September 20, 2020

Big Money For A Little Piece of Paper: My Stupid Regrets and Inexplicable Ambition to Be “Dr. Spencer”

doc.jpgOnce upon a time, I decided I wanted to be Dr. Michael Spencer. Michael Spencer, Doctor of Ministry (D. Min), actually.

In Southern Baptist culture, the “D.Min” is the everyparson’s doctorate. Two to three years of off campus work under the supervision of a previous D. Min graduate and a seminary faculty member. Occasional stays on campus for short “seminars.” Eventually, you do a research project, write a hundred page paper, and you’re a doctor.

No residential requirements. No languages. No moving away from your church and taking up a full-time student’s life. No oral exams. No required study at another school. No 5-7 years. No, just a lot of muckity-muck, paperwork, reading, hoop-jumping, check-writing, some decent short classes and you get to be “Dr. Spencer.”

What does this mean? Well, in Southern Baptist circles, it would have certainly gotten me out of youth ministry and into the pastorate. It often is the door to the “First Baptist” churches. Southern Baptist laity are naive enough about education that a D.Min impresses most people in most churches that aren’t near a college or university campus. And let’s face it: it makes you feel good. Particularly if school has been a predictably good way to feel good in your life, and I fall deeply into that category.

In other words, this was for me. Thousands and thousands of other ministers apparently agree, because D.Mins, which aren’t cheap, are big business at every seminary I know of. Despite the fact that the Ph.Ds look at them as almost a joke, they build a stong constituency of support for a school, and that is, institutionally speaking, a good thing.

This all worked for me, and when I had been out of seminary two years, I found myself at a church that would pay for the degree and give me the time and opportunity to complete it. So, in 1986, as the associate minister for youth at a large, county seat Baptist church, I decided to enroll in the Doctor of Ministry program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

[Insert here a very long story of bad choices, more bad choices, leaving my associate’s job and taking a pastorate close to Louisville, bad luck, poor decisions and outrageous shoddy treatment from people who said they would support me. You don’t want to read it, and I don’t want to write it.]

The bottom line: I did very well. I finished everything in the program….except for doing a final research project and writing my paper. Why? My faculty supervisor went on an unannounced sabbatical. My field supervisor was 3 hours away. My church leaders were tired of their pastors being students and they didn’t care about me being “Dr. Spencer.” Suddenly, finishing the degree was going to be a fight- a fight I wasn’t ready for.

I faltered. My deadlines passed and I dropped the program without my degree.

I am not a quitter. I’ve never failed or dropped a class in my entire 19+ year educational journey. Actually, my life would be considerably better in many ways if I were an occasional quitter, but I’m not that sort of person. I stay and work until I’m done. I show up when no one else cares to be there. But I dropped out of Southern’s D. Min program, with 37 hours of classwork finished, just a few weeks from completion, and with no degree.

I hated myself for quitting, and by 1991, I had asked Southern if I could reenroll in the D. Min program. Technically, they should have asked me to redo all the requirements. Insstead, they were gracious, and said I could simply retake the research class, do the project and graduate.

I took the class, but by now my pastorate had driven me into a mental and emotional state that was paralyzing. My marriage was a disaster, and I was in no shape to complete the degree. I finished the research class and just went home, the entire dream of my doctoral program defeated ever since.

I just typed that this “was” devastating for me, but I corrected it. This failure to earn the degree is devastating for me today. As I get older, I feel the pain of that failure more and more. I feel the losses of opportunity. I look at my peers who earned the D.Min degree, most of whom do not read or write seriously, or love academics of any kind, and I am profoundly disappointed in myself. It hurts and it burns, and though sometimes I don’t think much about it, at other times it is a haunting daily regret.

Why did I want that degree? For a dozen reasons ranging from the good to the terrible. Was it “God’s Will?” I’ve comforted myself on many occasions with logic something like this: At the time I was pursuing the degree, I was a personal and emotional mess. Our marriage was terrible and headed for worse things. If I had finished the degree and made it to a larger church, I would have never come to to my current ministry and found the blessings of the last 14 years. What I would have found, most likely, would have been further emotional crisis, marital problems, and quite likely divorce. In the end, getting the D. Min would have cost me marriage and ministry.

That’s what I tell myself. I’m not sure I believe it.

I look at myself in the mirror and- trust me- I am not the picture of the pastor of anyone’s First Baptist Church. Denise does not want to be the typical wife presiding over a large church and their unrealistic expectations. My kids would not have done well in that spotlight. I’m was so ambiguous about my Baptist identity for many years that it would have been a disaster for me to be in Baptist pulpit somewhere.

