We’ve already mentioned that planning your study is your responsibility, and not your seminary’s. The first level of planning is to choose your degree program wisely.
The M. Div. is the standard, time-honored ministry degree. It includes biblical and theological studies as well as a range of coursework in the practical aspects of ministry: preaching, pastoral care, evangelism, and so on. In a sense, it’s two degrees in one, and it has the benefit of being comprehensive. The down side? It takes 3 ½ – 4 years or more to complete.
Most seminaries, however, are now offering a wide range of shorter Masters degrees in biblical studies, theology, Christian Ministry or Christian education. Often these come with a choice of an emphasis track in student minsitry, urban minsitry, mission, church planting or preaching. Think very strategically about this: Is the value of the M. Div. sufficiently high that you want to spend and extra 1-2 years of your life to get it?
A seminary degree is valuable in two ways: 1. in how it prepares you for ministry, and 2. in providing you with a credential that testifies to your qualification for ministry work.
Compare the shorter degree to the longer one. Put the curriculum lists side by side, and see what you’d be missing. Ask fellow students about the value of the courses on the longer degree. Will you really be better prepared for ministry with the extra classes? Or are they needless hurdles for you to jump through?
A recommendation that I’m seeing a lot and I hope becomes a trend is to pair a two year degree in biblical and theological studies with a multi-year internship with an established and thriving church. The practical side of ministry is learned hands-on, under the supervision of experienced mentors, instead of in a classroom. The disadvantage is that it can be hard to find internship opportunities like this, although they are becoming more and more common.
For many churches, the fact that you get a degree from seminary is all that matters. They don’t care what the degree is. Other churches may be particular about it. Think ahead to your ministry work. If you can spend two years less and get the same credential without sacrificing real value in ministry preparation, then you might seriously consider a shorter program. You can save a lot of money that way, too.
When I was in seminary, I seriously considered a shorter program, the M.A. in Theology. Ultimately, however, I decided to stick with the M. Div. For me, it was the right choice, mainly because I went into seminary straight out of college. It was not so much the case that I needed all the additional coursework in the M. Div, what I really needed was time to mature both personally and spiritually, and to gain ministry experience.
So often the time management mantra is: save time, save time. You’ll hear that a lot from me, for sure. But sometimes the wisest thing you can do is spend time. My maturity could not be rushed, and was worth spending the time on.
But I did reject the Master of Music degree on curriculum grounds. As a future worship pastor, some found it odd that I was studying for an M. Div. instead of a music degree. I had looked at the Master of Music curriculum and faculty, and quickly determined that for my purposes, it would have been a complete waste of my time. Most of the coursework on the music degree I’d already taken as an undergrad at a very respectable school of music; the rest I was uninterested in. I felt like God wanted me grounded in Him and his Word, and the theology-rich M.Div. was the right answer for me.
Find out what your options are, and talk with your seminary’s admissions counselors. They have conversations all the time with students making the same choice that you are, and are familiar with the issues that come with choosing one program over another.
As with all major decisions, seek godly counsel from mature friends and mentors.
Most importantly: pray on it. For all my urgings for you to be wise, do remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. God knows your future and which path is best for you. Seek Him on it and obey.
Bottom line: don’t just pick a default degree just because it’s tradition or everyone does it. Give it serious, intentional thought and prayer.