Programs of Study
Until the 1970s, most seminaries existed primarily to train future pastors. Students, who were predominantly young men fresh out of college, enrolled in a Bachelor of Divinity (now renamed the Master of Divinity) degree program. Three years later, they graduated and took their places in the ordained ministry of their denominations. So typical was this pattern that many schools offered no other degrees.
Today, some seminaries still emphasize the MDiv, while larger seminaries may offer a dozen or more different programs, at the master’s and doctoral levels. Less than half of the students at some schools may be planning a career in pastoral ministry. Seminaries prepare missionary translators, marriage and family therapists, clinical psychologists, church planters, consultants, parachurch leaders, and church history professors as well as parish pastors.
With such a broad array of opportunities, prospective students can probably find a program well suited to their needs. A key is to explore not only seminary catalogs, but the students’ own desired outcomes as well.
For those who want to enter the pastorate, for example, the basic degree is still the Master of Divinity. If, however, their goal is to be theologically astute bankers or business persons, they probably do not need to take an MDiv program. They might prefer a Master of Arts in Theology or Christian Leadership program, in which they take courses in ethics and church history, rather than in the practice of performing weddings and funerals.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, the popularity of the Doctor of Ministry degree has increased significantly. The degree integrates the traditional theological disciplines with the hands-on concerns that pastors bring to a continuing education program. Persons entering a DMin program usually have been in ministry for some time and are interested in answering the concrete questions and challenges they face in their professional lives.
In selecting a Doctor of Ministry program, prospective students should look at whether or not a seminary’s faculty really “owns” the program. Is the program taken seriously, or is it considered a marginal, income-producing project? I recommend choosing a program at a seminary where continuing education is considered an important goal of the institution and its faculty.