I actually finished my academic requirements for the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree at Talbot School of Theology.
I started the program back in Fall of 2013, and after three years of coursework, I started writing my dissertation (referred to as a doctoral project), and finished writing within a year. I finished the entire program in less than 4 years.
Technically, I am not a “doctor” yet, as the degree is conferred during graduation coming December 16th. But my colleagues at work have already started calling me “Dr.” or “Rev. Dr.” and I have to say it feels quite good.
So, why am I writing about my accomplishment? If one would do a simple online search of doctoral student graduation rates, the average graduation rate is to be about 50-60%. From Talbot’s own website, average D.Min. students graduate in about five years, and/or are able to extend the study time.
From my experience within the Korean American community, most D.Min. students seem to take longer or never finish writing the dissertation. When I used to be an EM pastor, one of my previous senior pastors was in his dissertation phase and never finished due to time running out. It is not uncommon to see Korean pastors noting “doctoral coursework from so-and-so school” in one’s bio, to point out that s/he has had some doctoral level education (but which also implies that s/he never graduated with the degree).
In my doctoral cohort of about a dozen students, I am definitely not the smartest (there are several current university and college professors). I am not the wisest, nor the most experienced (I am the youngest in the cohort). But I am the first to finish.
I’m writing this column because I actually finished. And I finished really early.
When I think back, I am not sure how I finished it so fast. To give you some background, I work full time as a hospital chaplain, part time as US Army Reserve chaplain, and until earlier this year, I was an EM pastor preaching every Sunday. I am also a father of a two year old.
During the program, there was a phase when I was working on my doctoral studies, preparing for my hospital chaplain board certification (which I’ve earned the BCC credential), and attending the Chaplain Captain Career Course for the US Army Chaplain Corp. (graduating as top 5 of my class).
The point in sharing my background and experience is that the Doctor of Ministry degree is designed for the full time working minister in mind. Even if you have 2-3 jobs with family to support, the degree is doable. I see myself as living proof of fellow pastors being able to successfully finish the program, even with hectic, busy schedules.
People often ask how I did it and I try not to go into too much detail, but here’s what I did/how I did it.
My goal everyday was to write something—a sentence or a paragraph—something! If I wrote a sentence, I stopped for the day, and gave myself a pat on the back. On the weekends I made it a priority to write at least a full page. During the weekdays, I did my research by reading journals and books—searching for dissertation material. It really comes down to time management and the willingness to find an answer for oneself.
I had a burning desire to know how I can be an evangelical healthcare chaplain in a pluralistic environment. I had questions I truly wanted to answer, and through this degree, I found satisfying answers to some of the critical questions I had about chaplain ministry. This was the biggest motivation that enabled me to continue on and finish my degree.
Another contributing factor for me to actually finish was God’s divine hand in having me leave the church I was pastoring earlier this year. Although it was sad to say farewell to the church members, I believe it was all part of God’s providence, as I was able to simply utilize the time and effort I was spending on sermon writing and switch it over to dissertation writing. It was a blessing in disguise.
And now I’m done. The title of my work is “Pluralism, Relativism, and Postmodernism in the Healthcare Chaplaincy and the Evangelical Chaplain.” Perhaps those who are interested in healthcare chaplaincy will find the paper useful, meaningful, and helpful for ministry.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Joseph Choi is ordained by the ECA (Evangelical Church Alliance). He is also a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and a healthcare chaplain Board Certified by APC (Association of Professional Chaplains).