Stage 2: I648 and the Final Thesis Proposal

The second stage of your thesis development process is I648–Thesis Residency and the production of the final thesis proposal. Thesis Residency is held during the January following the Methods course: an eleven-day, on-campus requirement that affords students an opportunity to refine their thesis topics, do in-depth research about it, and to advance significantly in framing the final thesis proposal.

Step 2.1: Drafting the Preliminary Proposal

The preliminary proposal, described above, is both the final step of the first stage of your Research Methods M617 course (resulting in the preliminary proposal) and the first step of Thesis Residency that results in the final thesis proposal.

Step 2.2: Attending I648–Thesis Residency

January in Chicago–what could be a better use of your time and energy than intensive, focused work on your thesis project? Think about it. It’s 20-below-zero outside; it’s not like you can go to the beach!!

Residency is a two-week period of intensive work on the thesis with your assigned thesis advisor, your peers, other McCormick faculty, writing consultants, and library resource persons. A McCormick faculty member will be assigned as your Residency guide, companion, and resource; that same faculty member will remain as your primary thesis advisor through the remainder of the project. Residency will include brief workshops, individual consultations, peer conversations about your work, lots of time for you to conduct your research, and the opportunity to actually get started on your writing. The objective of Residency is to complete development of the focus and structure of your thesis and put that into a 30-40 page final thesis proposal.

We know what you’re thinking in response to those outcomes, and we want to talk about that for a moment. Many students, frankly, approach Residency with questions about its purpose and need. Why, students often ask, can’t I just go to my local library or do internet research on my own? Do I have to be here for eleven days? Do I have to stay here? Those are good questions, often asked and deserving of response. In of our forty years of experience in guiding DMin students through thesis projects, here’s what we’ve learned at McCormick: if you are like most students, you will look back at your time of residency with a mix of gratitude and relief, thankful for the concentrated focus, away from the demands of daily living and daily ministry, to do the heavy lifting of thesis work, and for the peer interaction and support that invariably deepens and expands your thinking. Residency is a remarkable opportunity and often becomes a treasured gift: the space and time for you to “get on the balcony,” as Heifetz might say; to take a broad look, then dig in to the challenges, all the while accompanied by peers who will support and encourage your efforts. Our experience tells us that, most often, what begins as a perceived burden ends as an experienced benefit.

Making Good Use of Thesis Residency: Again, you will have a McCormick faculty advisor to accompany through residency and the remainder of your thesis process. That faculty person will organize class time around these two tasks: the research that your thesis will require and the project formulation that will grow out of the research. Students will work collectively and individually with the advisor to (1) discuss and finalize ideas for the final thesis project, (2) do the research necessary to build the theoretical and theological foundations for the project, and (3) expand the preliminary proposal into the 30-40 page thesis proposal. By the time students leave Residency, they should have clarity about their individual projects, the research that will support it, and plans for carrying out and evaluating the ministry work that it entails. If you focus your time well, you may actually have the time to begin the actual writing of your final thesis proposal.

The kind of good, responsible DMin research you will undertake during and following Residency is multi-faceted. In these key areas, you will have focused time for discussion and development, and be pointed to key tools and practices that will equip you to do quality research in each area:

• Contextual research about your setting and/or organization, which will give you a fuller and more accurate picture of what’s going on in your particular situation. Demographic studies, neighborhood and congregational histories, denominational materials, and organizational analyses of congregational dynamics are among the useful approaches for this dimension of research.

• Theoretical research about the dynamics of your situation, which will also help you to understand what is going on. Theoretical research about leadership and ministry will give you some good ideas about how you might approach the challenges you face; theoretical research may also help you better understand your role and how you function in the situation. Learning from sociology and psychology, organizational development, leadership theory, and history, for example, are often useful in helping students to tease apart the dynamics within their situation, or understand such dynamics in a wider context.

• Theological and biblical research, which will help you to amplify and deepen your expression of the theological convictions that shape your vision for ministry in this situation. As you know from your first seminary degrees, there are many approaches a student can use to mine the riches of Christian tradition.

Step 2.3: Writing the Final Thesis Proposal

During residency, your primary goal is to complete the research you need to do, so that you can build on and expand your preliminary proposal into a full, final thesis proposal. The thesis proposal is a 30-40 page working document that pulls together your thinking in these areas:

• Your concerns, observations, and hopes about the situation or challenge you wish to address
• Research you have done about (1) this situation and the impediments you face; (2) the Judeo-Christian tradition and the convictions underlying your vision; and (3) ministerial practice or organizational leadership that helps to shape your final approach
• How your learning from these various dimensions of research connects into a coherent theoretical framework
• Your plans for your thesis project (an outline of the concrete steps you plan to take)
• Your plans for project evaluation

The final thesis proposal, then, becomes an expansion of your preliminary proposal, incorporating some of the writing that you did for the preliminary proposal with the new research and insights you are gaining. In the thesis proposal, which is normally due about two months after Residency, you will discuss the situation, your vision for it, some of the particular challenges you face in realizing that vision, your research, and your conclusions about the best way to address your challenges. This material will comprise the bulk of this paper. A final, small portion of the paper will also outline your plans for ministry and evaluation.

The following elements form the outline of your final thesis proposal. These page lengths are approximate, but we think they are pretty reliable.

