Proficiency Over Rapidity: Text-Driven MDiv

Proficiency with “tools of the trade” is highly valued in the majority of vocations. For instance, a pilot cannot become a captain or first officer without completing 1,500 hours of flight time at the controls of a plane. A violinist cannot become exceptional unless a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice has been achieved. A pro golfer is not considered to be proficient unless he completes 20,000 hours of practice and hits 10,000-100,000 golf balls. A SEAL sniper must shoot literally thousands of rounds before he achieves expert competency with a sniper rifle. Developing proficiency with one’s “tools of the trade,” whether it be a plane, violin, golf club, or sniper rifle, requires spending time with the tool, learning every intricate facet of the tool and how to use the tool in ideal and adverse conditions. Should we expect any less of a pastor?

A pastor must become proficient with his tool—God’s Word. However, many seminaries are reducing requirements for earning a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) in order to meet perceived market demands. Some have referred to this as pruning and replanting a mighty oak, which the M.Div. represents in theological education.[1] In this recent movement to reduce hours, students are viewed as the market, and students desire to matriculate through M.Div. programs as rapidly as possible in order to enter into vocational ministry quickly. Although the rationale may be noble on the student’s part, this is not in the best interest of the churches.

Southwestern Seminary submits that the rapidity of student matriculation is the wrong market focus for seminaries. Seminaries are for the church—this is the proper market focus. Seminaries have the responsibility to supply churches with pastors skilled at exegeting, proclaiming and applying God’s Word. A pastor who is not optimally proficient hurts the church long-term and adds to the biblical illiteracy prevalent in today’s congregations.

Is it really that important that a student graduate in three rather than four years? The extra year a student spends in the crucible of seminary and learning at the feet of godly professors is invaluable. Would you desire to decrease the training a cardiothoracic surgeon receives by one year? Of course not; the surgeon is dealing with your heart, your life. You want the surgeon to be optimally trained and learn further nuances of his craft during that year. Graduates from seminaries deal with something more precious—they deal with peoples’ souls, their eternal lives. Churches are currently faced with monumental challenges in culture, and the challenges to religious liberty, the depth of immorality, and religious syncretism will only continue to grow. Churches need graduates optimally prepared to lead them to engage and confront culture, to be “salt and light.”[2]

Southwestern Seminary ascribes a high value to its responsibility of sending proficient pastors to churches. To this end, Southwestern Seminary has redesigned its M.Div. curriculum to produce a text-driven M.Div., resulting in an increase in the hours required from 91 to 92 (98 hours if you include the 6 hours of prerequisite elementary biblical Greek). The new curriculum ensures that students are competent in the biblical languages so they can translate and exegete the passages they preach. In addition, students take three semesters each of New Testament and Old Testament and three semesters of Systematic Theology to ensure they know their “tool of the trade”—the Bible. The text-driven M.Div. at Southwestern does require more hours than curricula at sister seminaries.[3] This reflects our commitment and responsibility to the SBC churches, namely to produce pastors who are specialists with the sword of the Spirit. The spiritual war is real, and our churches deserve pastors who are optimally proficient.

Students who truly desire to become proficient, to become Special Forces in ministry, will find a home at Southwestern Seminary. Although much is expected of the students, ministry partners have ensured that students can matriculate with 75 percent of their tuition paid (including the hours of prerequisite Greek). In four years of study, $10,000 of total tuition, and 92 (or 98) credit hours, students can graduate with a text-driven M.Div. and be proficient ministry experts in unconventional spiritual warfare.


[1] http://jgduesing.com/2015/09/24/replanting-an-oak-seeing-the-mdiv-to-the-century-mark/ .
[2] Matthew 5:13-14.
[3] Standard M.Div. credit hours required by sister SBC seminaries: GGBTS-90, SBTS-88, NOBTS-84, SEBTS-81 to 84, and MBTS-81.

Charles Patrick

Charles Patrick

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Patrick teaches in the School of Theology and serves as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Communications. He is married to Monica and has four children.
Twitter: @CW_Patrick
Blog: charleswpatrick.com
Charles Patrick