Sunday, May 9, 2010

Paul, apostle, D.Min.?

The Doctor of Ministry is an interesting degree which raises all sorts of questions. Why do ministers undertake it? For reflection on their experience of ministry? To gain more respect from their congregations, by being called Dr.? As a stepping stone to gaining a position teaching in a seminary or a theological college?

I am on a committee which reviews applications for admission and proposals for research projects for this degree. The applications make fascinating reading. Here are a few observations and generalisations, which will hopefully generate some discussion.

Most proposals are too driven by personal experience, both how the the research project is formulated and the "hypothesis" that is being examined. Some want to "prove" something about the problem with their situation, i.e., they are going to gather evidence to support their claim, not look for evidence that might show that their hypothesis are wrong or the situation is more complicated than they thought.
The best hypotheses in science are falsifiable.

Given the intimate involvement of the student with the research subject it is not clear they have the objectivity necessary. Their relationship with interviewees (e.g., a pastor with members of his congregation, a mission director and his staff) may mean that the information gathered and processed may be slanted.

Some propose studying and/or interviewing such small groups of people it is not clear that statistically meaningful information will result.

There is little theological, historical or Biblical reflection on the issues at hand. Is any ministry situation in the twenty-first situation really that different from the past?

Although in an Australian context there appears to be a common pre-occupation with
American influences, writers, and materials. Most bibliographies seem to contain only very recent literature (i.e., the last decade). Surely, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth, Wilberforce, Boenhoffer, and others have much to say that is relevant...

On the other hand, every situation is geographically and historically unique. Much can be learned from examining what is unique and what is common. Most of the proposals do not propose such a comparative analysis.

Unfortunately, some students present a pessimistic view of the church and its future. Sometimes, they are judgemental about their congregations and denomination.

Many are looking for (or claim to have found) a magic solution to their problems. This is usually some new technique, method, or framework (family systems theory, narrative theology, purpose-driven church, Appreciative Inquiry, ...) I don't question that such approaches may have something to offer. But, it seems too much is being hoped for and the proposals and methodologies overlook the complexity of situations and multi-faceted problem being considered.

1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating job Ross. When I graduated from Ridely recently I noticed exactly the thrust of what you've described.