Leadership training options for pastors

Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh


Remote Roundtable Discussion

In general, have full-time church leaders shown increased interest in leadership and management training?

Bo Rice, PhD, ThM, MDiv., Dean of Graduate Studies, Assistant Professor of Evangelism and Preaching, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Bo Rice: With the world changing as fast as it is, solid leadership skills are often what keep the ship right. So, yes, I’ve seen significant increased interest in leadership and management training in the past decade.

“Leaders are born and not made” was once a widely held belief. But today, we see this is only half of the issue.

Yes, many leaders are born — either through their upbringing or through life’s situations. But, leadership is also a skill that can be taught.

Many church leaders today see the need to reach new audiences. If we’re going to continue to reach our world for the Gospel, it’s important that we’re giving our church leaders the best tools to do it.

Larry Steven McDonald, DMin, PhD, Dean and Director of Doctor of Ministry Studies, Professor of Christian Spirituality, North Greenville University T. Walter Brashier Graduate School

Larry Steven McDonald: Today’s church leaders definitely show a markedly increased interest in leadership training. Some of this is fueled by excellent leadership books and conferences from the business world. These works deal with issues such as vision casting, branding, time management, social media use, organizational structure, excellence in hiring, and teambuilding.

Yet, some of this interest is a pendulum swing away from a cultural model of pastoral leadership toward a CEO model. I believe there are strengths and weaknesses with both of these models, as they both represent separate extremes of the pendulum. In other words, development of leadership and managerial skills cannot be an end unto themselves; these skills must be undergirded by Christian integrity, character and maturity so that they can be used for a spiritual purpose. Christian leadership must be built firmly upon a biblical basis, as it also draws from successful business principles. Rather than merely approaching life in general — and church leadership in particular — from a strictly temporal vantage point, we gain the greatest strength when we apply the ancient wisdom of God’s Word to our current day setting. 

Most church leaders recognize the need for a deeper level of leadership training than secular models alone can offer.

Matthew F. Manion, Professor of Practice in Management Operations and Faculty Director, The Center for Church Management at the Villanova School of Business

Matthew F. Manion: We’ve seen a 300% increase in students in our Master of Science in Church Management degree in the last four years, and a similar increase in our non-degree certificate program.

The context for ministry has changed dramatically. In the 20th century, we formed church leaders to manage and maintain the status quo in a world where religion was a given, and faith communities grew through generations of

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large families. Today, families are much smaller, and children are being raised in a culture where trust in institutions is severely damaged.

In many ways, the church requires the innovation and creativity of early missionaries, yet most church leaders were not formed for that reality.

What areas of leadership and management skills development most in-demand among busy church leaders?

Manion: A particular challenge is ending activities that do good and have historical significance, but need to be stopped so that resources can be reallocated to new initiatives which do more good today and for the future.

Another great challenge is change management. In a church setting, this becomes more complex, as many of the people who need to be the champions and agents of change are volunteers. A different set of skills is necessary to engage, motivate and support them.

The final area is nuts-and-bolts management competence. Developing basic skills in finance and budgeting, human resources, technology, and vendor contracts can free up church leaders to devote more time and energy to pastoral needs.

Rice: Becoming a visionary is a great need among church leaders. It’s not enough simply to lead for today; having the foresight to articulate — and then invest in — the future of the church, along with the leadership skills to move the church body, is essential for church leaders.

Another is the need for advanced communication skills. How you delegate, speak consistently through different forms of media, and even navigate conflict. These are big areas of need.

And while both of these are essential for leading and management, effective church leaders are continuously navigating change. It’s no longer good enough to go to school and move on; instead, today’s successful leaders are adopting a ‘continual student’ mindset.

How have your seminary’s educational offerings evolved over the past several years to help meet full-time church leaders’ emerging leadership and management training needs?

Manion: The first significant development is a Certificate in Church Management that Villanova University offers in collaboration with several dioceses. This one-week summer program, offered in addition to the core seminary curriculum, exposes future church leaders to a breadth of church management topics at a time when they’re not facing the pressure of the normal academic calendar and can think more about their post-ordination life.