Words. Words. Words. I still want it. I want it BAD.

All in all, I tell myself, that God checkmated this plan and put me exactly where I am, doing what I should be doing. Living with the “shame” of a failed doctoral program is a small, personal disappointment, and in my current ministry it doesn’t matter a bit. Doctorates aren’t very helpful in Eastern Kentucky churches 🙂 No one at OBI cares. If anything, guys who want to be “Dr. Spencer” at a little school in southeast Kentucky look like pretentious egotists.

And then I get a phone call like I did last evening. A co-worker- a Bible college graduate- has finished an M.Div from a distance school, and is looking into the doctoral program at another distance school. He wants to know what I think.

I want to encourage him in every way possible, because he doesn’t have the opportunity that I had to go to Southern, and I do encourage him, as best I can.

What do I really think? I think I screwed up, and now I have to deal with the fact that people with doctorates from schools like this (with this attractive campus) are presenting themselves as world class scholars.

I think I am embarrassed to say how many hours I have spent turning over the option of enrolling in a “distance doctorate” and finally getting that degree. I wouldn’t want you to know some of the tanning salon, laundromat and seminary operations I’ve requested catalogs from.

Yes, I’ve given the diploma mill route a lot of thought. Not because I think that a First Baptist is waiting for me somewhere and my phone will ring…but because I quit. I quit, and I’m ashamed of myself. I quit, and all my seminary classmates finished that doctoral degree, and I know in my heart that I could have and should have finished that degree.

Jesus is not very helpful to this jealous and greedy ambition of mine. He has little good to say about titles, places of honor, or recognition beyond being a faithful servant and elder. I don’t think that Jesus would have much sympathy for my contention that I deserve to have that Doctorate on the wall, because he would show me that, in my heart, I want something entirely selfish, and I prefer such puny recognitions over his forgiveness and his commendation.

Jesus forgives this failure. And he forgives this ambition. He forgives this petty questing after a piece of paper and a title. He offers me something far better: the commendation of God. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” “Come home, my son. Receive my embrace. My ring. My robe. Your place at my table.”

He offers me a place to serve. A church to love. A school where I can teach, preach and minister to all kinds of people. Students. Co-workers. Family. He honors me more than any degree…with another day of life and service to the King. With this master and this calling, why do I want to be “Dr.Spencer?”

Pray for me. These are troubled waters. As life’s day grows shorter, my regrets about this failure grow more painful, and my refusal to take and savor God’s offer of something far better and more satisfying is stupidly stubborn.

Now, excuse me. I need to go read the Bahnsen Seminary catalog.


  1. Some people will not listen to you if you are uneducated. Others will not listen to you if you are educated. God knows whom He wants to touch with your life. I know of one minister who did not know how to read when he came to the Lord at forty years of age. But when I met him, he had a ministry to drug addicts and to children living in a housing project. When he counseled me to do better with my life than I was at the time, lest I wake up at forty and have nothing, I thought to myself, “You had nothing at forty, and I would love to have what you have!”

  2. I understand these feelings. I graduated high school near the very top of my class and was supposed to be headed directly to college on scholarship when things turned upside down. After taking some time off to get life back together I decided to make another go at school at which point God called me to spend the next year in Kyrgyzstan with Campus Crusade. While living overseas, God convicted me of my past financial debt and because of the outrageous cost of school combined with the fact that I was under 25 and still technically a dependent of my parents (crazy that I was an adult at 18 but still not eligible for financial support until I turned 25) I could not raise up enough money to afford college while paying my bills. Most scholarships are also geared at students coming directly out of high school or at people over 25! I know that GodÂ’s timing is perfect but some days that doesnÂ’t help much. While I have an incredible desire to go to school and would do almost anything for the opportunity I see so many kids graduating from high school and getting this opportunity and still not applying themselves. It is truly frustrating. On the upside, my husband will be starting seminary in the fall of 2006 and both of the schools offer free audits for spousesÂ….but oh, how badly I want that piece of paper. And yes, I know too that it is stupid and selfish and I would not change the path that God has placed me on, but I still hurt and feel jealousy while my friends, and even husband, are preparing for grad school and seminary and I have not been able to attend college.

