Online PhD in Ministry

An online PhD in Ministry is a professional degree for those who have chosen to pursue spiritual guidance or education as part of their career and already have extensive ministry experience. Ministry leaders may apply the knowledge gained through an online Ministry PhD in a wide variety of areas, such as ministry in churches and hospitals, education, counseling and mission work. Online PhD programs in Ministry are designed to reflect a balance of both academics and practical training. Students are often already practicing ministers, or heavily involved in a faith leadership role of some kind, and use their own personal contacts in order to apply training methods as part of coursework.

Online doctoral programs in Ministry typically last 3 to 4 years. The length of a program will depend entirely on how many courses a student may be able to transfer toward the degree and whether or not a student opts to take on a full or part-time academic schedule. Some online universities allow students to complete their PhDs in up to seven years. Many students will have received their Master’s of Ministry degrees before they enroll in a Ministry PhD online, although this is not a requirement for all schools. Most schools also have ministry experience requirements.

About Online PhD Programs in Ministry

Online doctorate programs in Ministry will differ from campus programs in many ways. While most online online doctoral programs in Ministry will be structured in a format similar to those of traditional schools, the fact that everything takes place online makes the learning experience very different. Students will spend the majority of their time reviewing lectures online through live streaming or downloaded video. Coursework is completed on personal computers and submitted to professors online, usually through course “drop boxes.” Because doctoral programs, by nature, are highly research-based, students will also research differently than in regular, on-campus programs. Most research will be conducted individually, through reading academic journals and conducting personal exploratory research in ministry settings. Many online ministry PhD students apply their coursework and dissertation research to their own congregation or to current ministry work in which they are involved.

All group work is completed online, and this is done through live chat, email and discussion forums. Groups also have the ability to save documents online and share the process of reading and making edits. The down-side of this kind of work is the fact that students never see one another face-to-face. This can create difficulties in communication if students are not organized or are not participating online to the extent that they should. However, there are also benefits to this type of group work. Students are able to contribute to group discussion at any time, rather that solely during designated in-person group meetings. There is the potential to get more done in less time, and in a very streamlined manner.

Ministry PhD programs online are designed to allow those with former experience in ministry to refocus and renew their understanding and passion for the field and biblical principles. Programs provide students with the ability to gain further insight into the way a congregation functions emotionally and culturally and will delve into new and creative ways to help others connect to their faith. Online PhD degrees in Ministry focus on instilling students with the ability to recognize areas of their ministry that are in need of leadership.

There are many different options for specialization within a doctoral program in ministry. Examples include Evangelism and Church Growth, Expository and Evangelistic Preaching, Pastoral Counseling, Pastoral Leadership and Management, and Worship.

The following is a sampling of courses that many be taken as part of an online PhD in Ministry with an Evangelism and Church Growth specialization at Liberty University.

Year One:

  • Twenty-First Century Techniques and Tools for the Church. Overview of the history of church leadership techniques and an in-depth exploration of the most current techniques and tools and how they can be applied within a modern and culturally diverse congregation.
  • Creative Ministry Uses for the Computer. Students explore computer software and applications that can be applied to ministry work.
  • Spiritual Factors of Church Growth. Students examine the various aspects of Christian life through local churches and explore a basic introduction into Church Growth.

Year Two:

  • Revivals and Church Growth. Exploration of the sociological and spiritual history of revival awakenings and their influence on the church.
  • Leading the Healthy Church. Students discuss the marks of a healthy church and the kinds of dialogue and services that can become emotionally unhealthy for members of a congregation.
  • Thesis Project Proposal and Research. Students will take at least 9 credits of coursework toward the proposal and research of their thesis. Students work with a mentor to create a thesis proposal, research, and write.

Year Three:

  • Building a Dynamic Church Evangelism Strategy. The course emphasizes the different approaches to evangelism strategy for the local church, including biblical principles, evangelism planning, and multiplication as the central value.
  • Principles and Practices of Prayer. Exploration of Christian prayer and the biblical and theological basis of prayer in the Scriptures. Students are introduced to the principles of prayer use in the local church.
  • Elective Support Seminar. Choice of elective in areas such an evangelism, Christian theology or prayer. Seminar-style coursework involves smaller classes and heavier emphasis on discussion.

Year Four:

  • Thesis Project DefenseStudents finish their dissertation and prepare their thesis for an oral defense. Students are not able to take the thesis project defense course until their thesis has been approved for defense.

Students often have to complete many steps before they are able to begin work on their dissertations. For example, students at Regent University must complete all their core coursework first. Then, they must complete a Mid-Course Profile in which they reflect on what they have learned so far and a project proposal detailing the type of research they would like to pursue for a dissertation. Students then go through an Integrative Examination during which both the mid-course profile and project proposal are examined in order to approve a students entrance into Doctor of Ministry candidacy. Once students have been approved, they begin heavy research on their dissertation. This usually takes place throughout the degree program but becomes more intense in the final year. Upon completion of the dissertation, students must argue it on campus in front of a committee of professors. An example of a dissertation in Ministry is Ferment in the Ministry by Seward Hiltner

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Ministry

Ministry is an excellent field for those who have a strong religious faith and a true desire to help others. An online PhD Ministry is ideal for those who would like to take their knowledge and experience in Ministry to the next level. Those interested in teaching practical ministry in a Bible college, seminary or university setting would benefit hugely from a doctoral degree. A PhD in Ministry also provides an excellent opportunity for personal growth, and an online doctorate in Ministry, in particular, can be formed to fit well within a sabbatical. It also applies well to those who are currently employed but looking for a career change. The benefit of an online Ministry doctorate is the fact that students are able to very easily integrate their academic work into their current ministry work, if they choose to do so. Students do not need to re-locate or take time away from their ministry in order to complete the degree. Also, those who are currently involved in ministry can work their schedules around the needs of their congregation and will be able to completely focus on any emergency that may arise.

