Congradulations (yes, I know it’s misspelled)

Olivia in JacketYesterday, I successfully defended my doctoral Project Thesis and was congratulated by my committee at ACU's Graduate School of Theology as, "Dr. Spivey."

I must admit.

I enjoyed it. Shhhhhhhhh…

But, I didn't enjoy it for the reasons you might think. As T.S. Eliot put it, "Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves." While I love and hold scholars in high esteem, I don't like pompous academic types…and I have always feared that the wrong education might actually make me too analytical and theory-interested to be as effective in ministry as possible. So, I didn't enjoy hearing, "Dr. Spivey," because it stroked my intellectual ego. I enjoyed because it meant I had finished. Honestly, I didn't know if I would.

I used to hear about guys and gals who would finish the coursework of their doctoral program and not finish the dissertation phase. They would take a teaching position or another job and try to finish the dissertation but never would. I never understood how a person could get that close and not finish. Well… I understand now. I can understand how immensely gifted and remarkably intelligent people could come to a place where they can't or don't finish. I understand now.

Completely.

A lot of people don't finish Doctor of Ministry programs because, honestly, it's flat out hard to keep chugging on a doctoral level degree as you go through the holy fire of ministry. If any unusually hot fire comes your way during your program (as it did for me and many I know), it gets even harder. If you move, have an acutely difficult ministry stretch, have children, etc.—it makes doing it all the more difficult. Like marathoners hit the wall in mile 20, I hit my wall about 6 months ago in the process of writing the Project Thesis. In the course of our difficult transition from Dallas, the birth of our third child, and a new ministry with many challenges…I thought privately to myself, "Most people never make to the 20th mile. I'm stopping." Or, as I thought at points of the trail heading to the summit of Mt. Whitney, "Most people never get to 13,000 feet. Who cares if you make it to the summit (14,505)?" There is a place for such thinking. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to stop. Ali never should have fought Larry Holmes in 1980, and there is such a thing as, "the holy quit." But, much of time, if we keep going, finishing is worth it.

I chose the DMin because it is integrated with one's practice and designed toward ministerial excellence. I believe learning and doing simultaneously is the best way to learn. I don't know why we divide people rigidly into camps of biblical scholars and ministers. We need to do rigorous thinking on things. Then we need to see if our thinking is actually true and works and has any relevance to anyone. I have always held the scholar-preacher in my head as the ideal…someone who learns as vigorously as they can, and serves as effectively as they can. Someone who loves God with their mind, but also their soul and strength. For me, this is all still very much in process :) 

Some people believe that ministry is something that is quite basic something that anyone can do, with or without training. They are completely right and completely wrong. The basin and the towel is the calling of ministry to all, but its practice both art and science. Within both art and science, there is room for growth from finger-painting to Talouse-Latrec, and from Jr. High chemistry class to Newtonian physics. They are both art. They are both science. True and not true. For me, it's noble to pursue the higher forms of knowledge in the field of ministry, provided one remains grounded in the basics. All forms of knowledge, when consecrated to God for his purposes, are good…whether high or low, academic or practical.

In his fantastic book, Intellectuals and Society, Thomas Sowell notes, "Someone who has even more knowledge of more mundane things—plumbing, carpentry, or baseball, for example—is less likely to be called "knowledgeable" by those intellectuals for whom what they don't know isn't knowledge. Although the special kind of knowledge associated with intellectuals is usually valued more, and those who have such knowledge are usually accorded more prestige, it is by no means certain that the kind of knowledge mastered by intellectuals is necessarily more consequential in its effects in the real world. The same is true even of expert knowledge. No doubt those in charge of the Titanic had far more expertise in the many aspects of seafaring than most ordinary people had, but what was crucial in its consequences was the mundane knowledge of where particular icebergs happened to be located on a particular night. Many major economic decisions are likewise crucially dependent on the kind of mundane knowledge that intellectuals might disdain to consider to be knowledge in the sense in which they habitually use the word."

The same applies to ministry. Not all knowledge makes one a better minister. I went to the classroom not to simply try to get smarter with no end…but to enhance and bless my service to the church, and hopefully allow me the voice to write and teach a bit here and there. I have always loved the classroom, which is the intersection of people and learning. I love it. I'll miss the classroom. Maybe I'll go back and get a Ph.D in another field someday. However, the church can be the same sort of setting–that is, a place where learning and people intersect…one where people learn the deeper and simple things of God, and do it alongside one another. I feel I'm a better equipped to minister because of the journey of the doctoral program…not so much because I have the diploma. Though, don't get me wrong, I'm glad I have the diploma 🙂

Last night, I came down the escalator and toward the baggage claim area at San Diego's Lindbergh Field airport. There I saw my daughters holding a sign that said, "Congradulations, Dr. Spivey." That misspelled sign was absolutely one of the precious things I've ever seen and the sight of the girls at the bottom of the escalator is definitely a permanent part of my daddy log (the place in head and heart dads keep their special dad moments). After the hugs and kisses were complete, we waited for my lonely suitcase to come around on the conveyor belt. I had set my jacket down to get more comfortable and turned around to see Olivia, my youngest wearing my jacket. The picture is above.

I'm thankful to the professors at ACU for their guidance throughout, and to God for helping me stagger across the finish line. Now, to put it into practice…

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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