Each spring people at various levels of educational achievement encounter the word commencement. To some the term does not make any sense. After all, the meaning of the word commence has to do with the beginning of something new. And most of those who participate in "commencement," especially after a grueling couple of weeks writing papers and studying for final exams, feel as if they are at the end of something, not the beginning.
By and large, however, men and women who are graduating from theological seminaries—especially those who are headed for pastoral ministry—constitute the exception to the norm. As hard as three (or more) years of seminary education may have been, most realize that pastoral ministry is far more challenging. Thus, seminary graduates for the most part realize full well that their graduation truly is a commencement, a new beginning. While the master of divinity degree has provided them with the practical tools and theological perspectives required for them to step out in ministry, in many ways their true education is about to begin.
Enter the D.Min. degree
More and more pastors today have come to recognize and appreciate the important contributions that continuing education in some form can make to effective ministry, particularly to pastoral ministry. And one of the most significant developments in continuing education in recent years has been the development of doctor of ministry degree programs. These have grown substantially in terms of quality, sophistication, and diversity of offerings.
The primary goal of the D.Min. degree is to enable pastors to become more effective in a particular area of ministry. While specific program structures may differ, all are designed in ways that enable participants to continue in ministry while they pursue their degrees. Congregations routinely report that they reap the benefits from their pastor's continuing education venture right from the beginning.
Among the most important fringe benefits of pursuing the D.Min. degree is the opportunity it provides for spiritual refreshment and renewal for participants, regardless of the specific area of focus or study. Who pastors the pastor? Sometimes the answer is "A good D.Min. program." These benefits are passed on to congregations in addition to all that the pastor may learn and apply as part of his or her program.
The following testimonies from D.Min. alumni collectively capture many of the benefits, both educational and spiritual, of the doctor of ministry educational experience. Together, these accounts support the assertion that the D.Min. degree may constitute just one small step for a person, but it enables men and women to take a giant leap forward in successful ministry.
George Fox University
Missionary Andy Meeko says he entered George Fox Evangelical Seminary "reeling from the impact of being gifted with a deaf daughter." While at George Fox, he says he began putting the pieces of his life back together.
A second-generation missionary to Japan, Meeko and his wife, Junko, work with Campus Crusade for Christ's Family Life Japan program, leading marriage seminars for missionary families, U.S. military families, and Japanese families.
Meeko came to George Fox grappling with the disability of one of his four children. His daughter Sophia had been born deaf, and this experience gave his doctoral dissertation, titled "Spiritual Empowerment of Special-Needs Families," a very personal application. "I explored the depths of my heart," he says. "The prophetic and incarnational possibilities of our new identity as a family broke forth."
In Japan, as in the U.S., homes of children with disabilities have very high divorce and abuse rates. "Families with children possessing disability face crushing challenges physically, economically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually," says Meeko. "Sadly, most succumb to this onslaught and disintegrate."