Pastors' studies are lined with books by John Maxwell, George Barna, Leith Anderson, and Lyle Schaller. Their calendars are punctuated with conferences led by Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. But few have in their files notes from a seminary class on leadership.
That's a need seminaries are recognizing and some are beginning to address.
A three-year study funded by The Lilly Endowment and led by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is changing the way seminaries teach future ministers to lead their churches.
"We feel in the next five years this study will revolutionize many of the seminaries, because they're all faced with the same crises with regard to the relevance of the ministers they produce for the churches," said Alan Cellamare, program coordinator for the Center for Development of Evangelical Leadership (CDEL) based at Gordon-Conwell's Charlotte, North Carolina campus.
Recognizing the need for stronger, biblical leaders in local churches, in 1996 Gordon-Conwell president Bob Cooley approached Lilly, the organization that specializes in religious studies. Lilly provided $442,000, and the result was this three-year examination of leadership involving 62 evangelical seminaries.
Catching up and moving ahead
The explosive growth of leadership books, seminars, and training organizations in the 1980s and 1990s—mostly outside seminary and denominational structures—prompted educators to ask what was missing from their curriculum.
Cellamare is candid about the seminaries' track record in this area. "One of the things that seminaries have not done very well is the development of leadership for churches. In many cases, when seminary graduates go into churches they fail, because they don't know how to lead," he said.
The churches' demands on seminaries is changing because their expectations of pastors have changed. "Many of the people in the congregation are educated in secular approaches to leadership, so they have expectations of their pastors in relation to leadership. Many seminaries in the past have not focused on training seminary students to function with the same competencies as the people of the congregation expect."
But leading a church is different from leading any other organization. The seminary leaders brought to this study a trio of unique demands: biblical mandate, evangelical faith, and the distinctive nature of the church.
Designers of the project determined that success in pastoral leadership would depend on three areas: calling, character, and competence. Secular leadership relies particularly on competence, as have some more practically oriented ministry programs. This study started a step—two steps back, in fact—from the evidences of effective leadership. The first year's projects were limited to issues of pastoral call and the vocational nature of leadership. After that foundation was laid, the schools studied character. The final round examined competence in leadership.
"We focused on call and on character before we ever focused on competencies, because being and becoming are prerequisite to doing," Cellamare said. "And if the seminary is not focusing on spiritual formation and shaping the characters of the individuals before they go out to do leadership in the churches, then all we're doing is teaching them the how-to's: how to preach, how to do the functions of the office.
"Leadership comes from who you are. That's where we must start."
In each of the three years, five seminaries had studies funded. Several focused on the spiritual formation of pastor-leaders. Some covered the needs of churches, others curriculum, and others the changes that would be required of the seminaries themselves. "Theological education has not changed quickly because of structure and academic tradition," Cellamare said. "This project has created a whole new discussion on leadership and theological education and the responsibility of the seminary."