by James Stamoolis
Principles that will mark leadership development programs.
A few months ago I sat in my kitchen talking to a Ph.D. student I have known for more than a dozen years. I was stunned to hear him say: "My greatest fear is that I will complete my Ph.D., return home, and have no more of a clue as to how to solve the problems in my country than I do now." He was concerned about taking home a bunch of answers to questions that are irrelevant in his own context.
How effective are we at training leaders for emerging churches? Ministerial training systems produce scholars, not leaders. A study funded by the Murdock Charitable Trust demonstrated the dissonance between what should be the ministerial priorities as viewed by laity, pastors and seminary professors. While professors put "theological knowledge" at the top of the list, pastors and laity place it at the bottom. "Spirituality," which came first on the laity’s list of priorities and fourth on the pastors’ list, did not appear on the top priorities of the professors. The top priority of the pastors, "relational skills," was second on the laity’s list, but did not appear on the professors’ list. One student interviewed stated that the seminary he attends "does not see its main role as spiritual development… it is possible to work hard and learn, and come out without a heart for ministry" (Morgan and Giles 1994, 76).
There are several problems in the standard academic models for training leaders.
1. To succeed in our current training programs a person needs to ‘be literate. Does the selection process eliminate real leaders, as some have argued? Are there different ways to train academics and church leaders?
2. Knowledge is transferred in discrete and discipline-specific areas. Apart from academic circles, life does not come in discrete or discipline-specific areas of knowledge. Theological knowledge is often regarded as useless or irrelevant because we have not demonstrated how to apply it to real life situations. Greg Parsons (2000, 54) tells of a study by a missionary agency on pastoral training in Africa. Six hundred pastors who had studied at 11 institutions were surveyed. "The bottom line results: the training made little difference in quality or depth of teaching of the pastors. They taught and preached nearly the same as they had before their training."
There was one exception. One institution brought students in for modular or intensive courses, in which students applied the lessons learned in their ministry situation. "Mentors go out over the next few weeks to the churches and work with them in actual ministry/learning environments. They then take another course and so on. The pastors and churches they serve in are much more effective in all they do according to the survey" (Parsons 2000, 54).
Some would see this as proof that modular education is superior. Others would say mentoring relationships are key. Still others would say pastors are the true leaders; they are already busy in ministry and effective with or without training. There is not enough information to decide among these alternatives, but it is clear that training can be made more effective.
Theological reflection and study need to be concerned with the questions being asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. Eddie Gibbs makes the valid point that the academy is not designed to value the type of research that is directly related to the issues of the church. His answer is for a seminary to have a faculty big enough to encompass technical specialists-experts in the narrow technical fields-and practitioners- faculty whose "primary identification will be with the church, parachurch organization or secular agency" (Gibbs 2000, 95 ff.). From an administrative point of view, only very large seminaries can afford the faculty required.
There are other professions that require a wholistic knowledge of their field. Medical doctors undergo rigorous preparation in specific disciplinary fields. But when they are in the actual position of dealing with sick people, that knowledge is expected to be assimilated and brought to bear on the patient. Internship programs for ministerial students are perhaps a step in the right direction, but depend heavily on the quality of the mentors. If pastoral mentors bring biblical knowledge to bear on the pastoral situation, interns will be able to apply learning to real life situations and not "kill" their patients. If the mentors do not apply a biblical framework, the message reinforced is that education is what you need to acquire the appropriate credentials, but the lessons learned in the classroom should stay in the classroom. MBA programs rely heavily on case studies to integrate all the distinct business-related disciplines. A strong case could be made for a case study approach to pastoral training. Students would examine real ministry cases and approach the topic using all the theological and pastoral disciplines. Authors such as Alan Neely in Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach offer models of this approach in mission studies.
