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DMin or PhD?

By April 2, 2014 6 Comments

I thirst for the living God. Where shall I go?


I love learning. I love the process of reading, studying, conversing, and wrestling with ideas. I love challenging assumed norms and defending new conclusions. I love theory, but theory needs to have feet. I love the ideas, but ideas need to have soul. 

Each week I teach a theology class at West End Collegiate Church. It’s on the Scripture passage for worship that week and it’s one of the hours of my week I am most alive. I love looking at the passage and then ripping it open from so many angles. What is the context? What would a feminist critique of this text look like? What is the theology of each character in the pericope? How many different ways can we understand this text? Then I love taking what I have studied and organizing it into a lesson plan. I sometimes think I am a little weird for how excited I get to put a lesson plan together. Then the magic happens when we all gather for the class. I consistently hear from my congregation that they enjoy coming to my class because there is a freedom I offer when we engage Scripture in my class. The way I teach helps people not be afraid about saying “the wrong thing.” God’s grace is alive in this class and we do theology together. We live theology. I love teaching and watching my “students” come alive to the questions they have and the knowledge I bring to our class. 

Which leads me to the question in the title of this blog. The congregation I serve tends to be a more intellectual congregation. A few in my congregation have asked me if I am considering another degree and have encouraged me to do so. What a gift for a pastor to hear! I am a minister who brings the academy to the congregation and a spirituality to the academy. I am concerned about nuanced thinking in the congregation and I am concerned about the soul in the academy. I have greatly enjoyed the conversation on the PhD route that Jessica Bratt and James Bratt have facilitated for us on The 12. It has informed my continuing questions on which route I want to take. And Jessica, I think the world of you, God bless you in your work my sister.

I love parish ministry, but I also can see myself teaching at a seminary in the future. I wonder if I will always have one foot in the academy and one foot in the parish? I would get bored if I didn’t at least have one foot in the academy. My soul would suffer if I didn’t have one foot in the ministry of the parish. When I was discerning what tradition to be ordained in, one of the things that attracted me to the Reformed stream was our love of education. I love how our tradition values good thinking and rigorous learning. 

My theology, and my choices in life, are partly guided by our liturgy, “I thirst for the living God. Where shall I go?” DMin or PhD? Questions of responsibility come forward in me. What a privilege it is to even consider furthering my education, is this a selfish endeavor that could best serve the community in other ways? What will best serve the body of Christ? What will most make me alive? What is sustainable for my soul?

Last night, after our classis meeting, five women ministers and I went out for a glass of wine. Two of us around the table have PhDs and one is currently in pursuit of her DMin. My other colleague and I are asking similar questions about the next steps of our educational process. We both are aware that there is probably another degree in our future, but are wondering if the DMin or PhD is more faithful to our calls. One of the things that was spoken around the table is that the PhD will allow more opportunity to teach in a seminary setting, if that is what I want to do in the future. We also talked about the gender dynamics in both the academy, and the church, and how important another degree is as women who do theology publicly. It was good to hear their perspectives and add that to my processing.

I love parish ministry and I love the academy. I have been seeking the council of others in this journey and welcome thoughts from you. I am curious how people perceive each of these degrees. I also welcome further questions that I should be asking myself as I discern my steps forward. I do thirst for the living God and I am wondering where this thirst will take me educationally. I welcome your prayers.




Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.


  • Daniel James Meeter says:

    I have no regrets about my Ph.D. and ending up as a parish pastor. The advantage of a Ph.D. is that it's a degree for the world and not just for the church. It's a more public degree. I recommend the extra cost and work.

  • Jeff Japinga says:

    JKK, The Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting body, would tell you this about a doctor of ministry degree: "The purpose of the Doctor of Ministry degree is to enhance the practice
    of ministry for persons who hold the MDiv or its educational equivalent and who have engaged in substantial ministerial leadership." The key phrase: "the practice of ministry." The content and specifics of various DMin programs will differ, in some cases substantially, but at their core, DMin programs are (or should be) focused on deepening your understanding of the nature and purposes of ministry; and in enhancing competencies in theological and biblical reflection, contextual analysis, and ministerial skills, so that you might live out a deep, rich, theologically reflective practice of ministry. Not an argument for or against a DMin or a PhD; just a few additional thoughts to add to the many you've expressed. In the end, I think it's about how God is calling you, and how you can be best equipped to live out that call.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I strongly recommend the Ph.D. because it's a public degree, and recognized by the world because it's designed for the world, while the D.Min. is designed for the church. The Ph.D. is more work, but well worth it. I've never regretted it, even as a parish pastor.

  • A Pastor says:

    I believe the world is changing. I'm a mainline Protestant Pastor who also loves to learn, and I also read widely about what is going on in the world around. I pastor a small church, filled with people I love dearly. But I am going to leave this place.

    I think that, in 25 years, there will be very few financially viable small mainline churches. I hope I'm wrong, but I look at my church and the ones around it, and I don't see how they're going to maintain a budget of over $100,000, which is necessary to pay a full-time pastor and maintain the building and have some light programming. As the older generation dies, we are going to have some major funding problems.

    So I'm getting an MBA. Not because I'm desperate to leave the church, but rather because I want to be a part of its future. If I can find a job that will pay me well, I can come back to a church in need of pastoral leadership and offer to share the burden of leadership with the congregation at a fraction of the price. I can offer a seminary-trained pastor at an intern's price if I have another job. I'll be limited in the time I can offer, but we can share the leadership, and have a robust church.

    So perhaps a Ph.D. is a wise choice, because it gives you the option to pursue academia, while still retaining and building your ministry skills, which you can offer to a nearby congregation at a fraction of a price, giving them something they may not be able to afford while also inviting them into deeper leadership, as the entire church has the responsibility to lead, because you're not doing everything.

    Just my thoughts. I claim no expertise or wisdom, I only offer them through the lens of my own experience.

  • Jes Kast-Keat says:

    I appreciate the thoughts from the comments here and those I received via email. Researching, discerning, praying, and wondering. Thank you!

  • Is it that the Ph.D. is more “work” or more work in a specified direction, often less practical? I completed
    a D.Min. in Formational Counseling. I sat for oral defense of my dissertation and took
    just about the same kind of “grilling” from the dissertation committee over my project
    and the writing of the thesis. as have my colleagues with Ph.Ds. Whose to blame when a society give credence to one kind of academic work and a good bit less to others. Perhaps this discussion begs another and perhaps a more radical question about our focus in Western societies articular, and to dominance of monolithic worldviews or religious motives assumed when determining scholarship.

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