Application & Admission Requirements

Most accredited Ministry doctorate degrees online require students to have completed a Master of Divinity degree in order to apply. Students will also most likely need two to three recommendations from colleagues in the ministry or past professors. Recommendation letters should be from colleagues with whom the candidate has worked very closely. Many online universities have an experience requirement of around three years of full-time ministry work, and students often need to be currently working in the field or document some place where they will be able to carry out ministry projects as required by their programs. Documentation will likely need to be some form of signed letter from the church or organization that has approved the applicant's participation. Students will need to write a statement of purpose outlining their past experience and future goals within the field of ministry. The statement of purpose provides students with the ability to stand out from other applicants and speak personally about their own relationship with the ministry and ideas about how they will benefit from doctoral work.

Career Options & Job Market

Some of the best positions for students with online doctoral degrees in Ministry include senior church administrators, senior pastors, and university professors. Church administrators deal with the overall function of a church. They oversee the budget and accounting methods and make sure the church is providing to the community while also making enough of a profit to sustain itself. A church administrator organizes church programs and services and handles congregation information and services. They also help deal with any legal and business issues confronted by a church. Salaries for church administrators will depend on the size of the church. Senior pastors provide the majority of the faith-based guidance within a church. The senior pastor sets the tone for that particular church's interpretation of scripture and gives the majority of the sermons. According to, senior pastors can make anywhere from $25,000 to $82,000 annually. Many students with online doctorate degrees in Ministry become university professors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professors will see a faster than average employment growth from 2008 to 2018.

Where to Find Information

  • The Journal of Family and Community Ministries – Operated by Baylor University, this peer-reviews scholarly journal includes the latest papers and research on the topic of community ministries.
  • Association of Youth Ministry Educators – Peer-reviewed journal through which professional youth ministry educators may share their thoughts and research in an environment that is meant to encourage and challenge.
  • Association for Doctor of Ministry Education – Dedicated to the facilitation of communication between ministry programs regarding best practices and encouragement of D.Min students in expanding their thinking about ministry.
  • Healing Ministry – A peer-reviewed quarterly journal that offers articles, research papers, studies and human interest stories relating to spiritual guidance and comfort for those in need.

How to Get Funding

The costs of online PhD in Ministry programs differ from school to school. The cost of an online PhD in Ministry with Liberty University is $475 per credit hour. The program consists of a total of 33 credit hours, so that comes to a tuition of $15,675 for the entire degree. An online PhD in Ministry with Regent University is $525 per credit hour. The program requires 36 credit hours, so the total comes to $18,900 for the entire degree.

Students should make an effort to seek out scholarships and grants that could be applied to their education costs while they are searching for a degree program and, even, after they enroll. Some examples of applicable scholarships include:

  • Fund for Theological Education Dissertation Fellowship. Created for African-American students completing their ministry dissertation. Students must be U.S. citizens and in the final writing stages in order to qualify. Dissertation Fellows receive a stipend of up to $20,000.
  • Student Ministries, Inc.. Seeks to provide students in ministry training with funding for practical experience while in school through ministry work at a church or faith-based organization. SMI is a national organization serving students in graduate programs in ministry at over 140 seminaries and graduate schools.
  • International Association for the Study of Youth MinistryNon-profit global organization that supports youth ministry across the world. The Association is dedicated to supporting the higher education of youth ministers and the growth and development of youth ministry as a recognized profession.

Essential Advice

  • Consult with current students about online education. There is no better way to know whether or not the program style of an online doctorate in Ministry will be right for your academic needs other than to speak with current online students. Ask an admissions counselor at a prospective university about the possibility of connecting with a few students currently enrolled in one of their PhD ministry programs. Make sure to write questions that will answer your exact concerns, because admissions counselors will surely direct you to some of the most enthusiastic students. In order to ensure you get the information you need, keep the questions as specific as possible, rather than general.
  • Make sure you have a secure organization or church with which to perform practice and research. It will mostly likely be required in the application process to provide information about a church or other organization with which you will work during your academic program. However, do not try to find just any organization. Make sure the organization will stand by its commitment to allow you to work with its members, because, if the agreement falls through at the last minute, your dissertation research will have to be put on hold or thrown out altogether.
  • Consult with current top professionals in the field about career opportunities. In order to get a better picture as to the career potential that exists with an online doctorate in Ministry, speak with alumni of online ministry programs or traditional programs. No matter how well you research, the field of ministry is somewhat less widely-researched, than many fields outside of theology and religion. It is best to speak with as many current professionals as possible in order to get a true picture as to the best ways to put a degree to use. You may receive ideas and opinions that are not commonly available in public sources.
  • Don't rush into the degree, take the time to build up the appropriate experience. If you have just received a Master's of Ministry degree and have two to three years of ministry experience under your belt, it is safe to assume that you will be prepared to undertake doctoral work in ministry. However, the point of a doctorate in Ministry is to refresh and strengthen the ability to do ministry work. There is no need to rush to get the degree. In fact, the more ministry experience one has, the more perspective one may receive from work at the doctoral level.