The program developed by William Carey International University and adopted by several other institutions does integrate the various curricular elements. The medical student needs to understand the chemistry of the body to be able to proscribe the correct treatment to promote healing. The prospective business graduate must be able to understand market analysis, cash flow, accounting and management to run a company. The crying need in our ministerial training programs is for the integration of the various elements into a coherent whole. We teach students Greek and Hebrew, but after five years how many use these language tools? The same could be said of systematic theology or church history.
3. The issue of spirituality. In a study published in 1950 by the International Missionary Council, Stephen Neill, writing on the theological training of African pastors, said: "What matters above all else is that he should be a saint. Given that, nothing else matters nearly as much" (as quoted in Sundkler 1960, 306). This quotation is found in a book that clearly discusses the problems of clergy who are educated beneath the level of their professional congregations. The author was not making a plea for spirituality without theological education, because the purpose of the study was to survey the level of pastoral training in Africa. However, theological education without spirituality is ineffective.
In discussing spirituality, the focus often falls on behavior as a touchstone. We all know the "rules" of a truly spiritual person, but true spirituality is first and foremost a relational issue. We are simply in love with Jesus. Our lives are an expression of our relationship. The problem is that many people are conditioned to behave in certain ways but do not have a vital love relationship with God.
How do we teach spirituality? The standard academy answer is a special course in spirituality. Answers such as this merely advance the notion that spirituality after seminary is somehow optional, like taking more exegesis courses or an extra course in preaching. Rather, we must inculcate in our students the sense that we are spiritual beings. We honor the Holy Spirit when we focus our teaching on how the Spirit works in our lives to provide testimony to Christ. While we do not want to give the impression that we can live our lives without reference to the Spirit’s indwelling after our conversion, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking and living like a materialist.
How do we cultivate a dependence on the Holy Spirit? By acknowledging our need for the life of the Spirit within us. It is the Spirit who leads us into all truth, prays with us and for us when we cannot pray and convicts us of our sin. Teaching this to students requires humility on our part. We have an opportunity to model the type of teaching they can adopt when they teach it to their congregations.
We all teach as we have learned. We model our teachers and copy their methods. If we have learned incorrectly, we will teach incorrectly. Paul had criteria for the success of his teaching of Timothy which is found in 2 Tim 2:2. For Paul, the test of his leadership development program was that it would extend to four generations. We are not only teaching leaders, we need to teach leaders how to teach.
Any assessment of leadership training must first ask what are the needs and challenges of the local situation. The temptation to bring in a program, no matter how scriptural and how blessed by God in another situation, is very great. But like physicians, we must learn to treat the diseases that afflict our patients. It does no good to prescribe medicine for an illness that other patients elsewhere had unless we are sure the symptoms are the same and reflect the same disease.
I was recently speaking with a missionary who works with Native Americans in Alaska. He described his education in the culture in which he had worked for over twenty years. Without explanation, three tribal elders were invited to dinner with his host family. He watched them eat muskrat and understood that he was to copy their behavior, especially in eating parts of the animal that ordinarily he would have avoided. The reaction of his hostess signaled to him when he had successfully learned the lesson. These native Americans never "taught" in the so-called traditional manner of telling someone what to do. Their culture was founded on learning by observation.
Many of us have gotten into trouble when our converts have mimicked the behavior they saw in us. This should not surprise us. We only have to look at our children. They more readily pick up our behavior than they do the principles we endeavored to teach them. How blessed when we have lived transparently in both situations, demonstrating our trust in and dependence on our Lord Jesus Christ in all circumstances. How often do we preach faith and rely on money to accomplish God’s work? I owe much to my sisters and brothers in Africa. They taught me to pray first for all things, because they had no material resources to use. The normal Western way is to resort to prayer when we run out of our own resources. Who is more in touch with the way of Christ, those who know they have nothing or those who are relatively rich?
What are we trying to accomplish by our leadership training? If we are making disciples like ourselves we are succeeding marvelously. But if we would present men and women mature in Christ, we need to reassess what we are doing. Therefore, what are the principles that will mark leadership development programs?
