Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Seminary, Part III - What Degree Do I Pursue?

Picking up where I left off a few weeks ago before being sidetracked for the umpteenth time, we continue the blog series on seminary.  So, we've covered the why of seminary here and the where of seminary here, today, we look at the what.  There are a number of possible seminary degrees to pursue, which one is right for you?

Part of this will certainly be driven by you and your desires, but some of it may also be driven by where you want to go.  In order to be considered for ordination, or at least to have a smoother ordination process, in most denominations, you need to have a Master's of Divinity (M.Div.) degree.  This is not a degree for the faint of heart, take it from someone who did it in the process of growing his family and working full-time in a church.  If you know you want to do this, you should do it with as little encumbrances as possible.

Don't get me wrong, I love my family and my job, but it was an exercise in discipline to accomplish everything that I needed to accomplish in the way that I did.  While there are options within the M.Div. degree, for ordination within any of the major denominations, you will need to take both of the biblical language, Hebrew and Greek.  These two languages are one of the big reasons this degree is not for the faint of heart.  Anyone who has studied languages knows the time required to master them, let alone become familiar with them.  Discipline is the name of the game, and if you are lacking in discipline, you might want to figure out if there is a better way to pursue your degree or if there is a simpler degree that might suffice for you.

There are other options for degrees if an ordination track is not high on your list of importance.  Most other seminary degrees would be Master’s of Arts degrees in a variety of areas.  The seminary I attended offered degrees in Christian Thought, Marriage Family Therapy, Ministry Practice, and Transformational Leadership, and Theological Studies.  Many of these are used as stepping stones for those who want to continue to pursue higher degrees, but others find them sufficient.

I hold a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, which was a four year degree.  The total number of credits required for graduation was over 136 credit hours.  My seminary degree required 144 credit hours.  Even at 4 credits per class, that’s still 36 classes.  Like I said, not for the faint of heart, but well worthwhile if you are really seeking to be educated and transformed in the midst of your education.

When I made the decision to pursue a seminary degree, I had already been ordained in a large nationally recognized denomination, so ordination requirements were not a driving factor for me.  But, I did know that in order for that ordination to be recognized by others denominations, a seminary degree would need to accompany it.  I also knew that I had a lot to learn, not determined that I would learn it all in seminary, but knowing that it would be a good place for me to start figuring out ways in which I could begin pursuing knowledge.

Since my days in engineering school, I have never been fond of academics.  There are many in academics who are there simply because they have a strong desire for knowledge, some who are there because they have a passion to teach, and others who are there because they were not able to make it or survive in the “real” world.  I have always gravitated towards those who have mixed knowledge and praxis, often finding that the best teachers are the adjuncts who understand better what is happening in practice because they are entrenched in it.  Thankfully, I did not find many in the halls of academia in my theological institution who were overly consumed with knowledge without a healthy combination of praxis.  In fact, I was struck by the overwhelming “humanness” of my professors.

In conclusion, if you’re pursuing a seminary degree for yourself and for your own personal edification, you’re going to have a lot more freedom in determining what you want.  If you’re pursuing a degree with the intent of pursuing ordination or some other credentials in the future, you would want to check with your credentialing agency in advance to find out what additional requirements might be required of you.  If you are not pressed for time, you don’t mind the work, and you’re able to discipline yourself through heavy academics, you might want to consider a Master’s of Divinity degree.  It might take a while, but I think it will be well worth it in the end.

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