Doctor of Ministry (DMin) vs. PhD: How to Choose

What's the difference between a PhD and a DMin degree?

In short:

View online seminary doctoral programs at Portland Seminary

How do I decide which degree is right for me?

How does someone in ministry decide on a type of degree program? Graduate education is a significant investment of time and money that merits thought and planning. This is especially true at the doctoral level. Two vital things to consider are the differences in the purpose and nature of these two degrees.


The PhD engages in intensive original research and is meant primarily to advance the knowledge base of a discipline. Most people with a PhD (especially in the humanities) are pursuing a full-time career in an academic setting focused on teaching, research and writing.

A PhD student is expected to accumulate and master knowledge in the discipline. Increasingly, opportunities for tenure-track academic positions are few in number and intensely competitive. Possessing the right degree is not enough; it also matters where you got the degree, along with demonstrating further publishing and research.

The Doctor of Ministry is part of a class of degrees known as professional doctorates, comparable in kind to a Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). This degree is oriented toward the practice of ministry.

A DMin is concerned with identifying the problems and challenges in ministry settings and applying existing research to create fresh solutions. A DMin graduate is expected to have gained a skill set in application-oriented research and problem-solving. Learning additional languages is not usually required.

Both degrees are intended to create experts in their own respects – the PhD for the academy (and hence for the church more indirectly), the DMin more directly for churches and other ministry settings (although some with a doctor of ministry degree may be involved in higher education).

Those holding the PhD are generally expected to continue in academic research and publication. Those who have earned the DMin are expected to apply their scholarship in ministry contexts.


Depending on the discipline, the PhD may or may not require prior graduate work. Most PhD programs in theology, biblical studies, church history, pastoral theology, etc., require a relevant foundational master's degree from a seminary or university.

The PhD degree often requires three to eight more years of course work and/or research, full time or nearly so. A reading knowledge of several languages is often required. The majority of PhD programs require most of the work to be done in residence, making it necessary for the student to live near campus. This is less true of British-style PhDs, which focus more on individual research and less on taught course work.

The PhD is time-consuming and expensive and can be a solitary pursuit. Some of the most elite PhD programs offer funding and a stipend, but these are very competitive.

The DMin is built on the foundation of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) or its equivalent, generally requiring 30 to 40 graduate semester hours beyond the MDiv. When seen in combination with the MDiv, it requires a substantial amount of graduate credits (totaling 100+), so it is time-consuming and costly in its own way. Most accredited doctor of ministry programs require three to five years of part-time study beyond the master's degree. (Portland Seminary also offers a Doctor of Leadership degree that is similar to the DMin but does not require an MDiv.)

The Doctor of Ministry tends to be oriented to learning in community. DMin students remain in their ministry context, studying part time, frequently using their ministry as a sort of lab or workshop for their research. DMin students often develop close, collegial relationships with their fellow students, especially when with a cohort.

Is the doctor of ministry a 'fluff' degree?

In 2007, Adam Walker Cleaveland posed this question in a blog post: "Is the DMin a 'fluff' degree in comparison with the PhD?" With almost 150 comments on his post, this question evidently struck a nerve.

Since 2007, others including David Baer, PhD and David A. Currie, PhD have offered insightful analyses comparing the DMin and PhD. They argue persuasively that the PhD and DMin are different types of study that both have value and rigor in accordance with their differing purposes.

Though a popular option, DMin enrollment has declined slightly (3.1%) in the past 10 years. According to The Association for Theological Schools (ATS) data tables 2.10-A from 2007-08 and 2016-2017, enrollment dropped from 9,066 to 8,785 students during this time. This decline came in spite of the fact that more ATS-accredited schools appear to be offering the DMin. The trend reversed with an increase to 9,075 students in 2019. This growth trend accelerated during COVID such that total enrollment increased to 10,252 among ATS accredited schools by 2021-22 (data table 2.7).

During the 10-year period from 2007-2017, the number of schools offering degrees in the DMin's parent category, "Advanced Programs Oriented Toward Ministerial Leadership," increased from 136 to 157, according to ATS tables 1.6-A. This growth trend continued through COVID, increasing to 170 by 2021-22. DMin students made up 87 percent of students enrolled in programs in this category in 2021 according to the 2021-22 data table 2.7

This increasing competition has forced schools to innovate by creating more specialized DMin programs, along with expectations to improve quality and completion rates. The emergence of the Association of Doctor of Ministry Educators (ADME) has enabled program leaders to share best practices and practice accountability. All of these factors mitigate against real or perceived "fluff."

So which degree is right for you?

If you're trying to decide between the two, it boils down to identity and calling:

Online DMin programs at Portland Seminary

If the Doctor of Ministry sounds like it may be right for you, check out Portland Seminary's hybrid DMin programs that combine online study with face-to-face learning experiences:

View all Portland Seminary degrees and certificates