  3. James Aguilar says

    I am thinking of pursuing a PhD myself . . . although it is in a technical field and so somewhat different. I understand the powerful draw that that prefix “Doctor” and the status and reputation assocaited therewith have. It sounds like a difficult struggle.

  4. You’re a great writer. If the commendation of anyone helps ease the pain, take it. Coming from a rather different ecclesiastical position, it’s taken me a while to appreciate your quality. Don’t degrade yourself by feeling envious of James White.

  5. Michael,

    Great post. REALLY great post. I think something like 60% of all DMin. students don’t finish their degrees.

    I received a DMin. from The Beeson Divinity School at Samford University last year. I really enjoyed it and I’m proud of it because I worked hard and got to work with Timothy George, who oversaw my project. I also like that my project seemed to really help my church through a difficult healing process over a church discipline situation. That being said, I think one of the reasons I have enjoyed it so much is that I’ve intentionally refused to treat it as something it’s not…namely, a PhD.

    Whenever my church folks have said, “We’re proud of you for getting your PhD,” I have, in every single case, corrected them and said, “No, it’s a DMin, a Doctor of Ministry degree.” And I have also, whenever it’s appropriate, explained to people that it’s a professional degree involving distance learning, etc. It does seem that the way DMin.’s are handled vary from school to school. It’s taken pretty seriously at Beeson, which doesn’t have a PhD. program.

    So I kind of feel like it can be a good thing if you work hard at it, don’t use it for posturing (I refuse to have “Dr.” printed anywhere in my church – bulletin, letterhead, etc….not that I think it would be wrong to print it ((I did earn the degree)), but because I don’t want to do that), and appreciate it for what it is.

    David Wells somewhere wrote an article on “The DMin-ization of the Church”, or something like that, where he talked about how DMin. degrees have resulted from and helped create the whole career mentality for the church. I think he’s a little off on that, but he has a point.

    Anyway, great post and an interesting topic. You know you’re going to catch it from one Dr. in particular don’t you?

  6. Dr. George was my favorite professor at SBTS, and I believe he recognizes my name still. I would love to do the Beeson D.Min, but it appears they limit the size to 6 students a year? Is that accurate?

  7. Well, it’s low, but I believe it’s over six. You would have no trouble getting in, though they do limit it. I’m good friends with the head of the program and could gladly give a plug if needed. I really enjoyed my time at Beeson. Dr. George, by the way, takes the DMin. very seriously and is involved in teaching seminars and overseeing projects. It’s a great program. We did one of our seminars in England (with Calvin Miller from Beeson traveling along) where we had, for instance, lectures by Bruce Winter at Cambridge and also spent some time in Oxford et al. Good memories and good program.

  8. my husband has been whining about ‘finishing’ his education…he only has a bacholor’s degree in religion and philosophy, and desprately wants to go on to get a masters and then doctorit, he thinks no one will ever listen to him without the letters after his name. but he is 50 years old now, and finances are very VERY tight.
    i know he feels like a failure, i say that if God wants him to continue his education, then God will make a way, but then…maybe it is my lack of understanding and support that is really holding him back.

  9. You are enrolled in the best university, the Divinity School of Hard Knocks, Dr. Jesus Christ, Th.D., presiding.

  10. Karl Barth had a Bachelor’s degree in divinity, and derided American’s obsession for “initials” after their name.

  11. I agree. Some of the dumbest folks you’ll meet have lots of initials and some of the brightest have none. Spurgeon, of course, is an example of the latter. I think that those who treasure study and learning are going to be doing it regardless of whether or not they’re in school.

  12. Michael,

    Your work here is touching lives, perhaps more lives than presiding over some mega-church like congregation. Can you honestly say that you now do not reach people and/or a piece of paper is going to “enhance” your work for the Lord? Last time I checked, the apostles did not have PhD’s yet they were taught by Christ and that Great Teacher, the Holy Spirit. Besides, how many PhD’s currently rest their hope and the foundations of their sermons on their degree instead of continuing to seek the Lord Jesus Christ?

    I know you know the answer to this one…


  13. Michael:

    Been there: I anguished over whether to get a doctorate (of some flavor) for a number of years, finally settling on a distance education opportunity to finish a D.Min. (I was afraid at first that it was going to be a degree mill, but they wound up making me read, research, and write a whole lot more than I had expected. I learned what I wanted to learn, though, and that’s the main thing.)

