PhD Pastors?

May 18, 2010

I’ve sometimes pondered doing a PhD.  My question has been: would my pastoral ministry be significantly enhanced if I endured the rigour of postgraduate study?  

On this very topic, John Piper has recently shared his views. Piper was asked: “Having been through PhD studies, would you recommend other pastors pursue this course of education?”  His answer: “If you’re already a pastor, I wouldn’t get a PhD! Its a lot of work and the pay-off is very small.”



  1. A good question. I really enjoyed T4G 2010 but in visiting Southern Seminary and Dallas Seminary I was troubled by the number of students I spoke to who were planning on doing a postgrad. Why this obsession with M.Th’s and PhD’s? I think (espec as non-conformist pastors) we suffer from an inferiority complex – we want to be academically ‘respectable.’ Such a mindset spawned the onslaught of liberal theology in the 19th C. We need to keep our nerve, hold steady, and be prepared to preach a message that will always be ‘foolishness’ in the eyes of the world. We may be the ‘offscouring of the world’ but our confidence is not in excellence of speech or human wisdom but in preaching Christ and Him crucified. The gospel alone is still the power of God to save. We forget this at our peril. I think this underlies the current worrying obsession with doctorates – I am not saying this is so in your case my dear brother-in-arms, but I think it is there with many, if we are brutally honest with ourselves. I’ve known that tension myself.

  2. Jerry Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FL, once quipped: “A doctorate is much like the swirl in the tail of a pig. It gives a little more style but no more substance.” I don’t know if this helped, but thought it was funny.

  3. The disciplines of research, analysis and written communication gained through doing a phd are valuable skills. However I think there is only a small overlap with the skills that you need as a pastor.

    Keep up the hard work Colin.

  4. Just a thought from a random visitor (from Australia)…
    If you have the gifts to complete a PhD then consider what you would use it for – there is huge need for Biblically faithful theological educators across Africa and Asia!! Not so worthwhile if you are going to stay in suburban ministry in USA!

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