01 May Missional Church and the DMin
Missional Church and the Doctor of Ministry Degree (JCM, Vol. 5 – 2013)
George R. Hunsberger, Ph.D.
Professor of Missiology
Western Theological Seminary
It is the thesis of this essay that educating clergy in the absence of focal attention to ecclesiology is insufficient. Further, it argues that it is a distinctly missional ecclesiology that holds particular promise for the critical moves necessary if ecclesiology is to be taken seriously. The essay offers three lines of exploration to demonstrate the kinds of critical moves implicated when a missional ecclesiology is taken seriously in advanced programs for clergy learning: practical theology viewed in ecclesiological perspective; contextual theology viewed in missional perspective; and contextualization viewed in eschatological perspective.
The aim of the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree is to nurture critical theological reflection on (in, for, from?) the practice of ministry.
By accreditation standards, the typical student who embarks on such a degree has previously achieved a postbaccalaureate professional degree in ministry (the M.Div. or its educational equivalent) and has had at least three years of ministry experience following the degree. That is to say, students welcomed into D.Min. degree programs have generally been in, and now hold, some accountable, professional role of ministry understood in vocational terms—usually in the sense of employment. Whether ordained or not, whether for salary or by tent-making, whether in parish pastoral roles or a range of other specialized ministries, the word ministry in the name of the degree indicates clergy or those of a similar role and vocation.
Quite understandably, such students enter a D.Min. program seeking advanced learning and growth in a range of pastoral arts, pastoral practices, and matters of pastoral character and integrity. In a basic sense, the degree is about them and what they do. That is not to say it has no larger frame of reference—their spiritual journey and calling, the social context of their life and work, and the needs of those who comprise their ministry setting. But essentially, it is most normal for their expectations to be about what they need to learn that will improve their competencies for fulfilling their ministry well.
Equally, a D.Min. program will find it normal to give focal attention to clergy identity and practice. Our programs give special attention to the student’s spiritual autobiography and sense of calling, equip students for social and cultural analysis, and nourish capacity for critical theological reflection. We nourish imagination for the character of leadership required in today’s contexts, and we open up avenues for further cultivation of the pastoral arts. D.Min. education, like other graduate professional programs in theological education (M.Div., etc.), tends largely to be about who the minister is and what the minister does. There are good reasons for that to be so. And yet, there are reasons to wonder whether something very fundamental may be missed if that is the extent of it.