Jeff Bezos’ recent purchase of the Washington Post brought to light one of his classic quotes: “What is dangerous is not to evolve.” Newspaper lovers are hopeful that Bezos will help the Post remain a vibrant, meaningful institution while also evolving into a news source that responds to the changes coming from every corner in their industry. Not unlike the newspaper industry, the church must respond to changes coming from every corner as well, and congregations and denominations are wondering how best to evolve. As the cultural structures which have propped up churches in America since its founding disappear one by one, congregations and denominations are left wondering how best to evolve. Which traditions must be maintained? Which are best changed?
One of the many areas in which this situation arises concerns the kind of leadership that we need and what kind of training and experiences will help to develop that leadership. The Presbyterian Mission Agency, as one of its top strategic directions, is working to cultivate, nurture and sustain transformational leaders who can lead congregations with missional effectiveness in the 21st century
Presbyterian teaching elders receive their foundational leadership training at theological seminaries, where the vast majority of their in-class education centers on Biblical studies, systematic and practical theology and church history. This classical approach to theological education is absolutely necessary to form faithful and effective pastors.
As the culture changes, however, the training of pastors needs to evolve. This chart may help frame the issue. If the whole pie represents all of the skills, gifts and experiences that a pastor needs in order to do her job faithfully and effectively, the piece of the pie highlighted is that which is addressed by classical theological education encompassed by Masters of Divinity programs.
However, outside of that highlighted piece, we find other needs for pastors. Thriving Christian leaders are increasingly culturally proficient, adaptive, innovative and resilient. They are skilled in conflict resolution, negotiations and community leadership. More and more, they must be prepared for crisis leadership and lead congregational and community recovery from natural and human-caused disasters. In the best of times, they are resource generators, entrepreneurs and visionaries. They understand institutional dynamics and change management. They are adept at developing strategy and focusing resources for missional effectiveness. A classical theological education does not directly engage these matters, leaving graduates untrained in these vital areas. That is why classical theological education, while absolutely necessary, is not sufficient.
Our PC(USA) seminaries are working to expand the piece of the pie on which they offer training, whether in the M.Div. program or through continuing education. For instance, at Union Presbyterian Seminary, the Leadership Institute helps participants learn to lead through workshops and seminars, conferences and lectures, online resources and networking opportunities. Columbia Theological Seminary is working to educate “imaginative, resilient leaders for God’s changing world” by synthesizing work in the classroom, mentoring relationships, field education opportunities and spiritual disciplines. McCormick Theological Seminary offers a certificate in Executive Leadership as part of its continuing education program.
We could continue to list what each of the PC(USA) seminaries is doing in this area, but what is important to note is that they are working to expand the piece of the pie, little by little, while retaining their core focus on classical theological education.
A wholly different approach is underway at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, which is partnering with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management to offer recent M.Div. graduates and D.Min. students the opportunity to study leadership and management with some of Kellogg’s top faculty. These are professors who specialize in helping a wide variety of organizations define mission and raise and focus resources for maximum impact and effectiveness. Students attend 6 two-day seminars over 18 months and are then granted a certificate in congregational leadership issued jointly by both institutions. Garrett is evolving to bite off a much bigger piece of the pie chart above by outsourcing the areas beyond the classical education to experts in these fields.
While some are skeptical that to partner with business schools would be to worship both God and mammon, many business schools develop organizational effectiveness specifically among complex nonprofit organizations like churches. In the nonprofit sector, leaders learn to measure effectiveness missionally, exercising financial stewardship while emphasizing a non-financial bottom line.
Church leadership development in the future can rely on our seminaries for the necessary-but-not-sufficient classical theological education at which they excel, while evolving to partner with business schools to teach that at which they excel. As the Spirit uses this broader training for God’s glory, our pastors will be increasingly able to inspire congregations to join Christ’s mission to embody and articulate the Gospel in the cultures that surround them.
SARAH SARCHET BUTTER is pastor/head of staff at First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette in Illinois and a D.Min. student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. CHIP HARDWICK is director of Theology, Worship, and Education for the PC(USA). The two have masters of both business administration and divinity.