Dedicating your life's work to the church is commendable, and earning an online ministerial Ph.D. will open a number of doors to areas that may otherwise exclude you from performing various acts of church service. A ministerial Ph.D. is ideal for someone who wants to become a scholar and contribute to religious research. The doctorate can also qualify you to teach, but finding the best online ministerial Ph.D. program will help prepare you for better opportunities.
Check Accreditation Requirements
The best online ministerial Ph.D. degrees have good accreditation ensuring they meet acceptable quality levels. Most online colleges offering ministerial doctorates will list their accreditation, but not all meet the highest standards. Check with the U.S. Department of Education and look up the accreditation agencies associated with your school. If your goal is to teach at the college level within the U.S. or abroad (as some ministers engage in global missionary work), you may need specific accreditation. Also, check with your church's head office for accreditation requirements. For example, "Ministry: The International Journal for Pastors" states that ministers of the Seventh Day Adventist Church must obtain their degrees from a program accredited by the American Association of Theological Schools.
Online Courses and Sources
As the Bible encompasses a broad range of subjects, the best online ministerial Ph.D. programs will have curricula with diverse course topics while offering students a number of sources for engaging in research. For example, Northwestern Seminary's online Ph.D. in ministry covers subjects in the Bible's Old and New Testament, various methods of biblical study, hermeneutics (literary interpretation of the Bible), the history of Christianity, and how morality plays into ministerial works. The best online ministerial doctorate programs should also offer access to online research databases and award graduate-level research passes to physical libraries for advanced research. For example, The Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, houses rare archives and attracts doctorate students from all over the world but requires specific documentation and letters from professors for research admission.
Thesis and Dissertation Expectations
A good online ministerial Ph.D. program ensures students stick to high standards -- something a strong thesis or dissertation requires. Many online seminaries require students to write a dissertation or thesis but demand they maintain satisfactory grades before writing. Often these standards are set to ensure students have the required knowledge and academic skills to proceed to more challenging heavily research-based work. Look for an online ministerial Ph.D. program that provides a supervisor who guides you through the writing process and helps you stay within the guidelines ensuring good work -- content that presents accurate data, that is original, relevant, and that reads well and is written critically.
Online Ministerial Ph.D. Dumpster Diving
Searching for the best online ministerial Ph.D. programs can feel like you’re digging through "online junk degrees" until you find that golden one. The best programs will present interesting, factually grounded information. Be prepared for copious amounts of reading, as there are no physical lectures or seminars to attend, but look for a program that offers reading that is open to interpretation and challenges independent thinking.
- U.S. Department of Education: Accreditation in the United States
- Ministry: Accreditation for the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
- Dallas Theological Seminary: Ph.D. Program Requirements
- Northwestern Seminary: PhD Christian Ministry - Online Seminary
- The Huntington Library: Doctoral Student Requirements for Reading Privileges at The Huntington
- Anglia Ruskin University: Dissertations
- DesiringGod.org: Should Pastors Get PhDs?
Jen Saunders is an entrepreneur and veteran journalist who covers a wide range of topics. She made the transition to writing after having spent 12 years in England where she studied and taught English literature.