If you have been in a congregationally-led local church for any length of time, you might be familiar with this situation. Your beloved pastor has resigned and moved on to another place of ministry or calling. The church appoints a Pastor Search Team (PST) to begin looking for their next pastor. The job description, church name, and church profile are uploaded to the internet. Then, the PST’s inbox gets flooded with resumes from potential applicants.

As your PST reads through resumes, they may find a variety of letters and degrees in the education line of these applicants. Letters like: M.A., M.Div., Th.M., D.Min., Ed.D., or Ph.D.. Perhaps a potential applicant is extremely proud of their many degrees and adds them behind their name–for example, Jeremy Bell, M.Div., Th.M., Ph.D. Candidate, USMC, LOL … you get it. Okay. Those last couple were just poor attempts at humor.

The Problem

What do all those letters that represent degrees mean? Here is a short guide to help churches and PST members navigate the variety educational experiences potential applicants might have on their resumes. In addition, this is not an exhaustive list and is designed to be a framework from my experience as a student for over a decade–yes, you read that last line right–12 years to be exact.

Graduate Degrees:

Master of Arts (M.A.): This is a Masters or Graduate level degree. It typically requires around 36 hours of classroom instruction and some require a project that must be completed before the degree is awarded. Moreover, this degree can be earned in a variety of academic disciplines.

Master of Divinity (M.Div.): This is another Graduate level degree. This program can be between 80 to 90 hours of instruction. Think of this curriculum like an all inclusive training. Many people called to ministry have little experience and limited knowledge. The Master of Divinity provides them with training from Hebrew and Greek to Christian Ethic and all other subjects useful for ministry.

Master of Theology (Th.M.): This Graduate degree is purely academic. It requires 36 hours of instruction followed by either a thesis or project attempting to engage in scholarly debates and thought. In addition, this degree falls into one of the four areas of theological education: Biblical, Systematic, Historical, and Practical.

Advanced Degrees:

Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.): This advanced degree is a professional doctorate. The program consists of classroom instruction followed by a writing project. Many who earn a Doctor of Ministry are engaged in some type of ministry setting–hence, the name. These students learn and think of ways to implement what they have learned into their context and write about the results.

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.): The Ed.D. is for those who are engaged in education or gravitate towards the educational arm of the local church. This degree has courses followed by a final writing project. Many educators and administrators get this degree to be better prepared and equipped to serve in a variety of educational settings.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.): This program is purely academic. It consists of seminars, a comprehensive exam, dissertation, and dissertation defense. Like the Th.M., but on a much more rigorous level, a graduate will have contributed to some area of scholarship in their particular field. Again, the four areas of theological education are: Biblical, Systematic, Historical, and Practical.


All of these degrees are beneficial to the church and each of them must be earned through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. The question a PST should ask is not “What is the highest ranking degree we can get?” but rather what type of training does our future pastor or staff member need so that they are able “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12)? The context of the church and the community the Lord has placed the church in all make a difference in what type of educational requirements to look for in resumes that have been obtained in the search process.

I pray this post will give you or your team a framework in seeking God’s direction for your next pastor.

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