Five years ago, Kevin Turner was looking to further his education while continuing in his position as pastor of Worship and Music at Davidson United Methodist Church in Davidson, North Carolina. Ideally, he wanted a doctoral program that would blend study in his two interests, theology and music. A friend at Discipleship Ministries urged him to call Michael Hawn at Perkins. The rest is history.

On May 16, 2020, Turner became the first student to earn a Doctor of Pastoral Music (D.P.M.) from Perkins, or from anywhere else, for that matter. When he enrolled in 2016, Turner joined the first cohort of Perkins’ brand-new D.P.M., the only degree program of its kind.

“The intersection of theology and music in Perkins’ D.P.M. program worked well for me,” Turner said. “I needed help synthesizing and merging them together.”

The D.P.M. is a professional, nonresidential doctorate for the church musician and follows a schedule similar to that of Perkins’ Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program. Students travel to the Dallas campus twice a year, in January and in June, for one or two weeks of residential study. The remaining coursework is completed online.

Hawn is director of the Doctor of Pastoral Music program – and its founder.

“Given the rapidly changing vocation of music and arts ministry, the D.P.M. takes a missional approach,” said Hawn, who is also University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music. “The focus is getting out of the building and into the community. Folks are not clamoring to come to our special programs inside the church building like they once did.”

The Best Option

Turner had weighed other options, including a D.Min., Doctor of Sacred Music (D.S.M.) and Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.). Having just finished the ordination process to become a deacon, and with a master’s degree under his belt, the D.P.M. offered the right mix of theology and music. Plus, Turner has a young family in North Carolina, so the twice-a-year residential schedule worked well.

“I felt there was great value in the study I’d done toward ordination, and my church wanted me to keep learning,” he said.

Turner also appreciates the connections with students in Perkins’ D.Min. program, which shares four common courses with D.P.M. students.

“This is a unique opportunity – for musicians and pastors to be in the same classes talking about vocation on an equal footing,” said Hawn.

Turner forged friendships in the early days of the program with Tommy Shapard, who expects to complete a D.P.M. by 2021, and Celia Halfacre (M.Div. ‘09, D.Min. ‘19), who completed her studies last year. The value of those friendships became poignantly evident recently, when Shapard contracted COVID-19. He sent a recorded video with words of love and farewell to Turner and Halfacre, after doctors informed him he’d be put in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator within the hour. (As it turned out, he was moved to the ICU and treated with a cocktail of drugs instead of the ventilator.)

“Thankfully, Tommy is now recovering,” Turner said. “But I know I’ll treasure these relationships for years to come.”

Turner completed a thesis, “The World Is About to Turn: Imagining a New Ecclesiology for Emerging Adults through Missional Music Ministry.” His academic study was spurred by his experience in creating a ministry to engage young adults in 2008, after many in his congregation had returned home after college due to the economic downturn.

“At first, I did what I always did, which was to invite them to join a choir and come to rehearsal,” he said. “It wasn’t working. These were people who were trying to figure out their faith as adults. They taught me a new way to be a leader, and how to allow others to be leaders. My thesis looked at ways to apply these lessons in other ways in broader music ministry.”

Hawn says that that kind of future-oriented academic research is what he’s encouraging D.P.M. students to pursue. Students’ theses will be posted on the D.P.M. website as a repository that he hopes will generate further research and innovative thinking.

“This is not a program for people who just want to add a ‘Dr.’ in front of their name,” he said. “I want the D.P.M. to develop a cadre of professional church musicians in the next 10 years that have given serious thought about what it takes to renew the vocation.”

About the Doctor of Pastoral Music Degree

The degree program was the brainchild of Hawn.

“I wanted something that fell in the niche between what everyone else was doing,” he said. “It couldn’t be a residential program demanding four or five years away from the job for a practicing church musician.”

At a time when some seminaries’ music programs are shutting down, launching a program for a brand-new degree was not easy. Hawn spent nearly 10 years, and three tries, before finally winning accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in 2015. John Martin, Perkins’ Director of Development, had worked with ATS for years and provided helpful assistance.

Hawn adds that he works closely in partnership with Jim Lee, Associate Professor of the History of Early Christianity and Director of the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program.

“Providentially, as I established the D.P.M., it turned out that the D.Min. program was heading in a direction that was extremely complementary, becoming more focused on missional ministry – engaging the community outside of the building,” Hawn said. “A key question I’m constantly asking our D.P.M. students: ‘What would music and arts ministry look like in your situation if 50 percent of it took place outside the building?’”

Christopher Anderson, Associate Professor of Sacred Music, and Marcell Steuernagel, Assistant Professor of Church Music and Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program, also teach and bring additional gifts and experience to the D.P.M. curriculum in music history, composition, ethnomusicology and congregational song.

To apply for the D.P.M., prospective students must have a Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.) (48 hours) or equivalent. Those with only a Master of Music (36 hours) must complete additional work in biblical, theological, liturgical and hymnological studies to qualify.

“Unlike a Ph.D. or Doctor of Musical Arts, the program does not require languages or comprehensive exams and involves different thesis requirements,” said Hawn.

The D.P.M. requires five years between the time when the applicant earns his or her master’s degree, ensuring that students bring a depth of knowledge and practical experience.

“That enlivens the conversation and ensures that the courses are interactive,” Hawn said. “There’s more of a balance between what I teach them directly and what they learn in conversation with one another. The students find a lot of commonality in their vocation.”

The students in the program come from a range of backgrounds – geographically, culturally and denominationally. (Meet the students here.) Three current students fly in from Asia. With the addition of the incoming 2020 cohort of seven students, the student body will include Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic and Methodist students.

“It’s a diverse group, but they’re all trying to reinvent what this vocation of church music and arts and worship in the life of the church and its ministry looks like,” Hawn said. “It needs to reinvent, not only for economic survival but also to be more effective.”

The recent experience with the pandemic, which forced churches to move worship and other gatherings online, has only emphasized the profession’s need for innovation.

“It raised questions of, ‘What does it mean to be gathered?’” Hawn said. “Among the students in the program, they’ve adapted with tremendous ingenuity and pastoral sensitivity. I don’t think church will ever go back entirely to what it once was. The question becomes, how do we incorporate what we’ve learned from the pandemic, without just adding new stuff to our church programming?”

To learn more, visit the D.P.M. website: smu.edu/Perkins/FacultyAcademics/degrees/dpm

For more information about the application process, visit: smu.edu/Perkins/FacultyAcademics/degrees/dpm/Apply