Well, as some of you know, I have completed (subject to some final editing and a skyped ‘defence’) my DMin Dissertation through Covenant Theological Seminary, St.Louis. The whole doctoral program has been a most worthwhile experience, and i’ll be happy to recommend it to anyone who is thinking in that direction.
So what did I choose, and why? I’m the sort of guy who always knew, at the beginning of every course I did at undergrad, masters and doctoral level, what the subject of my term paper was going to be. 17th century English literature? Let me compare Bunyan and Defoe: Pilgrim and Crusoe; Bachelor’s dissertation bridging literature and music? English hymnody; Masters Church History course? I want to look at the Romanisation of the Celtic church’ (something I have since taught at Taylor University‘s Irish Studies Program); Systematic Theology? I want to look at the first century evidence for both adult and infant baptism. Pastoral Theology? Let me examine the Presbyterian understanding of “Minister of Word and Sacrament”. Preaching? How do you preach the Sermon on the Mount in a redemptive/non-legalistic way? Apologetics? A theology of suffering. And so on.
So it was with an unfamiliar sense of academic disorientation that when I entered my final interview with my DMin supervisor regarding my dissertation, I still hadn’t settled on what to do. I had two criteria: It had to be useful, or potentially useful to the wider church; and I wanted to be as excited about it at the end of the three years as I was at the start. I had met too many students trying to finish their thesis who said “I just want to get it done and never look at it again.” I didn’t want to be that person.
Advice from my supervisor (“Don’t write on something you already know the answer to- or the subject of your next book”) made me shelve looking further at the worship issue as a follow up to my 2000 book; and a throwaway comment from a church leader (who explained his denomination’s commitment to church planting – something dear to my heart for many years – by saying “most of our guys are bivocational”), led me in that direction.
From first-hand experience in our local Presbytery I was aware that if the Irish Presbyterian church was only going to plant churches with full-time stipendiary staff complete with expenses, accommodation and pensions, then we would soon be irrelevant and impotent to meet the challenges of the developing Irish culture. So I decided to look at the feasibility of bivocational planting for my denomination. Along the way, I dipped into issues of ecclesiology, missiology, fresh expressions of church, new planting models and, most fascinatingly, a theology of work and vocation and how that impacts with ministry. A lot of this latter issue echoed convictions I first became aware of while at Regent College, Vancouver, where I return as Pastor-in-Residence in two weeks’ time and where the course “Vocation, Work and MInistry” was one of the most foundational in the College’s curriculum.
I also encountered some amazing people. At first I doubted that I would have enough material or interviewees within Ireland and would have to look elsewhere. However, it was surprising and exciting to come across guys from the four corners of the island who were actually doing this very type of ministry.
This section of my blog, over the next few months, will serialise my findings and invite some responses and dialogue on the subject. Feel free to join the conversation.