“Can I ask you a question? It’s kind of embarrassing.”

“That’s the best kind.”

“You know our church has been helping that missionary school in Dar es Salaam. Sending them books and a few dollars?”

“I didn’t know that. Sounds good. How did you get connected with Tanzania?”

“After the young lady from our church served as a Missionary Journeyman in that East African country, she put us in touch with the missionaries. They were trying to build a school to train pastors and I thought we ought to be able to help them. I just got back from there.”

“So what happened?”

“It’s almost embarrassing. On the last day of my visit, they held an assembly of the students and faculty and gave me an honorary degree. A doctor’s degree, if you can believe it.”

“I do. I know of pastors who have been honored in similar ways. It’s the way a school has of thanking a friend who has helped them.”

“So, what do you think of that?”

“Of what? Them giving you the degree?”

“No. Of me using it. Calling myself doctor.”

“Oh. I see what you’re getting at. You have this lovely Doctor of Divinity certificate and it looks so impressive and you’re wondering about using it here at home. Calling yourself Doctor Carlton Henrutty, is that it?”

“Would that be wrong? I mean, I didn’t exactly attend a seminary to earn it the way you did yours or the way the medical doctors in my congregation did.”

“The quick answer for that, Carlton, is that some pastors with Doctors of Divinity degree call themselves ‘Doctor’ and some don’t. Honestly, I’ve known some faithful pastors who have had such distinguished ministries that the honorary degree was probably as earned as any they could have gotten at a seminary. And then, I’ve known some who got theirs the cheapie route just because they wanted to call themselves ‘doctor.’ They didn’t deserve it and their wearing it was an embarrassment. So, I suppose the quick answer is ‘some do and some don’t.'”

“You’re a lot of help.”

“Hey, you’re going to have to decide this for yourself, friend. I’m not going to tell you what to call yourself.”

“Well, you have a doctorate and you call yourself that.”

“When have you ever heard me call myself that? Never. I never have.”

“Can I ask why? It seems to me if you have a doctor’s degree you had actually gone to a reputable school for, you’d want people to know about it.”

“Oh, I don’t mind them knowing. My son put it on my website, so I’m not hiding it. But it’s not on my stationery and very few people call me that. As you know.”

“But why?”

“It’s a personal choice. I’ll tell you a little observation I’ve made over the years. The stronger the doctorate a person has, the lighter he wears it. Or put the other way, the cheaper the degree, the more gaudily he displays it.”

“But don’t you think the pastor of a church like mine would get more respect if he had a doctorate? That’s the reason I’ve been thinking of using this degree?”

“I don’t think one thing has to do with the other. The respect a pastor gets has nothing–zero–to do with what he calls himself. And besides….”


“Are they going to respect you more if you wear an impressive title that you didn’t earn? Think of the medical people in your church, with their doctorates of medicine and pharmacology and such. Or the professors with their doctorates of philosophy or education. Put yourself in their place and think of finding out that your pastor traveled to Tanzania for two weeks and came back with a doctor of divinity degree.”

“Ten days, actually.”


“But, let me ask you this,” he said. “When pastor search committees are looking for their next minister, sometimes they require that candidates have a doctorate. So, wouldn’t this help me get the next church?”

“Do you really want that church? If they don’t know the difference in a solid doctorate and an honorary one, if all they want is a preacher with a big-shot title, what does that say about them?”

“But you know that most people in the pews don’t know the difference in all these degrees.”

“To their detriment. I’ve seen announcements where some preacher was going to hold a meeting in a church and the publicity says ‘He earned his doctor of divinity degree from such and such institution.’ The congregation doesn’t have a clue that that is an honorary degree and unearned.”

“You have to admit it’s confusing, even to us preachers. The basic seminary degree after three years of hard work is a Master of Divinity degree. So, you’d think the next degree would be a Doctor of Divinity.”

“But it’s not. In most cases, it’s a Doctor of Philosophy or a Doctor of Ministry.”

“What’s the difference?”

“The Ph.D. is the academic degree. It qualifies the person to teach anywhere. The D.Min. is the more practical, hands-on degree for the pastor. He earns it, make no mistake about that, but it’s usually quicker and less intense. In my case, I got the master’s degree in 1967 and then went back to school in 1972 and 73 and got one of the very first D.Min. degrees in December of 1973.”

“So, what’s the bottom line?” he asked.

“Simple. You want a doctor’s degree, go earn one. Go to and look into the doctor of ministry program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. These days, if you want to earn that degree bad enough, you can do it. And it shouldn’t take you five years either.”

He was quiet, so I added, “And then, when someone calls you ‘Doctor Henrutty’ around your physicians and professors, you will not feel like an impostor.”

“Or be afraid,” he said, “that they’d find out about my degree.”

“One more thing, Carlton. Talk to the Lord about why you want the degree in the first place. Make sure of your motive. In my case, I’d been out in the pastorate several years and had run into some theological questions I wanted to look into. When the doctor of ministry became available–and accessible–I jumped for it.”

“I’ll do that. After all, my wife is not going to support my going back to school if it’s just to have something to hang on the wall.”

“Hey, I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories about doctor’s degrees. Dr. Ray Robbins was everyone’s favorite New Testament and Greek professor in seminary. He held two doctorates–don’t ask me why–one from a Southern Baptist seminary and one from Oxford. Anyway, he was attending the annual SBC meeting in some big city and he fell in with a couple of pastors who were headed back to the hotel. They all got into a cab together. The two preachers were discussing their doctorates, where I got mine, where you got yours, that sort of thing. Dr. Robbins had not said a word. Finally, they exhausted the subject and one turned to him.”

“The preacher said, ‘Ray, where did you get your doctorate?’ Dr. Robbins said, ‘Which one?'”

He smiled. “I thought you were going to use that old line that a doctor’s degree is like the curl in the pig’s tale. It’s cute but it doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of the ham.”

“So, where are we now, Doctor Henrutty? You okay, Doctor Henrutty? Want to go to lunch, Doctor Henrutty?”

“You are a smart aleck, do you know that?”

“I’ve been told.”


  1. Dear Joe,

    I started on my doctorate a few years ago then decided that with every passing day I was only learning how much more I didn’t know. I figured I already knew enough I didn’t know that to increase that knowledge wasn’t going to help me a whole lot and already being limited by what I didn’t know it wasn’t to smart to keep heading in that direction. ! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    You’re the best!!!

    Joyfully Serving Christ,


  2. Brother Joe,

    Thanks for addressing this. Really appreciate it.

    You’re right. And you practice what you preach. In fact, your humility is itself a strong sermon and exhortation.

    Looking forward to your time with us for our association annual meeting. Prayers. I know you’ll be a blessing to all who hear you.

    In Christ,

    Greg Loewer

    Language Ministries

    NorthStar Church Network: An Association of Baptist Congregations

    Annandale, Va.

  3. “The stronger the doctorate a person has, the lighter he wears it. Or put the other way, the cheaper the degree, the more gaudily he displays it.”


    I’ve observed this, too.


Comments are closed.