Advice for PhD-minded seminary students

When I went to seminary, I was surprised to find myself almost in a minority of students who actually seemed headed towards the pastorate. (My orientation has clearly changed a little bit since then ;-). This post by Sean Michael Lewis (Covenant Theological Seminary) rings a few bells – Ministerial Students, Calling, and PhD Studies. (Thanks: Justin Taylor.)

Many come to seminary with a very romantic view of the ministry . . .


  1. Seminary is difficult – Greek, Hebrew, suffering wife and kids, and God’s work on their hearts.
  2. Ministry is difficult – field education, “grace-filled thorns” (2 Cor 12). I like to call it exposure to the “dark underbelly” of church ministry.
  3. There are hundreds of MDiv students. “You ain’t so special no more.”
  4. Seminary profs. start looking more suave than senior pastors used to look.

. . . you have to recognize that there are a glut of PhDs in the job market; that competition for jobs is ruthless; and that you are probably more likely to find a job at a college or university, which is why you should target your students as widely as possible (instead of OT or NT, go to a university for a PhD program in religious studies; instead of church history or historical theology, go to a university for a PhD program in history; etc.). In addition, I have to tell these people how unlikely it is for them to teach at a seminary that is serious about training pastors if they themselves do not have some pastoral experience (which, for some reason, always seems to surprise them).

. . . Do they really understand how unlikely it is for them to find a job–would they really be willing to go through the pain of PhD studies if they knew they didn’t have a job at the end? Do they really understand how insecure academic life is? Will they listen to me tell them how unsatisfying academic significance turns out to be? These students tend to leave my office discouraged; some still try to do PhD work, but very few complete their programs and/or find teaching posts.

There are a (very) few who want to do a PhD in order to equip them better for pastoral ministry. For these, I simply rejoice and try to encourage them not to allow the apparent blandishments of academic life to sway them from the God-given trajectory they are pursuing. . . PhD studies do provide are critical thinking skills–the ability to discern and divide issues, the larger and more sharply honed knowledge base, and the writing skills which should translate into preaching–all of which strengthen pastoral ministry, all of which strengthen the church of Jesus.

Read the full post:Ministerial Students, Calling, and PhD Studies. (And some of the comments

Cf:Interested in a NT PhD?

One thought on “Advice for PhD-minded seminary students

  1. Occcum says:

    If you want solid doctoral education in theology, Church History, Systematics, Ethics or whatever, go to Princeton Theological Seminary.

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