Journal of Christian Ministry | 2018: The Future of DMin Education
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2018: The Future of DMin Education

2018: The Future of DMin Education

Thoughts on the Future of DMin Education
Daniel Aleshire
The Association of Theological Schools in
the United States and Canada

October 2016

It was a long evening. It was about a new, very well designed, cohort model DMin program that met the ATS Commission on Accrediting standards. There was keen interest in the program being offered in a population area in a nearby state that was separated from the seminary by a mountain range that made commuting difficult. The school petitioned to offer the DMin at an extension site, which the Commission on Accrediting had approved pending approval by the appropriate state agency. The school’s president, the state higher education official, and I met for dinner to discuss the degree and the site, which was located in a state that did not have a seminary. I have known many people who were uninformed about theological education, but this official was among the least informed!

The site was approved, but I left the meeting that evening with a renewed sense of the difficulty of defining the DMin in the context of higher education conventions regarding professional doctorates.

After general discussion about theological education and the three-year Master of Divinity—virtually the only three-year professional master’s degree in higher education—we began to discuss the DMin as a degree that required the equivalent of one full academic year completed in no fewer than three years. This stumped him. A one-year professional doctorate? Yes, we said, it was built on a three-year program so that the total of post-baccalaureate years of study was four, like many other professional doctorates. Then he asked, “What does it qualify a person to do?” Well, we said, it qualifies the individual to do better what he or she is already doing. He found this unconvincing. Every other professional doctorate he had heard of, from DO to MD to PharmD to PsyD to JD, qualified persons to do something after they earned the degree that they could not do without the degree. I think he was getting ready to pull out his official “reject” stamp when I mentioned the EdD—especially the kind that is offered on a part-time basis for public school administrators and whose graduates often have the same job after they completed the degree as before. He did know about this kind of professional doctorate for educators. The site was approved, but I left the meeting that evening with a renewed sense of the difficulty of defining the DMin in the context of higher education conventions regarding professional doctorates.

The DMin began in confusion, so it is no surprise that it continues to evoke difficulty in understanding as it did that evening. The records of the ATS Commission on Accrediting bear witness to the initial difficulties. The degree was actually first offered by a divinity school in a research university. The law school had just ceased granting the Bachelor of Laws degree as the basic professional degree for the practice of law and began offering the Juris Doctor or JD. The divinity school was looking for a parallel move for its Bachelor of Divinity, so it began offering a Doctor of Ministry as the initial degree. The Commission was not sure what to do, and freestanding schools were not sure about a doctorate as the initial degree for ministry.

A research university could be much more selective in its admission standards than the typical denominational seminary, so it could consider granting a doctorate as an initial degree. Many denominational schools admitted persons for the first professional degree to whom they were not prepared to grant a professional doctorate.

In the end, schools ceased granting the Bachelor of Divinity and began granting the MDiv for essentially the same curriculum and degree requirements. The DMin emerged as a post-MDiv degree. Some schools wanted to grant the degree “in sequence” either as a one-year degree immediately following the MDiv or as a four-year course of study in which the DMin was the only degree offered. Others wanted to offer it after years of ministry following the MDiv. The patterns in which the DMin was offered outpaced the Commission’s ability to write standards for it, and at one time, there were scores of notations for the degree. It took 10 years to normalize the requirements for the degree and provide some public definition. The DMin is one of the few degrees offered by ATS schools that began in controversy. Other new educational practices, like extension or distance education, have invited controversy, but few degrees have.