    Now I have the degree and I wonder some times why I did it. I am a counselor and, since the D.Min. is a non-clinical degree, it makes no difference professionally. But I keep coming back to one thing: for whatever the reasons, people listen to you more closely when they hear “Doctor So-and-So.” When I call physician’s offices re mutual patients, I don’t get put on hold: they pull the doc out of the examining room. It’s really quite ridiculous.

    I must confess, too, that pride was a major factor in my final decision. It troubled me that so many others had the title when they seemed to know so little. I had spent 30-plus years in biblical and theological study – with nothing to show for it. It was a gift I gave to myself, probably for the wrong reasons: who says I should have something to “show for it”?

    (I like confessing in other peoples’ “comments” sections: those who know me are less likely to find it!)

    At the end of the day, I tell myself, having or not having a degree is a morally neutral thing. My reasons – which are always tainted – can make it bad but that, too, can be an instrument in the hands of God to refine me. I can drive myself nuts trying to figure it all out; that’s why I finally said, “What the (supply your favorite four-letter word here)” and did it. It wasn’t cheap, it took a lot of time, but I’m glad I finally got off my butt and did it.

    Is my conscience clear? No. But then it’s never clear anyway. But it is something I finished. For whatever that’s worth.

  14. Michael – Thanks for the honest post. I can relate – I left Wheaton because of pathetic personal weakness and then I didn’t finish my honor’s thesis at UO because I was too distracted by planning my wedding. I didn’t even finish my philo. major because I was so distracted. Not to mention that all my self-esteem in younger years was tied up in accademics and getting my PhD someday.

    But as you say, because of my failures, in areas that are most important to me, I understand salvation. Had I only failed in areas that my identity wasn’t so wrapped up in, perhaps I wouldn’t have been driven to my knees. Your internet ministry has been powerful in deepening my understanding of the Gospel and I will pray that God frees you from your regret.

  15. In 1992 I started a PhD program in mathematics at Vanderbilt University for exactly the same reasons that you want(ed) the DMin. I had had a long-standing obsession with having that DOCTOR title appended to my name for life. About two years into the degree program I came to the realization that:
    (1) Nobody whose opinion I value gives a rip about whether I have a PhD or not;
    (2) You can ENTER a doctoral program with a modest amount of academic success and a ton of ambition, but you can’t FINISH a doctorate without an amount of selfless interest in your field that dwarfs your ambition;
    (3) The sooner I stop caring about whether I or anybody else wants me to be DOCTOR so-and-so PHD, the sooner I will actually *have* a PhD.

    So it’s a kind of zen-like irony that the surest path to completing a doctoral degree in a program that really matters is to empty yourself of the ambition to do so. (I did actually finish my PhD in 1997… barely and by God’s grace alone. I mourn the amount of time I spend screwing around daydreaming about being a PhD during that time, when I could have been making myself a better mathematician.)

    Another thing – Don’t settle for distance learning or diploma mill seminaries. If you go that route, at the end of it all you’ll feel no different than you do now.

    I wonder if there’s some D.Min. out there thinking, “I really wish I could be as good of a blogger as Michael Spencer….”?

  16. I have considered printing up a Ph.D from The Boars Head University 🙂

  17. Great essay, Michael. Of course, I don’t know all the details of your life, but from what it looks like, you are doing just fine without the degree. Spurgeon never received a seminary education. John Stott has no doctoral degree. Jesus didn’t have the human credentials of the typical rabbi.

  18. I have allowed the “Doctorate” word to slip into my head, but at this point it would be impossible. At the time i could have gone on and done it i felt called by God to go out and serve him. Yes, I felt called after graduating SWBTS, to leave. It was time. I do not regret it. Dr. xxxxxx. Sounds cool. But…

  19. Benjamin Nitu says

    Get over it, Dr. Spencer 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your life with us, Michael.

    Philippians 3:7-9 (ESV)

    But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–

    rubbish … hmmmmm precious rubbish
    You are blessed, Michael, more than you know.

  20. Dan Crawford says

    Twenty years ago, when I finished my PhD in counseling I fell immediately into a depression that lasted several months. The fancy academic robe and the wonderful hood only depressed me further. It’s not an unusual occurrence I’ve since found out. After receiving my M.Div. 12 years ago, I’ve toyed with the idea of going on for the D. Min. But I finally dismissed it – it will not make me a better priest, nor a more sensitive and knowledge pastor – it will satisfy, for about fifteen minutes, that inflated sense of self-worth that comes from viewing a list of initials after my name. Wow.

