profs started telling me to pursue the PhD by my junior year of college. I knew I had a called to teach on my life, and fully planned to teach all of my life. However, as is the case for some of us who carry families with us to seminary, money was scarce by the time the ThM was finished. Yet, we were offered a teaching position at a small Bible college. I have had great joy in teaching at the college (and as an adjunct at the seminary) level, and I find it to fit hand-and-glove with my gifts. But for the last 7.5 years, I have been a senior pastor, leaving full-time classroom duties 5 years ago. I have found joy and contentment in the pastorate as well, but the work is much harder and has a different set of rewards. However, it also has greatly impacted the way in which I approach the classroom, bettering me for the task behind the lectern. Not holding the terminus degree at this point has not limited any opportunities for me (other than teach at the seminary-level full-time), for this is where the Lord has assigned me. I still have been able to enjoy scholarship by presenting at ETS and writing for journals and books. But when I give attention to scholarly writing, I do get pulled away from my focus as a shepherd. Writing (and research) becomes more of a mistress than even the church. So I do have to be very careful and limit the external focus. But the burden remains. Yet, I must not let my eyes be too haughty (cf. Ps. 131).

I think Burroughs was correct. I think we need not to make an idol out of the seminary post or the PhD, but follow the Lord, not thinking too highly of ourselves and being content with all things. I hope this is helpful to your readers.

Now, do not entrap me in an "it depends upon what 'is' is" or "I puffed but did not inhale" sort of double-speak if you hear of me enrolled at U of Zurich in a few years. If I am there, it will not be because I bailed or exalted the seminary. It will be that my work in my current location is done, my burden is stronger than ever, it is God's timing, and my wife has given me permission to take us into poverty again!

Thank you for the ministry of your pen and indulginf my musings.


Sean Michael Lucas said...

Hi, Eric: I'm very sympathetic to your wrestling. Will you be at Gospel Coalition again this year? If so, let's connect and talk--I'm especially eager to hear about your plans and figure out ways to encourage you.

I agree that we need credentialed African American leaders who can provide theological guidance not only to particular congregations, but the the African American community at large. At Covenant Seminary, we've just rejoiced together over Anthony Bradley's PhD dissertation defense; we all recognize, I think, how strategic Anthony is for the church at large. And thus, I agree with where you're tracking.

As I say, if you are in Chicago in a couple of weeks, let's talk some more. sml

Doc said...

Like everyone else, it seems, I can relate. I went to seminary expecting to go into full-time church ministry.

One of the reasons I love ministry is because I love the truth. But, I found that being a Baptist who pushes for what I see as truth can sometimes cause rough trouble in the pastorate. We're congregational, and more than one professor warned me I might have a rough time finding a church to tolerate my iconoclastic ideas. For example, I wrote a paper describing why I think the SBC stance on alcohol is unbiblical.

In the end, I graduate from seminary and went on to a state university before entering a career in academic life. Tenure is a nice benefit.

And while I am actively involved in a church, I still think frequently about becoming a missionary. I'm open to where God leads.

Andy Rowell said...

Thanks for the post which I learned about from Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds

I would just add that I encourage students that preaching can be highly intellectually demanding and creative. I sometimes tell academics that solid preachers are far more prolific in their "productivity" than more academics.

The reason I am doing my Th.D. at Duke is to eventually teach courses related to church leadership. I hope to help students appreciate the potential and beauty of the local church while also helping them navigate the pitfalls of discouragement and incompetency. I served three years in a church after I finished my MDiv and then taught for two years at Taylor University before beginning my doctoral work at age 31.

I guess I would also simple reiterate the beauty of pastoring people (seniors, families, singles and children) over many years and seeing them change and develop. One of the downsides of being a professor is the transience of people.

David Hansen's The Art of Pastoring, Eugene Peterson's books, Larry Crabb's Connecting, and Robert Coleman's The Master Plan of Evangelism helped give me a vision for pastoring but I think that is personal and books often impact a person at a particular time in life.

I also point out to seminarians who are struggling in their supervised ministry experience (internship, field education, etc.) that this is a necessary and helpful experience but it should not be allowed to determine whether one is cut out for pastoring or not. As an intern, you are temporary and almost powerless - in a church that has had many interns before. I tell students that if they have enjoyed leading people in college - other people their own age - that that is a better test of whether they will enjoy leading in a church.

Sandy Millar, "Pastors often overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what they can accomplish in five."

grace and peace,

Andy Rowell
Doctor of Theology Student
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

Andy Rowell said...

There is a sober and comprehensive description of the New Testament Ph.D. process by Nijay Gupta, a Ph.D. student at Durham University: Interested in a NT PhD?

biomcgary said...

In Brazil, my uncle pastors a large baptist church that offers free seminary classes rather than the American style Sunday School class. As a consequence, they have a very high demand for pastor-scholars to teach the classes. If American church were similar, it would provide a more fitting outlet for some of the students you are discussing.

