Doctoral Project Portfolio

At Portland Seminary, we value what you bring to the table ... as a person, ministry leader, and as someone called by God to fill a need in the world that only you can fill.

The seminary's doctoral research process takes this into account. We recognize each student has individual giftings, passions, and callings for ministry. This is why you’ll spend three years in a project portfolio research sequence that allows you to collaborate with stakeholders to address a challenge, customize your learning experience, and apply what you discover to your ministry or professional context. 

The Research Journey

I love this means of discovering a problem. I hope to use this tool for the rest of my ministry career.
- Shawn Cramer

The 22-credit-hour research sequence is divided into a series of milestones organized around three stages: Discover, Design, and Deliver. These milestones create a clear sense of progress, moments to celebrate, and higher graduation rates.

Ultimately, the goal of the process is to develop competency in addressing a real-world Need, Problem, or Opportunity (NPO) and provide you with expertise in your chosen area of ministry research.

In This Three-Year Program, You Will:

  • Gain experience in addressing a need, problem, or opportunity (NPO)
  • Complete your own research
  • Earn a doctorate

Year One: Discover

  • Select a need, problem, or opportunity (NPO) from your context to research.
  • Connect with project faculty for guidance.
  • Identify stakeholders: those impacted by your NPO research.
Portland Seminary doctoral program classroom

NPO Discovery Workshop

Explore the nuances of the NPO with stakeholders

Topic Expertise Essay

Demonstrate academic and theological conversancy surrounding the NPO topic

Expect 10-12 hours per week of research

Under the guidance of your project faculty mentor, you will engage a variety of stakeholders from your context in a grassroots discovery process to assess the real needs of those impacted by the ministry need, problem, or opportunity (NPO). The findings are summarized in an NPO Charter, and the following semester you immerse yourself in the theological and academic literature relevant to your research to understand the NPO more deeply.

I couldn't recommend this program and this process enough. I’ve already used the NPO model in my context outside of my project.”
- Bridget Thornton

Year Two: Design

  • Workshop: Explore solutions to a need, problem or opportunity (NPO) with stakeholders.
  • Background Research: Do further bibliographic research related to your emerging solution.
  • Create, Test, and Explore: Test the viability of possible solutions to identify the Most Viable Project (MVP).

You’ll brainstorm ideas for addressing the NPO with another group of stakeholders and experts from your context, further research literature related to your emerging solution, and create and test a prototype. Based on your findings, you’ll identify your MVP. Milestones include:

I appreciated the Discover, Design and Deliver process, as well as the encouragement to approach the process with open hands, allowing answers to emerge rather than forcing preconceived solutions.”
- Darcy Hansen

Year Three: Deliver

  • Develop: Create a practical solution (book, website, business plan, app, etc.).
  • Gather early feedback: Identify improvements.
  • Deliver: Submit your Doctoral Project, Launch Plan, and Project Portfolio for final examination.

In the third year, you will develop a doctoral project delivery plan to identify the project's scope, benchmarks of success, and development timeline. Once approved, you will then begin creating your doctoral project and gather early feedback. After evaluating and reporting your progress, you’ll make further improvements on the project before submitting. Finally, you’ll develop a post-graduation launch and sustainability strategy. Milestones include:

An examination committee (consisting of the doctoral project faculty, external project faculty, lead mentor and doctoral director) evaluates the doctoral project, launch plan, and portfolio for final approval. After corrections, you then prepare the portfolio of the milestones for archival to the University’s Digital Commons and make a final presentation on your findings.

Professional Enhancement

In the final portfolio, you will produce a doctoral project – such as a curriculum, church program, action plan, academic article, website, nonprofit business plan, etc. – and a learning launch plan for next steps following graduation.

As an outcome of the research process, you will:

The Project Portfolio is completed over three years under the guidance of a project faculty person. Each faculty member works with a small peer group of three to four students.

Example Projects

Our students create practical solutions to address a challenge in their ministry context. Examples of past doctoral projects include:

  • A website that promotes a cooperative effort between Association for Biblical Higher Education institutions
  • A popular book to provide next-gen church leaders approaches for adolescent faith formation within Generation Z
  • A denominational or church research report that explores effective ways of faith transmission among young adults in Seattle 
  • A short-term missions facilitator’s manual, complete with videos, meeting guides and reflection activities, to prepare participants for their experience
  • A Lenten study, exploring how spiritual disillusionment is a welcome ally in one's spiritual journey
  • A business plan to enable a nonprofit to create alternative revenue sources to fund academic programs for at-risk children
  • A college-level course that explores how to address the unhealthy relational gaps in global church partnerships
  • An action plan to organize a local neighborhood movement
  • A spiritual journal app for congregation members to use each day to develop a sense of presence and intimacy with the Lord


Michael Simmons

Michael Simmons, MA

Admissions Counselor, Seminary