    Michael, you have responded to God’s call and you exercise a valuable ministry to other ministers in addition to the ministry that pays your living expenses. And I suspect that God in his time will honor you with a PhD in a way you haven’t dreamed of. Because you have followed his leading and not your will.

  21. Hi Monk, I can relate, as i plan to go to back to University (we don’t have seminaries here just bible college and university! But we do have DMin etc etc), to do a MA/DMin programme lasting 3 years with the Uni of Wales. I freely admit that part of this would be the nice feeling of being called “Doctor”. I think there isn’t a lot inherently wrong in seeking this . . . but as we have touched on, we must guard against pride. Do keep us posted Michael on whether you decide to do any sort of Doctorate or anything!

    If its worth anything, I know that Liberty Uni offers a distance-edu doctorate … but like me you may find the Falwellian nature of the institution to be too far skewed on the “fundy” side!

    Well . . . this is my offering! hehe

    oh – and i checked out bahnsen, and they don’t do Doctorates! What a shame *he says sarcastically* !!


  22. Me again, in case you or any of your readers are interested, one of the best schools in the world – University of Birmingham, England, offers an external PhD and i think they still do ThD.

    CHECK OUT (homepage) and (this is the link to the external doctorate).

    Again, this uni is up there with Oxford and Harvard as a World class institution, so it’s worth a glance!

    All the best monk
    and keep up the great work!


  23. I know he did not, but I feel like Michael wrote this for me. I appreciate it. On the other hand, I have to bite my tongue about Rev Tommy’s comment because I spent the last 10 minutes checking out and trying to figure out how to make that U Birmingham program work.

  24. Hey matthew, im sorry about that, i didn’t really think that thru, it’s not been an issue for me, 5 mins drive takes me to U Birmingham! I haven’t really researched it, i just knew it was there, but thax for pointing it out! If i do the DMin, it’ll be from
    so i don’t know a lot about the UBirm. Plus, there are a lot of sikhs, and muslims, and buddhists and liberal christians also – it represents the cultural diversity of England’s second city!


  25. oops , i just looked at it again, i didn’t realise that there is 6 months’ residential; my bad!


  26. That’s not it, Tommy. It’s more that I thought I put my “demons” to rest and your post gave me some means to resurrect them.

    Just to clarify: I don’t care about the initials. I love teaching and saw the degree as a means to an end.

  27. o! Fine! Cool

  28. dixie belle says

    Your honesty is refreshing, as usual, and I can empathize with your pain. As this keeps coming up in your life, we realize that God puts these things there for a reason. If this is something that you choose to pursue, your final thesis will certainly be different than it would have been 15 or 20 years ago. Having my own regrets about leaving some things unfinished some years ago, I also know that God’s leading was in that as well. God has certainly blessed you in your time at OBI, and you have worked through some major stuff in these years (especially the last few, it would seem). And if you get that doctorate, it may well be that you will be right where you are for another 15 years, or it may be that God has something else in store for your career. But it would seem that you may never know if you don’t get on with it. If you put it off, will you be wondering “what if I had” in another 5 years? You are certainly capable enough. I say all of this in the spirit of encouragement. You have quite a support group here who would cheer you on until you reach that finish line and beyond.

    What is it that REALLY scares you or makes you hesitant to go for it? Though I know you mentioned jealousy and greed, I also know that God places longings and goals in our hearts for a reason.

    Any thoughts on the subject of your thesis?

    Blessings to you.

  29. I’ll be up front…I loathe pastors who use the “Dr.” in front of their name. The only person who should bear the title “doctor” is the guy or gal who I see for illness and exams.

    Perhaps I think this way because I sat under a few pastors who, I believe, felt that the title “Dr.” would give them more authority, prestige, etc. It was downright sickening to watch these guys strive after a stupid piece of paper that somehow made them a big cheese. And, oh, the churches searching for pastors and demanding he have a doctorate. Really annoying.

    Now, I have nothing about men educating themselves. We ought to be ever learning as ministers. But who really cares how many degrees I have? I certainly don’t talk about it. I don’t hang my diplomas on my office wall. Why? I guess the thrust of Matthew 20:20-28 is why. James and John clamoring for the seats next to Jesus in heaven.

