What if…we trained leaders in new ways?

Rhythm In Twenty is an interesting approach to developing young leaders.  It’s a two-year program for church leaders age 25-35 that takes a group of twenty on a number of spiritual retreats and formative experiences that create new rhythms of faith and leadership.  I don’t know enough about the program to vouch for it, but it’s an interesting approach.  Right now, leadership development in the ELCIC is tightly defined, hierarchical and generally quite linear.  Committees choose candidates, move them through several years of education, bestow titles, and connect them with a church.  But we live in a world requiring a complex adaptive approach to the discontinuous change our churches face.  Do we need a more dynamic approach?  We need to educate leaders well, but education alone does not a leader make.  What if we created new approaches to leadership that helped people (clergy and others), explore the ways God is working in their lives and shaping them for service.  Maybe it’s a one year intensive experience like Vantage Point 3, perhaps it’s a two year series of retreats like Rhythm in Twenty, perhaps it’s a degree from a seminary, or maybe a mixture of experiences.  Whatever the case, we would do well to re-imagine leadership development in our context.

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5 Responses to What if…we trained leaders in new ways?

  1. Elaine Sauer says:

    I couldn’t agree more- we are linear, hierarchical and inflexible in our approach to leadership development. Somewhere we have decided there is only one way to raise up leaders- in an academic institution, with a residency approach. We are still living the reformation educational structures that no longer seems to work in our context. Dozens of other professions have figured out creative, flexible and contextual ways to raise up leaders. We are still stuck in the classical system. John Morgan, in his book, The New Paradigm in Ministry Education, says a model of functioning as a “networking system” rather than an enclosed self-contained learning box is a challenge but is necessary for the church so that it can become the facilitator of greater learning for the professional leaders in the church AND become more relevant in the context to which the leaders find themselves.

  2. revcowboy says:

    As someone who recently came through the ELCIC’s training system for ordained ministry, I couldn’t disagree more these assessments. I didn’t find the system to be linear, hierarchical or inflexible. Compared to my undergraduate degree (which was in liberal arts), my MDiv was full of options, variety and most importantly great support from the CTEL committee, the seminary faculty and my internship supervisor. Looking at friends who entered into other professional degrees, such as Medicine, Engineering, Teaching, Nursing, Law etc… where you simply have your program basically pre-determined, seminary seemed to be a the forefront of non-linear, non-hierarchical and flexible education.

    The variety of experiences and courses that I took included courses with practical components in congregations, retreats and trips outside the school, a deep connection to worship as education, time spent as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, an in depth internship experience, a cross cultural trip to Peru, a variety of lecturers and guests doing all kinds of ministry and so much more! In my time as seminary, I encountered the most diverse student body in North America, the best theological library in Western Canada, an ecumenical environment and overall a path that allowed me to make many choices in how to shape my education.

    Students at the seminary came in all shapes and sizes. Some did their whole degree at the seminary, some with MDiv students, some were diaconal, some were MTh, some were STM, some were taking a Lutheran Formation year. Courses were offered in the usual semestered format, in 1-2 week intensives and in reading course format.

    Overall, my impression was that students came out having experience a solid academic education, having been invited into a supportive faith community and grounded in Lutheranism, yet experienced ecumenically. And most importantly, I think most recent grads understand very well that they are just facet of leadership in the church, and that our job is equip the whole body of Christ for leadership and mission. I give thanks everyday for my education and experiences, I could not have chosen this career without them. Nor could fulfill this calling.

    Throughout I felt that CTEL and the seminary facilitated rather than directed my education. And the same in call process, that the Synod office facilitated a good match, rather than directed one.

    Looking around at recent grads in Alberta, it is apparent that we are already leaders in the Synod, stepping to forefront and leading the Church in new and exciting ways. At our Synod convention, new grads were leading worship, serving on program committees, leading workshops and helping to build community.

    From the outside, the way we train pastoral leaders in the western synod of the ELCIC may seem narrow, but a broader view is required. Compared to other professional training, I believe ours is very flexible and open ended, while at the same time creating pastors who will last longer than a few years, as is the trend in many other denominations.

  3. Preston says:

    Thanks for the feedback from both Elaine and revcowboy. It’s my experience that there are a lot of perspectives on the “leadership issue,” and that’s why I bring it up for consideration occasionally on this blog.
    I am currently working with several people from our congregation who feel called to give leadership to various aspects of our shared ministry. What are their options for further training and development? In most cases the ELCIC offers only Seminary training, but what if they do not wish to be professional church leaders?
    Christendom is no longer normative in Canada. It used to be that we could count on people to fill seminaries and most families attended church on Sunday. That is no longer. How do we create leaders who thrive and lead well in our Post-Christiandom context? I agree with Gary Nelson, author of “Borderland Churches” who suggests that the familiar choreography of Christendom does not work anymore. We cannot do what we’ve always done and expect better results.
    I would not offer critique of our system if local leaders were being empowered and equipped, if Seminaries were full, and if churches were thriving. But in most cases, this is not happening. So, I offer my thoughts about alternatives.

  4. revcowboy says:

    On that point I agree. We are working with a big culture change in the ELCIC. The model has been for our pastors to be professional Christians on behalf of congregations. I struggle with this in my congregation and they know it. There is a culture of let the pastor do the faith stuff for us. But slowly, perhaps by the time I am done at this call, things will have changed enough that the model will have changed. My calling is to empower my congregation and divest the authority that has been given to me by conventional means, and instead stick to what we say a pastor actually is, preacher and teacher of the Word and administrator of the sacraments. There is lots of talk what this might look like, that is another post.

    Suffice it to say, the resource for leadership training that we have access to is Pastors, and I will be the first to admit that we have not done a good job in the past decades of allowing others to lead. My hope is that as we change and broaden the seminary education, that the pastors being graduated will take more seriously their role of equipper.

  5. Ty Ragan says:

    Hmmm…training of leaders, I put out the question I have raised many times, is our methodology of discovering/training leaders hindering or helping our growth at the community level?
    What shift would an apprenticeship (see carpenter metaphor) have, where through online cohorts, and serving in their local church mentored by the local pastor an individual is brought along in 2-4 years?

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