1. The training will answer the real questions people have. Our training must help students answer the pressing questions of their society. What are the Christian responses to AIDS, the practice of bribery in the government, polygamy, the power of the spirit world? These are some of the perceived needs of those societies.
In an effort to be true to the historical experience of the Church, we focus on the eternal truths but we are not as good in relating those truths to the real fears and concerns of hearers. Yet, the real is what the gospel is designed to answer, as our Lord exemplified when he ministered.
I am not proposing that we answer all these questions before we can teach. God has a tendency to reveal to us areas of growth as we proceed in our Christian lives. But it is an attitude of honest evaluation that enables us to teach others to have this same mind.
We need to listen for the heart questions. Often those answers cannot come from us. We do not know enough to answer the questions. Our worldview might even preclude our understanding the parameters of the question. The solutions are found when we teach people to apply the Scriptures to their problem.
2. The training will be delivered in a manner appropriate to the learning style of our disciples. One of the things my years in education have taught me is that an absolutely critical in student success is to discover the learning style of the student. Those who don’t learn well in structured classrooms are typically weeded out before they reach the tertiary level. This is a loss for us all because hands-on learners are often the real leaders and innovative doers that every society needs.
The issue of learning styles is closely related to the selection of candidates for ministerial training. Young people are moldable and have had the formal education to meet our standards. But formal education does not equal leadership. Leadership is a blend of charisma and wisdom. There is a difference between ivory tower academics and people with practical wisdom of the everyday world.
The question of educational standards is unavoidable. It is difficult for a person of low educational achievement to minister to university students because he/she cannot comprehend the questions that perplex the university student. But he/she can still speak to heart questions.
If we are all taught by the Holy Spirit, then the humblest person can instruct the professor of theology. A person may only have one insight granted by the Holy Spirit, but it may be the word at the right time. What we need to do is to teach our pastors to train their people to read and study the Word of God so that they can apply it to their lives. The focus should be on the application of the Word of God to the real situations in which Christians find themselves. We need a renewed emphasis on biblical literacy in which the stories and lessons of the Bible shape our various cultures. Sometimes the text will only give them an example to avoid. But that example can speak to their situation.
The amazing thing about the Bible is not that we can understand the text, but that the Bible understands us so well. It speaks to our human condition as sinners in need of redemption; but, in doing so, it also reveals the power, majesty and love of God.
Assuming that most people learn best when they have a hands-on approach, we need to get believers into the Bible where they can discover the meaning of the Scripture. For illiterates, Bible discussions can be held where all are encouraged to reflect on the meaning of the story. Even where the Scripture is available in the vernacular, study groups are useful to prevent errant individual interpretations. There is, of course, the danger of private and heretical interpretations; but this is a smaller danger than not having the text discussed.
3. The training will cause a positive behavior change in those participating. The purpose of our training programs is to change behavior, not merely to impart knowledge. That by itself is never enough to change behavior. "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder" (James 2:19).
One reason we fail to disciple our converts is that we do not have a clear idea of what change in behavior we are looking for. Or, if we do, we are unsure how our training program will lead to the desired behavior. The moral lapses of so many Christian leaders cannot be because the Bible has nothing to say on the issue of sexual morality. The failure lies in not dealing with the root issues, such as feelings of rejection or personal inadequacy. These can lead to overt sinful behavior. We must learn to minister to the deepest spiritual needs of our followers so they can be made whole people.
Another reason our training programs fall short is that we, as teachers, are reluctant to admit our own brokenness. I know that there are cultures in which it is not permitted for the teacher to admit weakness. But, even in those cultures, we need to be honest with our students and admit that our human brokenness is so deep and profound that we ourselves struggle with the acceptance that is to be had in Christ. That does not in any way negate the centrality of our faith in Christ that is our bedrock foundation. But it does demonstrate that we have not yet arrived. The booklet, My Heart, Christ’s Home by Robert Boyd Munger (1986) is one of the best at explaining what we need to teach our students.
