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 three-year doctoral research process takes this into account. We recognize each student has individual gifts, passions, and callings. Our approach to Collaborative Design for Ministry and Nonprofit Contexts enables you to engage with stakeholders to address a challenge, customize your learning experience, and apply what you discover.

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 milestone assignments organized around three stages: Discover, Design, and Deliver. These milestones facilitate a clear sense of progress, moments to celebrate and timely graduation.

Ultimately, the goal of the process is to develop competency in addressing real-world Needs, Problems, or Opportunities (NPO) and provide you with expertise in your chosen area of research.

In This Three-Year Program, You Will:

  • Gain experience in addressing a need, problem, or opportunity (NPO)
  • Develop a Doctoral Project
  • Earn a doctorate

Year One: Discover

  • Identify a need, problem, or opportunity (NPO) from your context to research.
  • Connect with project faculty for guidance.
  • Engage 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 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

  • 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 Prototype (MVP) of the Project.

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 to the project.
  • Deliver: Submit your Doctoral Project, Launch Plan, and Project Portfolio for the final examination.

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

An examination committee evaluates the Doctoral Project, Project Launch Plan, and Project Portfolio. After corrections, you prepare the Project Portfolio 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:

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