The other, newer initiative is a result of a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment. The Villanova Center for Church Management is developing a series of case studies — inspired by real-life scenarios — that seminary faculty can use to help future church leaders practice how they’d respond, and get feedback, before facing these situations in the parish or community.

Rice: New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) has always believed in the need for good leadership.

For instance, the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) is a professional degree providing qualified students the opportunity to achieve a high level of excellence in the practice of ministry. You can earn a DMin in Denominational Leadership, as well as Strategic Leadership.

The Doctor of Educational Ministry (DEdMin) is a professional degree in the areas of educational ministry, where we also offer a focus in Leadership and Administration, as well as Denominational Leadership.

And most recently, the seminary approved a new PhD in Christian Leadership.

Whether you’re looking at a doctoral or a master’s degree, we want to make sure you’re prepared to navigate the challenges facing the church today.

McDonald: In the Graduate School of Christian Ministry at North Greenville University (NGU), we have done three things to help meet full-time church leaders’ emerging leadership needs.

First, we believe the most important book on leadership is the Bible. We think the leadership models and teachings from Jesus, Paul and Nehemiah provide a pastor with the very best that is available. And they are timeless!

Second, the New Testament uses three words to describe leadership in the church: elder, overseer and pastor (shepherd). Although these words are used interchangeably (Acts 20; 1 Peter 5), they each emphasize an important element of the pastoral role. The word “elder” highlights the mature character needed (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) in a church leader. The word “pastor” focuses upon the guiding and feeding role (Ephesians 4) of a church leader for his congregation. And the word “overseer” underscores ministry leadership. All three of these roles are strategic and important. When one role is overly accentuated, the leader and the church swing to a pendulum extreme. At NGU, we emphasize a biblical shepherding model that exhibits all three of these leadership qualities.

Third, we seek to learn from and share some of the best practices of the secular business world. Although our focus is primarily biblical, we do not neglect to observe and draw from successful business examples.

[E]ffective church leaders are continuously navigating change. It’s no longer good enough to go to school and move on; instead, today’s successful leaders are adopting a ‘continual student’ mindset.

How important is the online component when accommodating full-time church leaders interested in obtaining leadership training (while maintaining their ministry at home?

Rice: This is the very reason we’ve invested as much as we have in distance learning. One of our primary objectives is to maintain the standards of excellence in education while delivering it to those, wherever they might be serving.

We offer online options for every level of education.

For example, we now have PhD students join seminars through SYNC, a new online delivery system. Students join the classroom in a live setting from the convenience of their own church offices and homes. Excellent scholarship and interaction is maintained while the PhD has become more accessible and attainable.

As well, most of our MDiv degrees can be done completely online or through SYNC.

McDonald: Online education is very strategic for today’s full-time church leader, as it offers flexibility for accommodating his personal schedule. This means he can continue ministry in his current location without uprooting his family.

At NGU, we provide several options for students: on-campus, online or blended. The blended option allows a student to participate in live classes from home, thus capturing the best of both learning environments.

Manion: As someone who worked full-time in ministry while trying to be a good spouse and father, I don’t know how this can be done without an online component.

Our programs give participants the flexibility to watch the videos, participate in discussion boards, and complete assignments at the time of day that’s best for them, not for us. It allows us to create an international community of learners who can connect in an online webinar or videoconference without the time and expense associated with travel. And with the online tools available today, we’ve been able to create true communities that stay connected long after the class is done.

It also allows the learners revisit the content that’s most relevant for them, and perhaps even share it with those with whom they minister, exploring its application in their local church setting.

What would you say to a pastor who still thinks leadership and management training is “out of reach”?

McDonald: Today’s technology opens up many new avenues for a person to receive leadership training. No one should think this is “out of his reach.” At NGU, we bend over backwards to accommodate interested students. We welcome the opportunity to talk personally with church leaders so that we can help to make this happen.

Manion: My dad used to say, ‘God will never give you a cross bigger than you can handle. And if he does, He’ll send a Simon to help you carry it.’ I’d encourage that pastor to look for the people and resources God is sending their way, and to let the Simons help them.

Rice: It’s just the opposite. Today is one of the best times to get the right training. Through our synchronous and asynchronous programs, a person can learn and grow without ever leaving their ministry context.


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