First Doctor of Ministry Cohort
Southeastern University’s first Doctor of Ministry cohort*, which launched in the fall of 2016, is comprised of men and women of varying ages and ethnicities. They are ministers, pastors, leaders and scholars from all walks of life.
We sat down with this dynamic group during their summer intensive session to learn their thoughts about the program so far.
What Brought Them to SEU
There are so many ways and so many places to earn a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree, so why did these students choose SEU?
Because of the strong value placed on doctoral mentorship, the program was strategically designed to connect an academic mentor with every DMin student at no additional fee. These mentors are distinguished members of the SEU faculty and successful ministry professionals who are recognized experts in their field. This mentorship will progress throughout the student’s journey in the program. “Having a mentor is absolutely huge for us,” shared John Manning, founder of Come, Holy Spirit Ministries in Ohio. “It’s very powerful for us to have these people to guide us, to share their knowledge, to encourage us and pray for us, and to be involved in our lives and ministries.”
The types of people cohort members can network with and learn from was a huge selling point to many of them. In fact Bob Griffith, executive pastor of Journey Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, researched doctoral degrees extensively over the course of several years before deciding on the DMin at SEU. Once he learned that Rich Wilkerson, lead pastor of Miami’s Trinity Church, was going to be a student in the cohort he decided to give SEU another look. “The fact that a pastor as accomplished as Rich has chosen to study here spoke volumes to me,” Griffith said.
SEU’s program is efficiently designed so that in-person coursework is completed in the span of one week, and then all supplemental coursework is completed online. These one-week intensives are spaced out periodically over the course of three years. “This was amazing to me,” shared Elizabeth Rios, founder of The Passion Center. “I have a family and a job; taking time away for one week is much more manageable than what some other programs require.” In contrast, some DMin programs at other universities require students to attend in-person intensives that can span two weeks or more.
Teamwork among denominations
While the DMin at SEU is presented primarily from the Pentecostal perspective, students from all Christian denominational backgrounds are welcome. Each student is valued, because they all bring something to the table while they gain an even wider Christian worldview. “The Pentecostal distinctive was key for me,” Rios shared. “But I wanted to learn alongside like-minded professionals from a variety of backgrounds, and that’s what we have here.”
“I do well with online learning, but I love the accountability and interaction that mentorship and the cohort provides,” said Gillian Bailey, student advisor at Arise School of Ministry. “I glean so much more from a group of people that I know personally.” The other cohort members agree wholeheartedly; they feel that being accountable to each other has kept them motivated.
Students don’t have to take time away from their current ministries while they pursue their degree. In fact, the DMin actually requires active involvement in a current ministry. The doctoral mentor is a main supporter in this integration of academics and practical application. Greg Phelps, senior pastor of Core Church in Tampa, explained, “I felt uncertain when I first felt called to apply. I wondered if it was worth it since I’m already pastoring; I wondered if this program would really benefit my ministry. Now, less than a year in, it already has.”
Why They Love It
In the friendly banter among the group, it’s clear that the connection between these people goes deeper than just that of classmates. They’ve known each other only a few months, but if you didn’t know otherwise, you would think they had been friends for years. They encourage each other, offer prayers, trade stories about their families and ministries, and discuss their plans for their doctoral projects.
The program setup isn’t just accommodating to the students’ learning and personal needs … it’s also something they truly enjoy and appreciate for multiple reasons.
Because earning a DMin is just as much a spiritual and personal path as it is an academic one, the group’s first weeklong intensive was held in the form of a spiritual retreat. “It truly melded our hearts together,” said Wilkerson. “That foundation has propelled us forward ever since, and kept our spiritual formation at the forefront of our studies.” Because Dr. Jim Vigil of SEU designed the degree from a holistic perspective, taking care of the whole student, the spiritual component is paramount to the program.
Extended doctoral project time
SEU allows students to begin working on their doctoral project from the very beginning of the program, giving them a full three years to complete it. “I have a friend whose doctoral program didn’t allow doctoral project work until two years in. It was hard on him to complete it in one year, while he was also pastoring and taking care of his family,” Phelps said. “Having three years to work on this project, applying what we learn as we go, is what is going to make this possible for all of us while still maintaining some balance in our lives.”
Faculty and content
“The professors here keep blowing our minds,” Wilkerson shared with enthusiasm. “They’re all extremely brilliant and impressively accomplished — and yet none of them have an arrogant way about them at all. It’s truly humbling.” Each cohort member is consistently impressed with the quality of the course content, the amount of new information they are learning, and the fresh perspectives they gain from each lesson.
Crossing the bridge
SEU’s willingness to work with students who need some “bridge work” to bring their initial credentials in line with the DMin program requirements** was critical to bringing several members here. “That was my line in the sand,” explained Griffith. “I wouldn’t be here without the ability to complete my bridge courses.”
Commitment to graduation
The infrastructure of the DMin department in the Barnett College of Ministry & Theology and the design of the program gives each cohort member the confidence of knowing that they will graduate within the three-year span that they expected when they enrolled. “The DMin office also clearly cares about us as people,” said Eric Palmu, provost of Bayside College in Sarasota. “They’re not just here to run the program; they really are here to support us throughout this journey by helping us find ways to balance our course load with our other responsibilities.”
Doctor of Ministry = Finding Purpose
Each cohort student doesn’t hesitate to say that they made the right decision to enroll in the DMin program at SEU, and they are just as excited about continuing this journey as they are about what they will be able to do with their degrees once they graduate.
“I started on this path with a desire for self-actualization,” said Manning. “But now I know that I am here for spiritual growth, to learn from my peers, and to find new ways to carry out my calling by bringing others to Christ.”
* The DMin is offered in cohort format only, meaning students begin their DMin journey together and complete all components of the program at the same time. The cohort meets for a five-day intensive five times throughout the program and then completes the remainder of the 14-week term online. New cohorts form each fall semester.
** Students requiring bridge classes will be evaluated individually before an admission decision is made for the DMin cohort.