7 Master of Divinity Mistakes to Avoid


Hi, I’m Jim Ehrman, one of the deans and one of the professors in the area of Leadership and Culture here at Evangelical Seminary. Hi, I’m Mark Draper. I’m one of the deans here at Evangelical Seminary and also a professor in the Historical Theology Department.

Mark and I are interested in helping you to think through some of the questions that circulate in someone’s mind when they’re thinking about graduate theological education. So we’ve created this video, seven mistakes that you can make when thinking about an MDiv.

Number one, have you talked to your denomination or supporting group about what their educational requirements are for ordination or for ministry? A number of students can fall into this trap. They go to seminary, they get a Masters of Divinity or they get a Masters in Bible, and then they go back to their supporting group and find out those weren’t exactly the educational requirements that were needed.

Always talk to your denominational leaders or supporting group before you even start your coursework as you’re looking at programs to get an idea of what they’re looking for so that you can marry those two together. Number two, theological considerations. What are the theological considerations of your supporting group? And what are your theological considerations? There might be a situation where you need to do different courses.

You might need to develop some individual learning programs to marry these two together. Here at Evangelical, we’re willing to work with you and help you do that. Number three, does your supporting group or denomination allow you to do online education? Online education is a big buzzword in education today, but it can mean a lot of things to different people. So do your homework, find out what does Evangelical, what do all the seminaries you’re looking at, what do they mean by online education, and what does your supporting group or denomination mean by online education?

And before I do number four, let me just add something that Mark said about number three, online education. What we found is that people don’t always understand the difference between a hybrid approach, which many denominations are more than willing to accept because you’re spending almost 50% of your time face to face with the professor even if it’s at a distance via a video screen. But there’s other courses that are just entirely online.

And in those online courses, you don’t always have interaction directly with the faculty or other students in a room. And that makes some supporting groups nervous. Now, that’s not to say it’s not a great education, we’re simply saying you might want to check with those groups before you commit to a program. Number four, make sure you know a bit about the accreditation of the school where you’re attending because top-tier accreditation does make a difference in the long trajectory of your vocation.

Now, what do we mean by top tier? Well, that alone, you have to be careful saying because there’s so many good quality accreditors out there who are looking for different things. So just do a little homework in that area. But we will say this, accreditors like the Association of Theological Schools have some of the highest standards, and therefore, whether it’s military chaplaincies or larger denominations, they’ve identified this as the lead accreditation that they’re looking for.

So it’s important, check out what your group’s looking for because it’s going to make a difference in the school you attended. You don’t want to find out afterwards.

Number five, MDiv requirements differ from school to school, do your homework, find out. You might be able to get a degree for less credits, but will it meet all the requirements you need to be ordained or to do the vocation you’re being called to? So look into that, compare notes, compare the amount of credits also with accreditation to go along with that Jim was saying.

You may find a program out there with less credits, but they might not be accredited. You may find a program with more credits that isn’t accredited.

And that brings us to point number six, size and gravitas of the school is a double-edged sword. Let me tell you what I mean by a double-edged sword. There are schools that are just gorgeously big, and there are schools that are gorgeously small, right? And what I mean by gorgeously big, you could have a school that has an incredible programmatic offering. They’re able to bring a bunch of extra fun, elective courses into your degree trajectory, and you might be sitting in a classroom that has one of the preeminent thinkers in the field speaking.

Now, I went to one such school. In my Ivy League theological education, I was able to sit in a classroom that had what was considered in this particular field, the top thinker. But I’ll also tell you this, I was in a room with 100 people and we had our heads down the entire time scribbling as fast as we could as this lecturer stood in front, spoke for an hour, and barely raised his head.

Now, does that mean the content wasn’t amazing? No way, loved what was going on there. But I want to let you know, when sometimes you get into smaller schools, you’re having moments where you’re able to sit and reflect in a community hermeneutic. In other words, a community interpretation over what’s going on. And instructors that work in those settings oftentimes learn what it means to move a community in the truth, and for other people, that’s the way they like to journey.

So both can be excellent, right? And we encourage you to know that moment is a double-edged sword.

I went to a smaller school with top-flight scholars, but one school that also wanted us to have relationship with our professors. I had the opportunity to go over my dissertation topic time and time again at dinner at my advisers’ homes. That’s a huge advantage. And that’s one of the things that we’ve really value here at Evangelical, sort of a small, personalized experience through your education, whether you’re doing a master’s degree, whether you’re doing a certificate, whether you’re doing a doctoral degree, you will have access to your faculty.

Okay, I’m going to change up the script here. I’m going to make a 6.5 when we talk about this size and gravitas issue, I also want to remind you that know a little bit about the way your courses and instructors interact. And one of the things you’re going to find in adult theological education is that sometimes the instructor that’s teaching the course didn’t necessarily rate the syllabus.

And that’s an interesting interaction. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s not quality, but there is something to be said for the instructor who wrestled through the material teaching it and is having a face to face experience. Now, if you want to know a little bit more about online education and some of the ways that it manifests, then you might want to check out a video we’re going to recommend.

So point six, point C’s, don’t forget this and some of you may be sitting there and saying, “But I’m in California, you’re in Pennsylvania.How am I going to have a relationship with faculty that way?” In the age of Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangout, 2,000 miles is not a problem. My wife knows a lot of my online students that I’ve never actually had in class in a physical classroom here in Pennsylvania because of the conversations we’ve had online, being able to converse.

So classes at Evangelical, even the classes that are online, fully online classes, you will have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with your faculty through the use of web conferencing software.

So if point six was not taking the time to understand actually how the gravitas or the size of the school influences the education, point number seven gets something we think you need to remember when you’re thinking about an MDiv, and that’s how to get your MDiv funded, right? Now, we’ve taken the time to shoot a video that we’ll recommend at the end of this one, mistakes you can make when it comes to funding or at least questions we forget to ask when it comes to funding, and we encourage you to take time to check that as well, because let’s face the facts, you’re going to be going into more than likely ministry or some kind of mission or vocation after this, and you want to figure out how to make sure this gets paid for.

So, those are the seven things we think you ought to think about when you’re going into MDiv education. And we encourage you to get in touch with us if you have any questions. Take care. Mark, Mark, Mark, come on, it was 6.5.1.

I don’t think that’s true. Eight, bonus round. You didn’t pay for this one but it’s free. Have you spoken with your spouse, your family, your children, your parents, whoever you’re supporting cast is going to be through your journey in seminary? Seminary is a huge amount of time required to do this well. And you want to talk to the people who are going to support you.

You also want to talk to your employer to find out if you can balance your workload with your school workload. Also, as you’re looking at seminaries, look at curriculum and how the curriculum is offered in various seminaries. Here at Evangelical, we take flexibility and accessibility very seriously. We understand that you may have a family, you may work a job, you may be involved in a church.

We want to be able to develop an education program for you that will enable you to meet your requirements in school as well as outside of school.