In comments back and forth with a FB friend, I suddenly realized that I defended my dissertation twenty years ago this month and officially became "Doctor Collins." Hardly seems like it could have been that long. And it provokes the question, what good has it done you? or perhaps, what have you used it for?
My original motivation for earning a doctorate -- at least, at that time in my life, the spring of 1986 -- was merely to call Timeout. My wife was terribly ill, my children were very unhappy, my parish was of the clergy-killer sort, and I was beset with various other troubles. My family and I were coming unglued. The District Superintendent told me that I would be moving at Annual Conference. Having suspected that he wouldn't be there for us, I had already laid my escape trail. "Appoint me to attend school," I replied, and the Bishop signed off on it.
And so I became the first Elder in Full Connection from the South Indiana Conference to go back to school as a full-time appointment. What I got out of that deal was continued participation in the Conference insurance plan and an excused absence from the appointment-go-round. The alternatives would have been to take another appointment -- which would have been a disaster, considering the shape we were all in -- or to have simply resigned my orders and left the clergy.
I remain very glad that our United Methodist system allows for these kinds of special appointments. It certainly saved my career, probably my marriage, and possibly Deanne's life. But, other than a bolt-hole to hide in when needed, what did I get out of the degree program, and what good did I put it to?
Well, my original plan, such as it was, was to teach Christian Education at the seminary level when I finished my doctorate. After all, my doctoral field is Curriculum and Instruction. The first hurdle to face was just getting into the program. Special thanks to the Department of Secondary Education at ISU for letting me in, despite the fact that I had no teaching degree (it helps to have sky-high GRE scores, BTW). Then, there were no jobs available when I finished, so I went back into the pastorate. Special thanks to West Terre Haute First and Bethesda UMCs, whom I pastored for six months ad interim. They healed my heart and made me believe that I could still find a future in the pastorate.
And what have I done with my degree, other than signing my name with more titles on letters of recommendation for youth? Well, I've taught. And I have taught others to teach. And I have done so with more effectiveness for the theoretical base I explored in my doctoral studies.
The pastor is the primary teacher of the Christian Faith in the parish. That doesn't mean that all pastors are good at leading classes. It doesn't even mean (alas!) that all pastors are intellectually curious; some think Chicken Soup for Everybody's Soul to be profound stuff. However that may be, the pastor teaches the Faith through preaching, leading confirmation classes and retreats, and so on. The pastor recruits and supports Sunday School teachers, VBS Directors, youth leaders, special speakers, and so on. The pastor leads the congregation in designing and implementing strategies for making disciples. All this is Christian Education.
So, I do what I do better because of the studies I pursued all those years ago. And I have used my research and understandings to create new programs in Christian Education and Scouting Ministry at the local church, Conference, national, and international levels of The UMC. I took my previous advanced training in Church Growth and Evangelism and merged it with my doctoral studies in Education to produce a model for building up the church that I think a very good one; certainly, it's the one I operate out of.
I still kid people that I have an "ornamental doctorate," since I'm not using it for the original purposes I pursued it. And I've never cared about all the status symbols, about being "Doctor Collins" and all that. But the last thing I use it for is to wear it in public so that the youth I work with will see in me at least one model of an educated person.
Way back when, the physician, the lawyer, and the parson were the most educated individuals in their communities. The clergy would often tutor bright young men (I'm afraid they were almost always young men back then) to prep them for college Back East. Nowadays, most clergy aren't seen as intellectual leaders. Come to that, most other people I know with advanced degrees don't strike me as very intellectual, either. We have a pretty functional view of education these days: it's a commodity, no more, that we seek to get at the best price and the least effort, to qualify us for something else. But I still believe that, doctorate or no, the life of the mind is worth pursuing; that learning new things is a pleasure; that connecting what you know in one area of your life with what you know in other areas makes you a more complete person; that asking questions and finding answers is the purpose of education.
I want to encourage young people to open their minds to all things (and especially, Jesus Christ, of course). If my doctorate gives me an entry point into a young person's life to help him or her learn, then that, too, is a valid use of my degree.
And by all those standards, above, I don't think I've done too shabby. If I had to stand up at an alumni gathering of the ISU School of Education, I think my achievements would pass muster. I think even the Venerable Bede would approve.