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McNeill, Mitchell become Union’s first Doctor of Ministry graduates

Phil Mitchell (left) and Howard McNeill received their Doctor of Ministry degrees during Union University's Dec. 15 graduation. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Phil Mitchell (left) and Howard McNeill received their Doctor of Ministry degrees during Union University's Dec. 15 graduation. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.Dec. 18, 2012 – Two pastors became the first in Union University’s history to receive their Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching degrees Dec. 15 after they successfully defended their dissertations earlier this semester.

Phil Mitchell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Adamsville, Tenn., and Howard McNeill, pastor of Maple Springs Baptist Church in Seagrove, N.C., began with the program’s first class of students in 2009.

The Doctor of Ministry program is designed to help leaders in Christian ministry improve the expository preaching and teaching arm of their ministry through individual work and week-long seminars held in July or January each year at Union’s Stephen Olford Center in Memphis, Tenn.

To complete the degree, each candidate must also research, write and defend a dissertation on a topic related to church ministry.

“A D.Min. is intended to help enhance the practical ministry of pastors,” said Ray Van Neste, professor of Biblical studies at Union and Mitchell’s dissertation adviser. “The whole purpose is to help (Christians) who are engaged in ministry. This is one of the ways at Union we’re seeking to help local churches.”

Both Mitchell’s and McNeill’s dissertations offered tangible solutions to issues facing many Southern Baptist congregations today.

McNeill realized that while many in his congregation were good-hearted, they did not know how to pursue biblical holiness. After attending a D.Min. seminar focused on spiritual formation, he developed a series of sermons and adult Sunday school lessons for his church, teaching about seven of the classic spiritual disciplines. Pre- and post-tests in his congregation showed an improvement both in understanding and practice of spiritual disciplines after the series.

Mitchell’s dissertation examined ways to reach inactive members, a need that he said nearly every established Southern Baptist church encounters. He said he hopes his research can assist other pastors to identify who their inactive members are, understand why they are inactive and develop a plan to minister to them.

The D.Min. program has served to sharpen the graduates’ skills in expository preaching and helped to mold them into more mature, thoughtful Christian men, said Ken Easley, the Stephen Olford Program Director and adviser for McNeill’s dissertation.

“I have been a pastor for 29 years and still have much to learn,” Mitchell said. “Preaching is the most important part of my work and, since Union’s D.Min. concentrates on expository preaching, this was the perfect degree to pursue.”

By Samantha Adams (’13)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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