My Degree Is Longer Than Your Degree!

December 16th, 2013

Saturday, Leanne and I were at the Sunday School party for one of our young adult classes and struck up a conversation with another guy working on his second master's degree—another glutton for graduate school punishment like myself. He's working on a second degree in engineering, myself on an Master of Divinity as required for ordination in the United Methodist Church.

We both struggled through a first fall semester of six semester hours while balancing full-time work and family time. It's a tough—but meaningful—struggle. It was a great conversation—but then it turned down an illuminating direction when we talked total hours of our degrees.

My friend asks, "How many hours is an MDiv?"
I say, "85."
He says, "Seriously?  Mine's only 36."

Kind of unbelievable, right? The degree I'm attempting to attain, carries the same weight of "Master" and yet is more than twice as long. It's a four year plan at Perkins if you're trucking at full-time, with the last year as an internship. I'm lucky that with my previous MSM work I've come into the MDiv program with 24 hours of credit that counts towards my new calling. But, geez, you guys.

This might be kind of a problem, so I've taken it upon myself to check out how many course hours other Master's Degrees take. I decided to look at SMU, as that's where I currently attend. Let's see how things stack up: 

  • Master of Divinity (Perkins School of Theology, SMU) - 85 hours
  • Master of Sacred Music (Perkins School of Theology, SMU) - 48 hours
  • Juris Doctorate (Dedman School of Law, SMU) - 87 hours - but you technically have a doctorate in the end
  • MBA (Cox School of Business, SMU) - 61 hours
  • MS in Computer Science (Lyle School of Engineering, SMU) - 24 hours (w/dissertation, or 30 hours without)
  • Master of Education (Simmons School of Education, SMU) - 36-42 hours (depending on certifications)
  • MM in Choral Conducting (Meadows School of the Arts, SMU) - 30 hours (I'd be about a semester away from this one if I chose to go back)

The JD from the law school is the only one that takes more course work, but in the end (as noted), you have the equivalent of a Master and Doctorate degree (at least that's my understanding). The only other one that comes close is the MBA from Cox School of Business is 61 hours at my count, which is actually twice as long as some—but the ROI is ridiculous, and it's rated in the top 25 business schools in the country. If you do it right, on average, the MBA from Cox pays for itself in 3.4 years (according to their brochure, which I'm not inclined to argue with—it's a STELLAR program).

So what does all this mean? United Methodists heap a whole lot of work on their potential pastors. This isn't new news, but it's important to point out. And it's not as if looking at the curriculum it's easy to decide what should be taken out.

Could it also be, however, that we expect pastors to be professionals at too many disciplines when they graduate?  Theologians. Human resources management. Counseling. Community activism. Accounting.  Non-prophet business management. Even, theatre and music for many. The list goes on. And many pastors with solo appointments have to be able to handle all of this depending on how well a church can be staffed, and the qualifications of the laity.

I do however, have a proposal, that would shorten the degree and give a pastor more practical experience.

Put them in the local church. Not an internship that pays little (that you technically pay for), but a job.

I'm currently serving as a full-time Licensed Local Pastor, focusing on Communication, Young Adult Ministries, and preaching every week at our contemporary service. I'll admit that I'm choosing this path, I don't have to. But, I love my work. I love to work. And I'm having a ton of fun at this appointment. I'm learning the practical side of pastoring (just as I had for the previous eight years as a Worship Minister), under the tutelage of great mentor pastors, staff, and laity. But I also have several friends that are managing seminary while being out on the fringe with solo appointments to churches and Wesley Foundations.

I think it should count towards my MDiv. I think applying the work I'm doing in seminary in real-time on the job is invaluable. I think at least having the option to work in an appropriate ministry setting should go towards the course load of a Master of Divinity. Doing things at this rate, will take years—or all of my summers and winters with the falls and springs. A path I've chosen, yes, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a better way to work full-time in ministry and get the education needed to become and Elder-in-full-connection. After all, if I chose to say an LLP, I wouldn't have to do any of this. Much less job security, to be sure, but just think about that.

So, why shouldn't it count?

This post was originally published on Jarrod's blog, The Liturgy Nerd.

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