Joseph Randall said...

Thanks Dr. Lucas!

Though I’m not sure if I should pursue PhD. work, I would certainly fall into the category of those who are called to serve in the local church as a pastor. But I wonder if getting a PhD. will better prepare me for that calling. It seems to me we have the standards reversed. Shouldn’t those seeking to shepherd God’s sheep for whom Christ died be going through the more rigorous process of PhD. work? Shouldn’t the MDiv students be the college professors and the PhD. folks be the pastors? Any thoughts?

Thanks again!!

Joseph Randall

Timothy R. Butler said...

Thanks, Dr. Lucas. As one of the students who has discussed the subject with you before, it was helpful hearing your advice again. If nothing else, you've definitely caused me to sharpen my focus looking forward to the possibility of Ph.D. studies.

It's interesting the process you describe that leads to the desire to do PhD studies, however -- I think, if anything, I came to Covenant feeling called to academia and, having been here for awhile now, tend to feel some desire for more typical ministry (after going through homiletics, counseling classes, etc.), though I still think (hope) I'm on target with my original understanding of my own calling.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Sean. When I taught at Westminster Seminary I noticed the same phenomenon. During the seminary years the student is highly impressionable--'wet cement' as it were. And (unavoidably) during this time the seminary experience presents the academic as a hero-model to the student, rather than the pastor. I don't think this is the seminary's fault. But seminary professors need to give students the wise cautions that you do here.

Tim Keller

Carrie Allen said...

Changing the direction of comments here...

I felt the need to mention the importance of husband and wife relationships here. #1 - It is so important that men take into consideration whether or not their future wife (if they are not yet married) feels called to "stand by her man" during his time in school. Because yes, it can feel like the wanderings in the wilderness.
I think it's safe to say that the same goes for ministry...
#2 - For women, it is so important that if our husband is pursuing an MDiv or a PhD, that we support them the best we can during that time. God will be shaping them and preparing them for the ministry to come (not saying there isn't a present ministry as well). We need to be praying that God would raise this next generation of males to lead over our churches and universities in a mighty way. It takes a special lady to be patient with her husband who always wants his nose to be stuck in a book, but what a reward we have, having a man who constantly wants to know more about God!

Anonymous said...

Brother Lucas,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I was referred here from Nathan Finn's blog. I, like Eric, have concerns about the African-American context.

My particular calling was to see to equip faithful "proclaimers" of the Word. Therefore, I am able to fullfill my calling in the pulpit, behind the lectern, and in a variety of denominational minister training settings.

As you noted, I am thankful for a congregation that views my writing/research as part of my pastoral calling. Also, I very much integrate my studies into dialogue opportunites in the church through small groups and book clubs.

May we all avoid seeking "romantic" notions of calling. Please know that your presence is missed at SBTS.

Kevin Smith

Anonymous said...

I'm pursuing a PhD in Biblical Studies at the unaccredited Louisiana Baptist University. Does this count?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wise counsel, Dr. Lucas.

I came to Covenant with the goal in mind to pursue a Ph.D afterward. So far (after one year) I think the Lord has affirmed that path. We'll see how life plays out. I need to keep in mind your sober advice.

I'll probably be one of those guys meeting you in your office (hopefully in group 1) :-).

Dave Sarafolean said...

Dr. Lucas,

Thanks for a great essay.

What do you say to the pastor with and MDiv whose been in ministry 10-15 years and wants additional training? Obviously a DMin. program is what is most often suggested but what if that is not his cup of tea? What if he wants something more academic? Where does he go for additional training to make him a better pastor?

Dave Sarafolean

Unknown said...

I am in the same place you are and I am eager for a response to your question. I have also been in the ministry for 10-15 years and I feel like I have hit a wall with the conferences and independent studies and I am ready for something more. But what?

Someone told me that the Trinity DMin is not your typical DMin and far more challenging.


Dave Sarafolean said...


I hear you -- there's only so many conferences that a guy can take. Even the ones designed for pastors don't always scratch me where I itch.

I've been looking into a couple of ThM options but am undecided.

Owen said...

This was a terrific post, and I love your words about the pastor-theologian. That's a burden of mine and others, and it's great to see you encouraging the model in a very balanced way.

Practical posts like this are of huge value to a wide audience. Too often we try to write even our blogs to an "academic" audience. Thanks for the pastoral words.

Unknown said...


Great post. As one who abandoned a PhD effort (in Classics), and then later (more than 10 years later) received an M.Div., I have noticed how easy it is to take the "more attractive and easier route" which often coincides with the "I don't know much about it" route.

