Discussion Points

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Leadership

on November 14, 2011 , Print- 0 Comments

You know, overall my intention was for a theological education. I was planning to
train leaders in our denomination. In 2012 our denomination will be over 75 years
old. And then, a long time ago, it used to be missionaries who could even lead most
of that. Then there was a shift in the 1970s, where the nationals started leading.
But under what kind of leadership? The system they were using then was only
duplicating what they used to see before.
And so at our time we had to contextualize that type of leadership, making it
available for anybody. So I came up with a vision of higher education for advanced
leadership skills, training people to be good leaders of any denomination in Congo.
And besides that, I felt that being only a [church] leader will not help our lives. So, I
had to start a university. I did it; we are now on our third year of the university. It's
running well, theological studies as well as business studies, and agriculture, because
that neighborhood lives on agricultural products. And we needed to have them have
a certain knowledge that will enable them to do a good job.
Now we have over 150 students. We are selecting really excellent students in order
to train them well because we believe they are the future leaders in our
denomination.
— Mossai Sanguma, denominational executive, 40s, African, Congo

When we teach management [in seminary], it often doesn't have a theological basis.
We've taken the shelf of the business studies library and that's what we're going to
teach for leadership and entrepreneurship. . . .
Leadership in the Bible, in the New Testament, tends to be plural. We're talking
about a body principle. I've met many people where the seminary degree is seen to
be an entitlement to be commander-in-chief of the church. We didn't really touch
on it so much this morning, but Ephesians 4 has a model that you are an
empowering leader. You have been given gifting by grace. There's no room for any
pride about it. But your role is actually is to actually equip the rest of the church, the
ministry. And you can do that as a team. And again, I'm not coming across that a lot
in the leadership that I encounter.
— Krish Kandiah, ministry executive, 30s, Indian-Briton, England

I was great for Sunday mornings, could give the sermons well but I had not skills
when it came to understanding budgets, no skills whatsoever when it came to
negotiating skills, conflict resolution, none of those things. Of leadership training,
these organizations that we're leading, at least our church, it's like a two million
dollar business!
And here they entrusted it to this seminarian ... [laughs] [laughter]
And I'm expected to be able to lead! I've got to manage staff, I've got to do
forecasting, I've got to manage a predecessor!
— Darrell Griffin, senior pastor, 40s, African-American, Chicago

The role of apprenticeship:
That was a level of discipleship that historically has been in the African American
church. A carpenter would have an apprentice with him. So that young man would
learn carpentry. This was all a part of being inside of the black church that he would
learn how to work, have a trade, discipline because if we're going to get back to the
basics, it has to be discipleship. But it's more than just getting the word. You're
going to have to also work. I mean just like the Old Testament teaches us that if a
Jewish young man grew up without a trade, he's a robber. So we are experiencing
today that prophetic word, because a lot of these young people have no skill, no
trade, because we haven't trained them.
—Keith D. Kitchen, pastor, 30s, African-American, Washington DC

 

 A seminary is an academic institution. Yet most of its students do not become academics. Rather, they are preparing for leadership in one or another part of the church and wider society—or are already leaders. Students who become pastors, in particular, are often thrust immediately into positions of authority in organizations of significant complexity and, all too frequently, dysfunction. What does it mean for seminaries to prepare their students to be leaders rather than scholars?

In many different contexts, our focus groups voiced concerns that most graduates from seminary are not prepared for the real-world leadership challenges they face. It is indeed striking how marginal leadership is in most seminary curriculums given that so much of any seminary graduate’s time is likely to be spent managing conflict, allocating resources, participating in and convening teams (often volunteers), communicating vision and direction, and developing others as leaders. We did not encounter anyone in our conversations who felt that seminaries were doing an effective job of preparing their students for these kinds of roles.

Indeed, it is not clear that seminaries alone can solve the problem of leadership development. This is an area where the metaphor of the ecosystem is especially helpful. It was once the case that seminaries could assume that most applicants for the M.Div. had already been through some level of formal or informal discernment of calling and shaping of character (at one time, this was required by most seminaries as a condition of admission). The wisdom of elders was both more available, thanks to tightly knit church and civic communities, and more relevant, when expectations of leaders and the shape of institutions were relatively stable from generation to generation. To a large extent, seminaries could afford to focus on their historic core disciplines, assuming that both before students arrived and after they left, they were embedded in communities that would shape their skills and character as leaders.

To whatever extent these kinds of healthy communities “upstream” and “downstream” from seminaries once existed, they are much more tenuous today. The ecosystem has changed— probably for the worse.

However, another part of the ecosystem has become considerably more healthy. One reason seminaries have been slow to embrace leadership as a core part of their curricular responsibilities was that leadership was, to be charitable, an intellectually underdeveloped field of inquiry. Compared with the rigorous standards expected of biblical scholars, theologians, or historians, the field of leadership could be seen as rife with anecdote, facile generalizations, and ill-formed fundamental questions. But this is rapidly changing. And with the maturing of leadership studies as an intellectual discipline, it is becoming clear that the best thinking about leadership interacts in profound ways with what theologians call “anthropology”—the way we understand human beings in light of their relationship with God and one another. It is also clear that everyone operates with some implicit theory of leadership. If seminaries do not provide an intellectually serious, theologically rooted account of leadership, their students will surely borrow one, probably from the world of commerce. Both practically and as a field of scholarship, articulating a truly Christian understanding of leadership, interacting with the best of leadership theory from the wider society, ought to be one of the most exciting frontiers of theological exploration.

Seminaries will probably never be able to address all the deficits in our culture’s unhealthy ecosystem of leadership. Responsible leadership requires maturity and experience that simply do not emerge in even the most innovative classroom environment or over the few years required to complete a degree. Leadership studies in seminary will probably always resemble, in Fuller professor Scott Cormode’s apt image, “premarital counseling.” No one would mistake premarital counseling for marriage, or even the most earnestly studious engaged couple for a married one. Indeed, one useful contribution of leadership education in seminary might be to disabuse students of the idea that they are already leaders, and to give them a sober vision for how much prayer, time, and humbling experience becoming a true leader might require. But like many aspects of seminary (see the final section on “training, indoctrination, and education” below), a well- conceived program of leadership education could orient students to the challenges they will face—and make a contribution toward reviving an ecosystem that develops wise and Christ-like leaders for the church and for the wider culture. It is hard to imagine a greater contribution to the common good and the church’s flourishing.

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