    My two bits

  30. Oh Sled Dog…I had to reply and for you too, IMonk. Our senior pastor comes from a very poor and rural background. He got *saved* and went to DTS. He came to our city as a Prison Chaplain, started our church and commited himself to service and to expository teaching. Then he went for his Doctorate. The congregation paid for it all. 30 years later, we get evangelized every Sunday, we hear stories of his past glories and who his neighbors were at Seminary. Our church is much smaller than he feels it should be and yet he is rarely able to *connect* with his sheep. He has next to NO clue as to their problems, needs, hearts. But he does have Dr. before his name and those letters after his name. He reminds us of when Dr. so & so came to our church. He has fallen victim to the pride of heart. He is so proud of his *rise* from his humble background and glories in who he has known. But he doesn’t see it.

    Phooey! Give me just plain ol’ Gene with a heart to serve, minister and commit to the sheep God has entrusted to him!!!! Did they not question even Jesus? to know from whom did He receive His authority to teach?

    There are sooo many Godly men who humbly serve in the area God has alloted them, but are only known to Him and those who benefit from their love and commitment. If you are growing “in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”, if you are available to minister to even “one of the least of these, My Brethern”, then you have missed NOTHING ! Don’t let the Evil One steal the joy of the work that God has you doing.

  31. iMonk: after sinking 3 years into a PhD program (studying and teaching as a graduate assistant) i walked away, and i’ve felt like dung ever since. i quit, and i’ve hated myself for it, even though all the blessings i enjoy in my life right now were made possible by my decision to leave.

    you concluded with “this master and this calling” and you’re right, refusing these is stupidly stubborn. i should know: i’ve been refusing too. thanks for reminding me to stay focused on what’s real. i’ll pray for you, bro, but you better pray for me too. me and god both know i’m a quitter: i need to be reminded that there’s a greater race i’m running. thanks for keeping me focused on that, bro.


  32. I do think that its a shame that so many people who do get to do a doctorate let it go to their heads. That’s sad. I think that sled d has a point in that the title should not be used frequently in a church context, like when luke wrote the *gospel* to Most Excellent Theophilis; but in Acts, presumably Theo was saved so he was just plain old “Theophilis”! This fact was brought to my attention by the principal of the bible college i went to! He wanted me to call him Gordon in church, not Prof Rev Dr or whatever. No matter what our status in the world, when it comes to the oikos, the household of faith, we are EQUAL!

    Although im not entirely sure about the “Dr” title being restricted to the clinical sense . . . here in the uk, a degree for a medical doctor is MB ChB. Two bachelor degrees! For anyone who’s counting, a graduate doctorate is head and shoulders above that! And to relate my 2 points on this comment in an amusing way, most of the people in my church are medical doctors!

    Oh, and the pastor of a church i was part of for a while used to be a hospital doctor before working full-time for the church, so … umm shall i call him Paul or Dr Paul? Yeah yeah i know, i do call him Paul, because he wouldn’t answer to Dr, or Rev, or whatever!!

    Sorry about rambling, but that’s what i do!!


    t o m m y

  33. bookdragon says

    As a Ph.D. (not in theology, but in a highly specialized area of engineering), let me put in my two cents:

    1. I went through a difficult and rigorous 5-year program to get those initials. I have almost never used ‘Dr’ in front of my name (i.e., it only gets used at technical conferences or lecture courses). Part of that is the influence of my academic advisor (a major name in my field) who always insisted he NOT be called ‘Dr’ because only physicians were Doctors. The other influence is too much exposure to people who care way too much about having the title. The result is that I avoid it. In fact, when my company moved and we were ordering new business cards the office admin came by to check on my title. She hadn’t realized in 5+ years of working with me that I had a Ph.D. For some reason I am more perversely proud of that fact than of actually having the degree.

    2. The program I went through was grueling in a lot of ways, in part due to personal and family issues, and many times now I look back I wonder if God was trying to tell me to drop it. (But of course, being of Scot/Irish/Dutch/German-Jewish stock, I am both hardheaded and stiff-necked and so stuck it out.) While it has helped my career and I enjoyed a lot of research work, I really have learned more during my time ‘in the real world’. Also, those credentials are a trap. People expect Ph.D.’s to be workaholics and in my field 60+ hrs/week (for 40 hrs pay of course) is normal. When I started having children, my career suddenly bacame a lot less important to me and I cut back to a regular work week. That would have been a normal and acceptable thing for someone with a BS or MS to do, but not a Ph.D. I have to deal with guilt-trips for ‘throwing my education away’ and ‘falling behind my peers’. Looking back, stopping at MS probably would have been a far better choice.

