Should a pastor have a PhD? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Mark Dever spoke on the assigned topic: “Why a PhD is Needed in the Pulpit” (mp3) but changed the title to “On Having a Doctorate in the Pastorate.” I outlined his brief remarks below and included some quotes from the questions and answers segment I found helpful.
Here’s the archive description: “Opening remarks and question/answer session conducted at the Feb. 27, 2002 meeting of the Graduate Club in the President’s Reception Room, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.”
Five Reasons a PhD May be Helpful for Pastoral Ministry
- It may be helpful for the matter of what you study. If you pick something you’re edified by it can assist and help your ministry.
- It may be helpful from the very form of the studies. Doctoral studies should improve your ability to research and at best your ability to think.
- It may be helpful for the ministry you have while you’re in your doctoral studies.
- It may be helpful for the connections you make through your studies. Consider the community and relationships you’ll build which may serve your ministry in the future.
- It may be helpful for the credibility you may have with non-Christians and carnal Christians and Christians you don’t know very well.
A PhD is Certainly Unnecessary for Pastoral Ministry
- Great learning can be ill-used.
- You can become prideful.
- You can do people little good – you may speak above people’s comprehension.
- Little learning can be well-used
- John Owen on John Bunyan – “If I could possess that tinker’s abilities for preaching I would most gladly relinquish all my learning.”
Conclusion: “Involvement in a good church is unquestionably far more helpful in the pastorate than a doctorate. But a doctorate can be useful in the pastorate. To say less would be misleading, but to say more, any more, would be false.”
Questions and Answer highlights:
- Sibbes, the subject of Dever’s PhD studies, edified and affected Dever with his meditations and concerns.
- “There’s no question. If I had to weigh out my time in England between my involvement with the church and ministry or the doctoral work at Cambridge I learned far more from my time in the church and ministry than I did from doctoral studies. The doctoral studies were good. I don’t at all regret it. It was good. But yeah, it’s no contest.”
- Dever did a PhD because he planned to teach not be a senior pastor. If he knew he was going to be a senior pastor he probably would not have done a PhD.
- Not all pastors should get a PhD. Most shouldn’t. Some should. It depends on the person. And there are various recommendations in between.
- (12:05): “I don’t think you have to have an M.Div. to be a pastor. Now, do I think there are advantages to it, sure, particularly the original languages. And the kind of study of church history and systematic theology. But beyond that… [I suggest] we just close down certain parts of the seminary. It would be best to turn those things back over to the churches.”
- (16:23): “It’s not uncommon to have a pastor who writes, who’s an author. But to have a pastor as a scholar, to be able to keep up scholarly work, that is difficult.”
Other links related to this topic:
- John Piper’s thoughts on the PhD and the pastorate. I’ve found this very helpful and clarifying as to what to look for if a pastor (or aspiring pastor) were to go into further studies.
- Three SBTS professors on the PhD and the pastorate.
- Hiestand, Gerald. “A Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian: Why PhD Students Should Consider the Pastorate as the Context for Their Theological Scholarship.” Some highlights of this 12 page article/essay are posted here.