1. Situation Description (8-12 pp): Look back at what you wrote in your preliminary proposal about context, vision, and statement of problem. That thinking, informed by the more extensive research you have done during residency, should shape this section. Identify and discuss the realities of your current ministry and context, a vision you have for ministry in this place, and what stands in between the two (the problem, opportunity, adaptive challenge, gap, etc.). And then state clearly the focus of your thesis work. How, specifically, will you try to make a difference in your context for ministry, with this project?

2. Research and Literature Review (13-17 pp): Write a literature review that tells your reader about the research you have done and how it informs your thinking about this thesis project. This section will likely be quite different from your preliminary proposal, but will probably build on the initial research plans you included in that work.

The literature review is more than a cut and paste of your notes. You want to let your readers know how you have digested this research. A good literature review demonstrates that the author has covered a particular area of research, summarizes major arguments (often multiple sides of major arguments), and informs the reader about the foundational thinking on which the rest of the thesis is built. Research that has proven to be irrelevant should be omitted from the literature review. A few brief examples of well-done literature reviews can be found in the Appendix.

3. Theoretical Framework (3-5 pp). By the time your reader has plowed through the research section, s/he may have lost track of the big picture. In this section, you restate the big picture very briefly by answering three questions:

What is this thesis trying to accomplish? Briefly restate your challenge, vision, and the particular adaptive challenge or impediments that you are trying to negotiate with this thesis project. You may wish succinctly to repeat the problem statement that summarizes your thesis. This will feel repetitive, and it should. You are recapping here.

Why? What theological convictions underlie your vision? Here you get to preach for a page or two. Summarize and proclaim for your readers the theological and biblical convictions that motivate and shape your thesis project. You are recapping here, too.

How are you going to go about addressing the challenge you face? What ministerial theory(ies) do you employ in the construction of your plan? What makes you think that this practical approach is appropriate for the challenges you face? Be specific. This is where you are stating your hypothesis: given this situation, and given my theological convictions, this is the best plan for moving forward because it will effectively address the adaptive gap / impediments by. . . . It is based on the theoretical arguments of Tanzer, Daniels, for example, or Calvin or Julian of Norwich or Mary Daly or (_______).

This section is the first time we are seeing your hypothesis stated clearly. So, you want to articulate it succinctly, and you also want to clarify for your readers what larger conversations you engaged as you constructed this hypothesis. If a stranger picked up your thesis, and read only the theoretical framework, s/he should be able to understand your whole thesis project and the thinking behind it.

4. Objectives and Strategies (maximum 6 pp). Finally, the plan! What are your primary objectives and what concrete steps will you take to meet them? You can write this section as prose or an outline. Note: these objectives should be clearly related to the adaptive challenge/ opportunity that you identified earlier, because, in theory, you have to address the gaps and impediments in order to bridge the distance between the situation and the vision.

5. Evaluation (1-2 pp.). Identify the means or instruments you will use to determine if your objectives have been met. How do you intend to evaluate the accuracy of your original hypothesis, or the impact of your program or event? Did your plan work like you think it was going to? If so, how does the success of your project reinforce your learning along the way? If not, what have you learned about ministry? How might you do this project differently, if you had the opportunity to repeat it? Here, it’s not enough just to say we did something; it’s also necessary to find a way to measure impact.

6. Significance (1-2 pp.). Identify the questions that you will use to determine the significance of this project. What in its design, implementation, and/or evaluation might be usable for other religious leaders?

7. Abstract (1 p.). Every thesis will need something called an abstract. You’ll talk more about that in Methods and residency, but for now, this brief description. An abstract is a summary of your entire project framed in approximately the following way:

• 1-3 sentences about your ministry challenge
• 1-2 sentences about your vision and the theological/biblical convictions that motivate it
• 1-2 sentences that comprise your problem statement (you’ve been working on this since Methods)
• 1-2 sentences that summarize your theoretical approach to addressing your situation
• 1-2 sentences that preview your concrete plans for ministry
• 1 sentence that identifies your plans for evaluation

8. Bibliography of works cited

The final thesis proposal must be approved by your advisor (and DMin Dean) before you launch into the actual interventions or programs you have envisioned.

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. revised ed. New York: New Press, 2012.
Birchett, Colleen. How to Help Hurting People. Chicago: Urban Ministries Inc., 1990.
Ethridge, Shannon. Every Woman’s Battle: Discovering God’s Plan for Sexual and Emotional
Fulfillment. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Waterbrook Press, 2003.
Ford, Clay. Jesus and the Street People. London: Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1972.
Friesen, Garry, and J Robin Maxson. Decision Making and the Will of God. 25th ed. Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, 2004.
Funder, John. A Heart for the City. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999.
LaCelle-Peterson, Kristina. Liberating Tradition: Women’s Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.
Leech, Kenneth. Drugs and Pastoral Care. London: Darton Longman and Todd LTD, 1998.
Leech, Kenneth. Pastoral Care and the Drug Scene. London N.W.: Holy Trinity Church Marylebone Road, 1970.
Merton, Thomas Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1968).
Merton, Thomas cited in George Woodcock, Thomas Merton Monk and Poet{Edinburgh: Canongate, 1978) [The lines are from the poem ‘The Quickening of St John the Baptist’. See Thomas Merton, The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (London: Sheldon Press, 1978).
Palmer, Parker J. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008, 2004
Putman, Jim. Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010.
Turner, Harvey. Friends of Sinners: an Approach to Evangelism. Houston, TX: Lucid
Books, 2016.
Williamson, W Paul, and Ralph W. Hood. Psychology and Spiritual Transformation in a Substance Abuse Program: The Lazarus Project. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016.

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