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If you're considering the options for pursuing a graduate level seminary education, you may be wondering exactly what a Doctor of Ministry (D. Min) is, how it differs from a Doctor of Divinity or Doctor of Theology (Th. D.), and what your distance education options are.
First of all, you need to keep in mind that doctoral degrees in religious studies -- like their non-religious counterparts -- are really tailored for those individuals who wish to teach or minister at a much higher level. Moreover, they are designed for those serving in faith communities where a rigorous understanding of Scripture and the history of the church are necessary.
A Master's Degree in Divinity involves almost three times as many credits as other master's degrees (90+) and gives a comprehensive education in both the theological and practical matters of ministry. The length of study renders the Doctor of Divinity less useful as an immediate next step in your pastoral education. Getting a Doctor of Ministry degree may or may not be for you, since it is considered a professional degree more so than an academic one; if your tendencies lie more in that direction, consider a Doctorate in Theology or Practical Theology instead.
The Doctor of Ministry degree is typically recommended to practicing clergy and focuses on applied theology and the administration of a church congregation; it gives you more thorough theological and administrative tools, not to mention the opportunity to think through complex issues before you encounter them in your ministry. The Doctor of Theology degree differs from the Doctor of Ministry in that it focuses on the abstract concepts without nearly as much concern for how to bring them into practice in a ministry. Such a degree can certainly be useful in the course of a ministry- it just doesn't go out of its way to prepare you for such a path.
While online learning options can be found for both the D. Min and Th. D., you will want to consider what the options are within your denomination (or outside of one, as the case may be). Liberty University, founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, is one of the most well-known and successful online seminary options, having almost as many distance education students as it does on its physical campus.
Some, such as the Bakke Graduate University of Ministry, offer specializations in urban or work ministries. One thing to keep in mind when searching through your options is that most Doctor of Ministry programs require you to spend a limited amount of time on-campus for intensive seminars, so be sure that the program that you select meets your specific needs.
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Doctor of Theology
- Focused on the conceptual frameworks of theology, this degree is not designed to give ministers tools they might need in practice, but can certainly (in concert with the Master of Divinity degree) provide an excellent basis for practical ministry.
Doctor of Ministry
- A professional degree, and thus focused towards those serious at equipping themselves to better meet the needs of their congregations, traditional or otherwise.
Doctor of Divinity
- Largely considered to be honorary in the United States, there are still countries, such as the United Kingdom, in which this degree is the pinnacle of religious education and is generally awarded for significant contributions to the existing body of knowledge.
As a final caution, there are many supposed institutions of higher learning that offer advanced degrees at bargain rates, and this may be true- however, if they are not conferred by an accredited or -- at the very least -- widely recognized institution, then they may not be worth the paper they're printed on. If you are unsure, visit a site such as GetEducated.com to consult their Diploma Mill Police!