How can you tell which Master of Divinity (MDiv) program is the best fit for you?
By Joel Short
There might be practical concerns relating to cost and convenience to consider. But how can you evaluate the quality of a program and the impact it will have on your life and ministry?
Here are 5 questions to explore as you consider various programs.
1. Is the school accredited?
Although reputation and credibility are not the only reasons for pursuing an MDiv degree, they are significant factors when it comes to job placement and future academic pursuits. For this reason, you should pursue an MDiv degree from an accredited school.
In theological education, the most reputable and longstanding accrediting body is the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). You can search the ATS website to verify if a school is ATS accredited.
2. What is the school’s mission?
Jesus entrusted his disciples with his mission to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). How does the seminary orient its MDiv program to meet this world-changing calling?
The way a school understands its mission profoundly shapes the school’s MDiv curriculum. Is the school’s understanding of God’s mission in the world congruent with your own understanding? With your church community’s understanding? If not, are you ready to be challenged to think differently about God’s mission in the world, or are you setting yourself up to be frustrated?
3. What is the school’s approach to learning?
A school might have a sincere and profoundly Gospel-centered mission, but it also needs to be effective in preparing students to fulfill the mission. Educational effectiveness is shaped by a variety of factors, but a school’s educational philosophy and practical approach to instruction can be decisive in determining outcomes for students.
Ask yourself what view of learning the MDiv curriculum reveals. For instance, does the school believe theological education consists in the transfer of information from professors to students, or does it believe theological education is a process of personal and spiritual formation preparing students for lifetimes of creative and transformative ministry?
Ask admissions representatives if the school’s MDiv curriculum has been updated recently. If the answer is yes, ask what kinds of changes were made and why. The school’s approach to change can be a key indicator of whether the school is content with its past or looking towards the future for the sake of helping students learn, but it also reveals what the seminary values.
4. Is the school’s faculty well-published, well-regarded and down to earth?
It’s not what you study, it’s who you study with. Professors should be academically well-prepared and engaged in research relevant to questions and problems faced in contemporary society. Faculty who balance scholastic acumen with caring hearts and listening ears are particularly effective in preparing students for the challenges of ministry today.
Try to figure out the issues that motivate and galvanize a school’s faculty. How do they spend their time outside the classroom? Many factors contribute to making a great seminary, but passionate and committed faculty are indispensable.
5. Who is the school’s first priority?
Every school serves the needs of multiple constituencies. In the case of seminaries and divinity schools, these constituencies tend to be denominations, churches, faculty, administrators, boards of trustees, alumni, current students, and religious movements or trends. All have their own — sometimes competing — demands, and every seminary must strive constantly to meet the demands of these different groups without losing sight of its reason for being.
As you examine MDiv programs, I hope you will keep a prayerful heart and an open mind. Ask God to help you to discern the seminary that will help you place God’s heart at the center of your life.