There is brokenness all around us, but we are sometimes slow to acknowledge it. We think that if our doctrine is correct, the emotional issues will automatically take care of themselves. Sound doctrine is important, but there must be an opportunity to safely discuss fears and struggles. Without dealing with the personal emotional struggles, we send new leaders out as cripples who are not allowed to let people see them limp. They learn this from us, because we have not limped in front of them. Often our honest demonstration of a handicap is like Jacob’s limp, a sign that we have wrestled with God.
4. The training will be able to be replicated by those being trained. If our leadership development programs depend on us and our resources, we will never finish the task that our Lord Jesus set before us, to disciple all the nations. The program must be broken down to the level of the converts so they can transmit it to their own people. As Roland Allen wisely states:
One other effect of St. Paul’s training is very clear. His converts became missionaries. It seems strange to us that there should be no exhortations to missionary zeal in the Epistles of St. Paul. …. The Christians of the Four Provinces were certainly zealous in propagating the faith, and apparently needed no exhortation on the subject…. We are not always accustomed to find our converts so zealous.
The reason for our failure is, I believe, largely due to the fact that we quench that Spirit. ….We dread the possible mistakes of individual zeal. The result is that our converts hesitate to speak of religion to others (Allen 1962, 93-94).
Praise God that things have changed since Roland Allen penned those words! There is a vibrant and healthy missionary movement in the younger churches. It needs to be fueled by a leadership-training program that can be reproduced and modified in accordance with biblical truth, so as to accomplish the task set before us by our Lord. We professionals must be vigilant against "professionalism" that stifles non-professionals.
5. Those being trained must own the training program. The evidence of this is creative modification of the program that deepens the development of Christian maturity. We must allow our most cherished syllabi and methodology to be transformed to enable our brothers and sisters to make it their own. They should not be dependent on materials produced in North America or Europe, but be able to reproduce what is needed in the local situation.
Certainly there are real dangers to this approach. We may find that the emerging church does things in a manner we are not comfortable with. We may see biblical theological emphases coming forward that do not fit our predetermined categories. Some of these emphases may be wrong, but some may shed new meaning on what it means to be Christ’s church in the third millennium.
Jacob Loewen explained how he learned that other cultural worldviews could hold significant spiritual truths and provide insight in his own culture’s shortcomings. He and another missionary scheduled an overland journey with an Indian guide. As Loewen relates:
When the arranged-for day arrived, however, he did not show up, and we were deeply disappointed. The next day he came towards evening, and told us that someone in his family was ill, and it would be another day or so before he could make the trip with us.
To make very sure that he would come on the new date we set, I offered him double the amount of money that we had originally agreed upon. He turned to me with a pained expression, and said, "I know that money is very important for you, but it is not for me. I am going with you because I am your friend, not because you’re giving me a pile of money (Loewen 2000, 15-16).
Our cultural values are not necessarily biblical values. Of course, neither are the values of cultures of the emerging churches necessarily biblical. That is why we need each other in the body of Christ.
We need to work together with our sisters and brothers in other cultures to develop the next generations of leadership. But most importantly, we need to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in leading all of us into new areas of truth. We, in Roland Allen’s words, have quenched the Spirit in two ways. In the first place by allowing our Western culture to be the hermeneutic for our understanding of the Bible. And in the second place, for not hearing the Spirit as he has spoken to us through our sisters and brothers in other cultural contexts. Our theology is better than our practice. Let us bring our practice in line with our biblical understanding that confesses that "all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). So that we will put in place, with God’s help, biblically sound and culturally sensitive training programs to mature the church around the world.
Jim Stamoolis is the North American director of the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies, Jerusalem. After missionary service in South Africa and with IFES, he was Graduate Dean at Wheaton College.
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