Update on my Doctor of Ministry

I wanted to give everybody an update on my Doctor of Ministry.  A doctor of ministry is not a Ph.D. It is an applied doctorate. Think of the difference between a Ph.D. in biology and a Medical Doctor. A Ph.D. might know all the bones of the body or how the circulator system works, but if you break your leg you want the medical doctor. They are the ones trained in fixing the leg. A doctor of ministry is not a study in abstract theology or philosophy of ministry. It is an advanced degree in how ministry works.27214779480_cf35fa8ad6_kMy particular program is through George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, OR. (http://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/) The focus is on Semiotics and Future Studies. (http://www.georgefox.edu/seminary/programs/dmin/sfs/index.html)  The term semiotics comes from the Greek word semion meaning sign or symbol. It is the same word the Gospel of John uses for signs that Jesus does. The study of semiotics is a cross between the fields of philosophy and linguistics that looks at how people and cultures express their values and ideas in language, metaphor, and symbolism. It is the study of meaning making—how we communicate and understand symbols. This can range from studying actual signs of advertising or the ways words change over time and are used for different things.

The Christians study of semiotics involves looking at the Bible and Christian tradition through its symbols. It also reads the signs of culture—the ways that the values of the culture come out in media and in language. This leads us to think about the world of the future and what the church needs to do to prepare to do ministry in that world.

My program has a number of components. My cohort of 14 people gathers once a year for an intense learning experience. The orientation happened in Washington, D.C. Last summer we spent a week in Cambridge, England. I just went at the end of May for my last gathering on Orcas Island, WA.

I have had two classes at all times throughout the program so far. One class is an ongoing mentorship with Leonard Sweet. (http://leonardsweet.com/) Len is the author of over 60 books and a frequent speaker around the world. He has taught at Drew Seminary in NJ and United Theological Seminary in Ohio. For Len we have weekly online chats on Monday mornings were we have video, audio, and typing going on simultaneously.  We also read about ½ a book a week and do ongoing conversations via online posts. The goal of these class elements is for Len to mentor us and develop our thinking.

The other class that is ongoing is a series of independent studies that we do researching whatever we want to write our dissertation about. We each have a professor at the seminary that guides us and challenges us through this process. In my own research I have been studying pastors—how they form and follow their identity and how unhealthy identities can lead to stress and burnout. I am proposing that the idea of story could be a helpful paradigm and identity for pastors today. I don’t just mean telling stories. I mean thinking in stories. I have done some preaching and teaching out of this study. (In fact, I confess that much of what I have learned in this program has been tested on you.)

The end of June marks the end of the classwork phase of the program. I am now shifting to working very hard on my dissertation. To graduate in the spring, my dissertation needs to be done in the beginning of January. This sounds very fast, and it is. Only about ½ of student make that first graduation. Still, the research is largely done and large pieces of the dissertation has already been written in the independent studies.

The program also gives me the opportunity to do a non-traditional dissertation. In my case, half of my writing (20,000-25,000 words) will be academic writing explaining my research. In particular, it will describe the problem of pastoral identity and the proposed solution of story. The other half (another 20,000-25,000 words) will be a book proposal and several chapters of a writing sample. I am calling “The Story Pastor.” If all goes well, by January I should be turning in the dissertation and have a book proposal and book started that I can send to publishers.

I want to thank you for your support on this journey. So many people have asked about my program, wondered how it was going, and supported me through it all. You may see me at Starbucks and Panera a lot more as the year moves on. I am planning to take one of my days off each week to camp out and write all day. Please continue to pray for me as I finish this marathon.

And thanks for letting me experiment with this stuff on you. I believe I have grown a lot from this program and I hope you can feel the benefit from that as well.