Are leaders born? Or can they be made? That question has been debated for many years in many different arenas, ranging from business to politics to sports. There are those who insist that anyone, regardless of self-image or aptitude, can develop the tools necessary to become a leader as long as he or she possesses the will to do so. (Typically, however, those people who say that anyone can become a leader have something to sell—perhaps a self-help book or a series of audiocassettes.)
Common sense would seem to suggest that the answer to this question can be found somewhere between the two extremes. That is, good leaders typically emerge from some combination of aptitude, "natural born ability " and training, the learning and practicing of principles and skills that are associated with successful leadership.
Nowhere is the challenge of leadership more important than in the church. After all, laypersons want (even expect) their pastors to be a lot of things: preacher, teacher, administrator, counselor, youth worker, Bible-study leader, fundraiser, and on and on. But chances are good that if you were to ask people to summarize all their expectations of their pastor in a single word, that word would be leader.
Wanted: Church leaders
For years seminaries have struggled with issues of leadership development. After all, the mission of seminaries and graduate theological schools goes far beyond producing students who succeed in the classroom, who know Hebrew and Greek, who know hermeneutical and homiletic principles, who are conversant in topics related to Christology, eschatology, pneumatology, and all the other "ologies."
No, it's never just about producing good students. For the sake of the church and its mission, seminaries are at their best when they are turning out effective leaders for the ministries of the church, including pastoral ministry. Virtually every seminary professor can point to any number of average or below-average students who went on to become very effective as pastors. Of course, there is also the occasional straight-A student who is winner of all the scholarship awards but who, after a few years of unsuccessful and frustrating church ministry, ends up as some congregation's most scholarly and intelligent parishioner. (For the record, it could be argued that churches need theologically sophisticated parishioners as much as they need effective pastors!)
Are admission standards lax?
Many seminaries have done a lot of self-reflection and analysis in recent years, questioning whether they are accomplishing the goal of turning out effective church leaders. To the extent they have fallen short, the discussion has turned to that age-old question with which we started: Are leaders born or can they be they made?
Some observers maintain that the challenge lies not with the seminary programs themselves but rather with the kinds of students seminaries are accepting. Some of these people have suggested that seminary admissions policies in general need to be stricter. A recent survey conducted by the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education has revealed that the median acceptance rate for Protestant seminaries is 87 percent. In addition, some 90 percent of Protestant seminary students who responded to the survey said they were attending their first choice of schools. By contrast only 46 percent of law students are attending their "first choice" institution.
There are, of course, ways to explain these numbers in a more positive light. One might argue, for example, that all law schools are pretty much the same, whereas seminaries differ from one another based on program offerings and doctrinal inclination. Thus, those applying for seminary education may very well be more selective with regard to the one school they want to attend.
A call to ministry as qualification
For seminaries the most important consideration is not whom they accept, but whether the people they are graduating are qualified to serve as pastors. In general, seminaries hesitate to turn away those who believe they have had a call to ministry, especially since many consider the call itself to be a prerequisite to pastoral ministry.