Where will we find the next cohort of church leaders? Traditionally, our leaders grew up in the church, were nurtured by youth ministries and collegiate ministries, responded to “the call” to ministry, and then prepared themselves through graduate theological education. Although there were certainly exceptions to this pattern, most current leaders followed this path.
Of course, this is no longer a truism. A recent article fromLeadership Network addresses significant changes in church leadership. Two items caught my attention. First, the article states that “an increasing number of key implementers and team leaders are coming from business vs. ministry backgrounds.” I agree and could add that many are coming from other backgrounds as well, such as education and the not-for-profit sector. These folks have unique skill sets that are needed by the church at this particular point in time, and their selection for such roles should be encouraged.
The author goes on to say “seminary training and ordination don’t address every leadership need in burgeoning ministries.” In reality, we are talking apples and oranges here. Ordination does not equip anyone to address a need but affirms that the people of God (usually a congregation) recognizes that person’s giftedness to perform a task and, through the act of ordination, is “setting the individual aside” to pursue that task as a minister of the faith. No matter where a person begins his or her journey to church leadership, ordination is not a formative factor. On the other hand, seminary training or theological study makes a difference in a person’s leadership in the church and should be provided in some way. For example, if a church calls a particularly gifted educator to lead their children’s ministry, he or she still needs some understanding of doctrine, biblical content, and the nature of faith formation to do that job in a church. The church should seek out ways to provide that type of preparation for those lacking a theological background.
The second item in the article that got my attention was the statement that “less formal ministry training” and “more ala carte, on-the-job training” is a trend. Although the article points out ministry leaders who are self-taught, this does not necessarily mean that a person should eschew formal theological training or the assistance of informed Christian educators to develop those skills needed to do their jobs more effectively. Although we can learn much from our peers, isn’t it possible that seminaries and other theological institutions might provide some assistance? After all, most of these institutions recognize that they are called to serve the churches through the formation of ministers and leaders. This assistance could be provided in various forms--on-line classes, on-site instruction at the church, directed studies with seminary professors, or mentoring or coaching brokered through the seminary.
I have two hopes. I would hope that churches could see the seminaries as partners in ministry rather than irrelevant “preacher training schools.” I would also like for seminaries to see themselves as resource centers for the churches, willing to adapt delivery systems to meet the needs of the churches. Hopefully, we are all going in the same direction. Why can’t we help each other on the journey?