Keep up the good work of advising students! You are a blessing to the Church where you are.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to the others...Great post! For me, and I think this applies to seminary students in general, this is an issue of calling (internal and external). My experience, at Covenant, was that a large number of students had not wrestled with their calling in any significant manner. Certainly this can be done while in seminary, but this also brings a lot of difficulty. Personally, I had the benefit of working in a PCA church for four years prior to attending Covenant under a pastor who really helped me to discern my calling. I also found reading Ed Clowney's book, Called to the Ministry , in advance of seminary to be very helpful. As a result, I was able to come in with a strong and realistic sense of why I was there and found this sustained me through the difficulties (lack of money, Greek, Jan-term Hebrew, my pride being tweaked when I was no longer the "rising star" name a few).

Thanks for this thoughtful post.

Thanks, Adam
M.Div '03; CTS

Dr. David Ritsema said...

Excellent! I enjoyed it and agreed.

I remember sitting down in the office of one of my seminary professors telling him I wanted a PhD. He suggested a DMin and the pastorate. I was shocked and disappointed. Eventually I went on to enroll in a PhD program and nearing completion. However, I am so eager to learn that sometimes I imagine going ahead and finishing a DMin, too. By the way, I have never stopped pastoring.

Anonymous said...

As a current Ph.D. student, I appreciate this post. As I went through my M.Div program I honestly thought I would move into either a pastorate or educational minister position. However, a piece of advise my uncle (a former pastor and naval chaplain now on faculty at a small baptist college) gave to me has always guided me in discerning my calling.

Over the years people within the church, professors, and friends were unified in directing me to a more academic route. Even as I applied to Ph.D. programs I expressed concerns to professors about whether I should take that step, to which they encouraged me and affirmed that I had a place in academia.

The advise I received from my uncle is the same I would give to anyone considering a Ph.D. (or any other area of service to the church): Seek the advise of professors, pastors, and laity because often times they are better able to discern where a person is called to serve. Often times an individual has too limited a view to see clearly the path that is marked out for them. The counsel of others often times serves to remove some of the fog surrounding the path.

Daniel C said...

Interesting article. Personally, I think it would be very helpful for the seminary student to be engaged in some form of ministry before they even start seminary, so they can go into seminary knowing more of what ministry is instead of being so naive.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sean,

I think I am one of the few who want a PhD to better equip myself for pastoral ministry (an maybe some teaching as well, in the church setting). Are there programs out there you suggest for such ventures? I know Regent University has a special distance based program for those in ministry. Do you know of any others?

Brian Fulthorp (MDiv, AGTS '07)
Co-Pastor Grand Canyon AG

Paul said...

Thank you for the encouragement, brother. Blessings.
-Paul @ the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (MDiv)

Anonymous said...


Good stuff here. In my experience Cov Sem, DID NOT glamorize or romanticize the ministry. Quite the opposite. Good work to the seminary in that regard. Also, I have a friend who got his MDiv at Cov and is finishing a PhD and just took a call as a youth and family pastor. How hot is that. Many told him he was committing career suicide. Career suicide? Are you kidding?

Nathan C.

Dan Morehead said...

I'd agree, but simply add that some, when exposed to the broader horizons of the Christian tradition in their first graduate studies, are confronted with legitimate questions which may not find a legitimate place in their Christian communities of origin. Sadly, this can make the academy seem like a safer (or alternatively more honest) place to reside.

Dan Morehad
Ph.D. Candidate
University of Aberdeen

Anonymous said...

Dr Lucas,

This is a very interesting and helpful post. Thanks for writing it.

I also find it surprising how so many guys want to train pastors without ever having been one. I do wonder, though, if this is a largely American phenomenon? I hadn't met many Europeans who have this desire (probably because European Christianity works on a different paradigm with, generally speaking, less diverse opportunities etc). However, since starting my PhD I have met plenty of Americans who fall into this camp.

I think there is also the category of men who want to pursue PhDs simply because it creates more avenues for service. Seminary training and a PhD means you are available to minister and/or teach. Furthermore, if you have a PhD, it makes you very useful in many foreign mission contexts (in terms of providing theological education etc).

After seminary (at the Free Church College, Edinburgh), I started my PhD (New College, University of Edinburgh) simply to create avenues of service. I think there's a lot to be said for carefully choosing a subject that will equip you academically, but will also be of direct benefit to potential pastoral ministry.

I fully agree that if you want to train pastors, be a pastor first. If you want to do a PhD and then pastor (as an end in itself, or with a view to later training pastors), I think there is a lot to be said for carefully choosing an edifying PhD topic.

I am studying Herman Bavinck, who is a tremendous mentor for Christlike thinking. Emotionally, I would find it hard to spend three years analysing the use of Hebrew verb pointings in some obscure text, knowing that once I graduate I would start work in a congregation for whom my topic is basically irrelevant.

(Not that I anticipate many congregations will have a deep interest in the nuances of Dutch Neo-Calvinism; but if they are interested in Christ-centred thinking, Bavinck is equipping me to do that! Am I being too hard on the Biblical studies guys?)

What advice would you give for PhD topics that will be directly useful in the ministry itself?

Thanks for your time,

James Eglinton

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