Friday, June 10, 2016

Learning to Lead


I am a leadership junkie.  My interest goes back to college days when I participated in a number of student organizations that were supposedly “student-led.”    It continued through my time in the military and as I became a campus minister working with college students in the organization then known as Baptist Student Union.  Leadership was an important concern as I worked with colleagues across the state while leading the program of collegiate ministries in Tennessee. 

These days, I continue to reflect upon my own leadership—both successful and not so successful, read and study about leaders, and work with leaders of congregations and judicatories.

As you might expect, I was particularly interested in the comment in a recent interview with long-time church consultant Gil Rendle.  Rendle said, “I am still struck by how few seminaries even acknowledge leadership as a discipline and don’t address it in any way, or address it only in tangential ways.”

Someone might respond, “Why should the seminaries be concerned about leadership? Their job is train and produce preachers not leaders.”  Let me suggest several reasons seminaries need to be invested in training leaders.

First, the church needs leaders.  In most cases, the pastor and other staff ministers are the only people who wake up every morning thinking about how the church they serve can do God’s work.  This is not to minimize the importance of lay leaders, but to emphasize the need for focused leadership for a very important task.  There are numerous opportunities for creative ministry in every context, but someone has to have the skills and perception to align God’s people in that place to address those opportunities.  That is what leaders do.

Second, the church needs leaders with strong theological and spiritual foundations.  We can learn much from secular studies of leadership and the application of leadership principles in business and industry, but these insights must always be weighed against one’s faith commitments.  For a faith leader, “it works” is not a sufficient reason to do it.  The ends do not justify the means.  Leadership must stand the test of faith.

Third, if the seminaries do not train leaders, ministers will have to go somewhere else to find that training.  Many do but sometimes the training doesn’t fit.  Some have the idea that rather than pursuing a Doctor of Ministry or Doctor of Philosophy degree, a pastor should obtain a Master of Business Administration degree so he or she can be a better manager.  There may be some value in such a pursuit, but it may also lead the recipient to a detour at best or a dead end at worst when it comes to the point of application.

I am pleased that many seminaries such as Central Baptist Theological Seminary take leadership seriously.  The seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program, for example, has already produced a number of leaders who are taking their organizations to the next level.  This emphasis will be strengthened when the revised Doctor of Ministry curriculum is launched in January 2017.



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