Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Doctor of Ministry

Part of the reason why I've been so quiet recently has been my admission to the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min, pronounced "demon") at Abilene Christian University. The degree is designed for full-time practicing ministers who have had a Master of Divinity for at least three years. It's different from the Ph.D in that it is aimed at church leadership and practical theology in ministerial contexts. The degree is basically a series of 8 classes - all in the weeklong short-course format. That means reading 10-12 books before class, class from 8am to 5 pm Monday to Friday, and a fairly significant assignment once class gets out. I love this format. It's intense, but over quickly - kinda like ripping off a bandaid! After 24 hours of courses, the final 6 hours are a thesis. This week the class is "Theological Foundations of Ministry." The gist of the reading and discussions has been that ministers are not only skilled technical historical-critical interpreters of the Word in an intellectual vacuum, we are also interpreters of culture, we pass on folklore, we interpret and reinterpret symbols by shaping those symbols through liturgies and rituals, and we engage in pastoral care. For example, today we visisted 4 churches - 2 very different Churches of Christ, one Baptist, and Episcopal to take careful note of how each church uses "sacred space" and symbols to convey their understanding of God, worship, and community. This is a very sophisticated exercise, because even the austere free church buildings with no visible Christian symbols/icons are themselves symbols with theological significance. Part of the minister's task is to read and interpret every story, every narrative, every ritual, and every symbol.

Every teacher I have had in the Graduate School of Theology has been a godly Christian person dedicated to knowledge, truth, Christian community, and the process of shaping students and churches into the image of God. When you have a Ph.D from Harvard and you cry while teaching a doctoral-level class, your heart is probably in the right place. They are training us to minister to the church and our communities in postmodern, post-Christian, Seinfeld-watching America. The irony of this whole process is that you would think after 2 Masters degrees in religion and theology, and work on a doctorate, I may have a big head. Just the opposite is true. The more I learn, especially in theological disciplines, the more humble I am forced to become. God has done things and is doing things I cannot wrap my mind around - in English, Greek, or Hebrew!

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