    3. Titles mean nothing. My experience is that no one who is really good in their field particularly cares to use the title. But I’ve met Ph.D.’Drs’ who leave me wondering if they got there degree from a crackerjack box. Otoh, my husband is also an engineer with ‘only’ a BS, but he is frankly a much better engineer than I am. He has genuine talent for design and seeing how diverse technologies can be combined to find unique technical solutions. And since he never specialized as I did, he can consider a broader range of disciplines in his technical reading w/o falling behind in the rarified strata for one area.

    3. My mother was a church secretary for 10 years and my uncle has worked his whole life as a Christian educator (unordained youth minister). Both will tell you that they have only rarely seen a minister who was not worse for having gotten a D.Div. I know my previously sane and marvolous pastor went off the church-growth deep end shortly after returning from a D.Div. program and we are only now digging out from that debacle.

  34. Eric in New Haven says

    As someone who finally finished my Ph.D., I find the idea of people who let it go to their heads mystifying. For one, it is a ridiculously humbling process that makes one feel very small and acutely aware of how little one really knows.

    Also, as a Ph.D. I know lots of Ph.D.s, M.D.s, J.D.s, Th.D.s and miscellaneous holders of terminal degrees, and just knowing them tends to knock them down a few pegs. Naturally, some of these people are really cool, but I would venture to guess that that has little to do with the degree.

    But I know one thing that spurred me on was that I would have to live with this sense of shame and failure (and my family would be happy to remind me!) if I didn’t finish. But now that I have the degree, I still feel like I will be a failure if I don’t use it, so finishing the degree doesn’t necessarily put the failure problem behind me. Dropping out early on might have been the right thing to do, but fortunately, God has a way of using our failures (finishing my degree is a failure? Maybe.) for His own blessing if we allow Him to do so, so I always try to have faith in His redemption. All things work to good for those who belive in him.

  35. My life mate and I have done what you have done, only on a smaller scale.

    It took my husband twenty years, but he finished college. When the diploma finally arrived in the mail, we both stood there, looked at it, and looked at each other, and said one word:


    I think that just the “finishing” is the important thing to you. You want to finish something you started. Maybe now it won’t cost all the things you were weighing then. Maybe now you can put it in better perspective and then do it just to get it done. In the long run, it won’t matter much, but the “Got It Done” will matter a bit more.

    I’ll be praying for your journey, ’cause I supported one man through it already. Best of clear thinking. Not luck, clear thinking. Luck has nothing to do with it. 😉

  36. Michael, I want to be like you when I grow up. I have half an MDiv, and I have a friend with half a JD. I told him I’m half divine, and he’s half legal.

    I also like the fact that my degrees (BA, Master of Music) put together spell BAMM!

    Keep writing…your stuff is profound and encouraging.

  37. IMonk,

    Thanks for this post. The discussion is also very interesting. The thing that saddens me about the commentary is that, to some, the idea of someone being called “Doctor” who is not a medical doctor is repugnant. Whatever happened to the belief that theology is “The Queen of the Sciences”? Here’s a quick opinion, and I believe that some will agree, a Ph.D in theology can be every bit as consuming and complex as a M.D. I have friends (and tremendous respect for)who have pursued and earned both.

    I would like to pursue a Ph.D some day, if the Lord permits. For one thing, I simply enjoy the classes. They offer accountability and mentorship. Both of which I find to be exceedingly helpful. Secondly, it offers a level of interaction that I don’t get at my local church. That is, I meet men who are fellow pastors and teachers whose challenge it is to make difficult theology understandable.

    The thing that I am most concerned about is the mentor for the Ph.D. This is very important in pursuing this degree. Basically, I’m waiting for opportunity and the right professor. I may not ever get the chance, but that’s okay.

    In the end, it’s not the Ph.D/D.Min that I miss, it’s the learning environment that such places afford. I would not pursue the degree if I couldn’t do it in the classroom environment, go the chapel services occassionally, and interact with my fellow students. This, to me, is the spice of academic life.

  38. besides, if you want to see how the title “Dr” has dropped in status, just google “Dr Joyce Meyer”, or “Dr Marilyn Hickey” or “Dr Benny Hinn”! Im just waiting until i see “Dr Joel Osteen” before i kill myself!!!!!!!


  39. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Dr. Benny Hinn!? Dr. Marilyn Hickey?

    I’d rather see someone from the show Blue’s Clues with a doctorate. Doctor Steve Burns “almost” sounds more legitimately collegial.

