Why Get a DMIN?
I get this question a lot from prospective students. Why get a DMin (Doctor of Ministry)? Can you do anything with a DMin? Is it worth the cost and time investment? Isn’t it a “vanity degree”? I try not to sugarcoat responses to these questions, because I don’t want to sell something to someone that they don’t really want.
I used to be skeptical about DMin programs, for a long time I did think they were a waste of money. Truth be told, many DMin programs are poorly run and students rightfully complain about their value. Also, it is true that only rarely does a DMin unlock a unique employment door. A DMin is not guaranteed to get you an admin position in a denomination or put you in the running for a professorate at a seminary. A DMin might give you a “bump” in terms of moving up in employment, but that is not really what it is for. So, what is it for?
When it comes to a DMIN or even an MDIV (Master of Divinity), I encourage prospective students to think, not in terms of resume building, but training, community, and formation. It’s less about what you “get” at the end, and more about what you gain along the way. Most of my DMIN students at Northern Seminary chose their program because they were sensing a need for a community of learners and experts that could take them to the next level in their ministry or life goals.
All seminary degree programs are meant to train and equip, obviously. A master’s degree does so in a broader way, a doctoral program in more specific and deeper ways. The goal of DMIN courses is not to lecture at students; doctoral students are ideally in a place where they need expert guidance, but courses are taught more in a seminar style, where students contribute as much as they receive. Usually, a DMIN revolves around the student bringing some kind of passion, question, or topic to the program and they want help processing that issue. That eventually becomes the dissertation or project topic.
More and more, prospective DMIN students are recognizing that in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, they are craving not just training, but also a community that will journey with them. A DMIN program is about more than just books and papers. It is a company of co-learners, people in similar life-stages, with similar various experiences, who can learn from one another and offer fellowship, encouragement, and support. Time and time again, graduates of our DMIN programs say that the “cohort” was their favorite part of the experience, and many of their peers have become lifelong friends. Sometimes they end up working together, sometimes they have reunions. A DMin program can be much more than just individual learning. At its best, it is deep learning in community, a whole that far exceeds the sum of the parts.
Prospective students almost never come to a DMIN program and talk about wanting to be formed. But in the end, they recognize that this was crucial. What do I mean by formation? Growing in maturity, growing in self-understanding, and growing closer to God. A good DMIN program thinks about the whole person and seeks to shape life, not just increase knowledge. Pastors and Christian leaders sometimes don’t take the time to take care of themselves and nurture their own relationship with God. A healthy DMIN program will help students enrich their own lives, connecting their brains to their body and spirituality.
What to Look For in DMIN Programs?
Choose your emphasis carefully. There are dozens and dozens of different kinds of DMIN programs. Some focus on preaching, others on pastoral theology, or missions, or ethics. Choose wisely.
Ask about the dissertation type. Some programs focus more on a sociological model (interviews, focused groups, statistics) and others on textual research. Talk to the DMIN director about that seminary’s approach and decide what fits best for you.
Who’s teaching the courses? Make sure it is clear who the instructors are. Some programs carry the name of the seminary, but then farm courses out to adjuncts. You want to make sure you are studying with faculty that you want to be mentored by.
Talk to graduates of the program. A seminary can make a DMIN program look great on paper, but what really matters is what actual students experienced. Track down recent grads or ask the seminary to put you in touch with some grads. If you are going to invest your money in a doctoral program, you want to make sure it is high quality.
Northern’s DMIN New Testament Program
I am really proud of Northern Seminary’s DMIN programs. Our programs are thriving right now, thanks to very intentional planning by our administration, staff, and faculty. Our focus is on rigorous study of biblical scholarship and the New Testament in ancient historical, social, and cultural context. Our hearts are turned towards the gospel mission and the thriving of churches, but readings and assignments are focused on intensive biblical scholarship. Our students are pastors, missionaries, parachurch leaders, evangelists, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers, professional researchers. Some are early career, some are retired, many are midcareer. There is no cookie-cutter type of DMIN student. They are a diverse group, all passionate about studying Scripture faithfully.
At Northern, our students get opportunities to study with me, Dr. Lynn Cohick, Dr. Scot McKnight, and Dr. Bill Shiell, all New Testament scholars with different areas of expertise. One might think, during a worldwide pandemic, “this is the worst time to do a DMIN,” right? But we are seeing strong, consistent cohort numbers. Why? Students are hungry to take control over their lives, their learning, and to adapt to a world that may never go back to “the way things were.” A good DMIN is the perfect degree for leaning into a new world, a new future, and getting excited about what God can do to “gospel” a world that has lived out a lot of bad news.
If you want to learn more about our DMIN programs, get in contact with me (Nijay) and check out our offerings HERE.