A doctorate in pastoral ministry -- sometimes called a doctorate in ministry or a doctorate in pastoral counseling -- prepares students for a career in leading a religious ministry, whether that involves an individual church or a community outreach organization. Like other doctoral programs, the time to complete a doctorate in pastoral ministry depends upon the program and the pace of individual student work. However, most programs are completed in four to six years.


Most programs require students to take two to three years of coursework beyond the master's degree. Credit hours vary by program. For example, the program at Fordham University requires 36 credit hours, while the program at Loyola University requires 45 credit hours. Coursework includes classes on pastoral theology, ministerial ethics, pastoral planning, religious history and counseling and psychology. The program can be modified through electives, but each program includes core classes that are required.


To complete a doctoral program in pastoral ministry, students must complete a dissertation of original research that deals with the theory and practice of ministry. Dissertations are usually published as a book or a collection of articles after the student graduates. An advisory committee must be selected to oversee the progress of the dissertation and to provide guidance on its development. Students must defend the dissertation through an oral presentation before graduation.


A combination of oral and written exams must be passed before graduating from a doctoral program in pastoral ministry. Some programs require that a written or oral exam is taken after coursework is completed, which tests the students' base of knowledge. Additional oral or written exams may be required after the dissertation is completed and before students graduate.


Internships or student teaching may be required by some programs. Students who are interested in becoming a licensed counselor after graduation must complete a clinical internship with hands-on experience providing counseling to patients. Other students may find an internship or student teaching position enriching for their studies and their career prospects after graduation. Placement may be in local churches, social organizations or classrooms.

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