Theology a natural fit for some social workers

Carol McEntyreCarol McEntyre had a “life-changing moment” during her MSW field placement at a community church in Texas.

“After being there a few months I felt like, gosh, there is nothing else I wanted to do in my life besides serve God through the church,” McEntyre said. “I really love working with a congregation and being with people with their needs.”

McEntyre is among many social workers who have complemented their social work education with degrees in theology.

Originally thinking of helping people through the nonprofit sector, McEntyre said she felt while she was a senior in college that she wanted to do more.

“The master of social work degree seemed a practical way to serve people in need, but I also wanted to have that theological underpinning,” she said.

She is a 2003 graduate of the Baylor School of Social Work and Truett Seminary with an MSW and a Master of Divinity degree.

She currently serves as pastor of First Baptist Church Columbia in Missouri.

“I am a minister first, but a minister with social work training,” she explained. “When you are working with families and others, so many issues can emerge.”

Helping members of her congregation navigate the social service system is an example of the value of her dual education.

“I have a wealth of knowledge of social services that a lot of other ministers don’t have that I can draw on,” she said. “It really does come in handy and my world view is different because I have a social work degree. I feel like I have gotten to know people in need and people in poverty on a more intimate level. I feel it’s given me a different lens to see the world.”

McEntyre said pursuing dual degrees in social work and theology is a worthy goal, but she offered a word of restraint.

“It was a heavy load to get both of these degrees done,” she said. “But I think about the breadth and depth of knowledge (I have obtained) and how it shaped me as a person. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Jason PittmanAnother Baylor School of Social Work MSW and MDiv graduate is Jason Pittman, the executive director of Touching Miami with Love, a faith-based community organization.

The bachelor of art’s graduate in psychology and sociology had experience running a residential substance-abuse treatment program for men when he decided to start seminary school.

“I enjoyed my seminary classes for several years and then Baylor started their MSW program as well as their MDiv/MSW joint degree,” he said. “Honestly, until that point, I had never really thought of social work as a profession I was interested in. However, once I looked at the degree, the courses, textbooks, etc., I knew this was the perfect education and profession for me. It felt like the missing part of my education I needed to work in the nonprofit sector.”

Pittman said including seminary studies with his MSW education allowed him to better understand his own faith.

“I have always felt like I wear two hats professionally,” he said. “Many times those hats aren’t worn at the same time, but sometimes they are. I never really believed in the idea that I was a Christian social worker. I hold true to being a social worker who is a Christian and who also feels called to pastor folks in their faith.”

He said his MSW studies have served him well. “My MSW has helped me understand policy and macro practice of community development and working either in coalitions and partnership with other community organizations or in direct asset-based community development efforts,” he said.

In addition, his MSW aided him in supervising staff and interns in the clinical work the organization performs with children and youth.

“The skills and education I received have also helped me in leading the organization through empowering my staff to accomplish our mission,” he said. “I believe the writing I began to do as a graduate student sharpened my writing ability, which has allowed me to thrive in writing grants.”

Pittman noted that for many years, part of his job was also preaching each Sunday for a congregation that was made up of primarily homeless, low-income and disenfranchised people.

“For those years, I truly felt like I was utilizing both degrees in a very direct way,” he said.

“I value the (NASW) Code of Ethics and I believe (it) has also made me a better pastor and preacher,” he said.

About four years ago, Touching Miami with Love phased out the preaching portion of its programing. Pittman now uses his divinity degree in assessing the faith-based components in the organization’s curriculum, policy and program guidelines and staff training.

Dual degrees can be a plus, Pittman said, but he had a word of caution for those thinking of pursuing such a program. Candidates should weigh the benefits of a dual education against the time commitment, expense and the job market, he said.

For Pittman, the dual degree was a calling, however.

“They were the perfect degrees for me at the time,” he said.

Besides MDivs, there are schools of social work that offer dual degrees in social work and Jewish theology and other religions.