  40. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Actually just getting to grad school now feels like it was an impossible dream for me. At first I thought I could just get a job and bide my time until I had the money or resources to go to seminary in New Testament studies but getting ANY job became hard. The bubble in the Seattle area was never even really a bubble for a journalism student who could never drive a car. By the time the bubble officially burst the job market was still being touted as being the best it was since the end of WW2. Not for me it wasn’t. After five years of just struggling to find a job that let me pay rent and didn’t give me tendonitis typing or packing I finally got a job that doesn’t pay enough for me to seriously consider seminary anyway.

    But sometimes I feel like I gave up that dream too soon and then I get depressed. And I can’t settle for distance learning. Who wants to learn biblical Greek through a correspondance course? Who would offer such a course anyway? I’m certain no one offers biblical Hebrew through a correspondence course. I’ve felt doubly stuck because the kinds of things I’ve wanted to learn you practicaly HAVE to go to seminary for and that’s the one thing that has seemed financially and geographically impossible for me.

    So I totally relate to wanting something that doesn’t feel practical or prudent for where one is at. I’ll pray for you.

  41. Michael –

    You remember my letter to you awhile back, right (the one in the IMonk Underground)?

    Grab a copy of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Read the reviews of the books-cum-doctoral-theses in the back. Tell me if doing the 2+ years to write one of those theses/books will help you, the church as a whole, or both – and if it’s really worth the time away from your family and ministry to do so.

    What the world and the church needs more than another excruciating study of “The Etymology of (insert favorite systematic theology topic here) as found in (insert favorite biblical book/passage here)”, is your printed compilation of IMonk essays. Get to work on that already! ;-}

  42. hey Jeremiah, try Moody Bible College’s website: they used to do the languages by correspondence, and if you want them and don’t have access to them at a local university (usually you can audit language courses if you’re not seeking a degree), then correspondence classes are probably the next best thing.

    : )

  43. Hi there, JEREMIAH – there are intro and intermediate level courses in Hebrew and Greek in midlands bible college in england. They are solely distance-learning and they are accredited by the University of Wales.

    here is a link directly to the “greek” page:

    and J, as an added bonus, these are UK courses which means that you could be saving thousands of dollars! The average tuition for an undergrad BA here is about £4000 ($7250) – that is the entire degree, not per year!! So these courses could be good for you!

    Let us know what you decide!


    t o m m y


    Bill Mounce’s Teknia software is excellent.

  45. that sounds really good monk

  46. Andrew Dobbs says

    I don’t know if anyone will read a comment this far down, but it speaks to a crisis I’m in right now.

    I’ve been a Christian for some time, but my recommitment to my faith is not terribly old (less than a year). I spent the first 3/4 of my undergraduate career goofing off and I have a pretty pathetic GPA (2.77). I now am interested in going to seminary at some point, something I have actually wanted to do for a long time, but has become more of an interest to me lately. I want to know if with a GPA just under 3 (but with a year or more of 4.0s), good GREs and reccomendations from my church would be enough to get me into a good program (I’m Evangelical Covenant, so North Park really seems like a good school)?

    Should I do this? Would it benefit me? My background is in politics so I’m interested in studying justice ministries and working to organize God’s people for social justice. What advice can I get from around here?

  47. I can only say most seminaries these days say that a lower GPA will need a higher GRE. Sounds like you are good to go.

  48. Jeremiah Lawson says

    I’ve downloaded the Teknia font for some Greek work I’ve done already. Mars Hill church in Seattle actually has a guy finishing up work at Fuller who’s offering to teach beginning biblical Greek through the church for FREE (the caveat is you have to be a contract-signed member to get this free stuff). I had a blast and for free I’ve been trying to see what I can pick up.

    The main obstacle has been personal. I just moved recently and my sister and brother-in-law just had their second child (and to top that off my brother was stationed in Kuwait not that long ago with the Army National Guard). I’ll definitely have to look into these resources some more.

    I’m also juggling priorities because the other thing I want to pursue seriously is composition, the “classical” sort. It’s encouraging to know there are other people out there who struggle with these things.

    I also probably better actually TAKE the GRE, now that I think of it. Whether I ever do grad work in music or biblical studies that’s probably a gimme isn’t it?

  49. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Thanks for the links, everyone.

  50. some of these american-isms i need translated!

    What is a “gimmee”?
    What does “good to go” mean?
    What is “take the GRE”?
    Who is “Steve Burns”?
    and finally, “the show Blue’s Clues” – what is it?

    Sorry about my inter-atlantic ignorance!!!

    t o m m y