The way it could be: leadership development in ministerial education

If you could redesign seminary education, what would you wish for?

Skip Bell, D. Min., is professor of church leadership and administration, as well as director of the Doctor of Ministry program, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

Roger Dudley, Ed.D., is director of the Institute of Church Ministry, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Douglas Tilstra is associate professor of religion at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

If you could redesign seminary education, what would you wish for? Three years ago we began a search for answers important to the future of professional programs in graduate theological education. Because our questions focused on the effectiveness of developing leadership for the church, we first sought to establish frames of reference for measuring success in pastoral ministry and to evaluate the relationship between leadership practices and those criteria.1 We knew our research agenda would require multiple stages and several years of work.

Our purpose was threefold: (1) to discover correlations between leadership practices and success in pastoral ministry, (2) to evaluate effectiveness of leadership formation in graduate theological education, and (3) to discover effective processes in leadership development applied to seminary education. We were careful to use acceptable research methods and reliable assessment tools. Andrews University Seminary Studies has published articles detailing the research methods and findings.

Below is a summary of our work, our findings, and our recommendations.

The research

The first stage of the study demonstrated a strong correlation between success in pastoral ministry and a pastor's leadership practices. We concluded that "using superior leadership practices enables pastors to be more successful in their ministry."2

Given the correlation between leadership practices and pastoral success, we concluded that the formation of key leadership practices is an appropriate goal of graduate theological education.

Our second research stage revealed the need for change in the way people are prepared for the leadership challenge of ministry. We measured the effect of seminary education on the leadership practices of Seventh-day Adventist pastors.3 No significant variation was found between pastors with a graduate theological education and those with only an undergraduate degree.

No particular denominational tradition stands alone in this challenge. In a study of 400 California pastors from five mainline denominational churches, T. J. Naman found that only 36 percent of the respondents felt that as a direct result of their seminary education they were equipped to lead the local congregation.4

Alan Nelson evaluated the curricula of 64 seminaries and 77 undergraduate theology programs in the United States for his doctoral dissertation. Only six of the 141 programs—three graduate programs and three undergraduate programs—offered significant leadership development as part of the required curriculum.5

Pastors and researchers have expressed this seminary deficiency in various ways. Often they describe the traditional seminary curriculum as too academic and disconnected from daily pastoral demands.6 Another typical assessment is that the seminary is not responsive to the needs of the local church.7 Some point to specific skills such as decision making, conflict resolution, administration, financial planning, time management, or problem solving; all these being areas that pastors rarely learn about at seminary.8

Other concerns with the leadership development deficiency in seminaries include failure to learn critical thinking skills,9 learning individualistic rather than team building skills,10 lack of self-development, and the disconnection of intellectual development from affective development. 11

Nelson12 and Turner13 conclude that leadership training in the average seminary is virtually nonexistent.

The purpose of our third research stage was to discover if changes in seminary curriculum and delivery could impact the subsequent leadership practices of persons in ministry. We selected three programs in graduate theological education offering increased emphasis on leadership development and assessed the actual leadership formation among their graduates in pastoral ministry. Further, we examined specific curricular distinctions of these programs as compared to the usual Master of Divinity program in seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

The three institutions selected were the Biblical Institute for Leadership Development (BILD), Dallas Theo logical Seminary, and Vanguard University (formerly Southern California College). Vanguard University and Dallas Seminary were among the three graduate institutions identified by a panel of researchers as demonstrating significant emphasis on leadership formation within their graduate theological program curriculum in Alan Nelson's research. 14

BILD is known as a leader in church-based theological education, working formally with groups of churches or associations of churches in 14 countries to develop church-based theological education paths and resources for church leadership. Participants in the BILD program work within a given church context for ten years and move through a curriculum delivered to the entire church body, not simply the professional participant who is enrolled.

The curriculum provides multiple levels, interaction with instructors, a mentoring process and accountability, and is delivered entirely in context. The curriculum offered by BILD is recognized by a growing number of seminaries, although BILD is not an ATS seminary.

Vanguard offers a leadership master's degree for persons preparing for church ministry. The degree is not a revision of a Master of Divinity program but rather a leadership degree positioned for persons entering ministry. It has little in biblical studies as compared to a Master of Divinity degree but offers significant preparation for leadership delivered in a traditional classroom environment.

Dallas Theological Seminary offers a track in their Master of Divinity program offering specialized preparation for leadership challenges in the church. It is a significant emphasis in a traditional degree program delivered in a classroom setting. We studied graduates of that track, along with graduates of the BILD and Vanguard programs.

The table on page 65 provides data comparing Leadership Practice Inventory scores for graduates of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (SDATS) with the three institutions just mentioned and examined for this study. The Leadership Practices Inventory is a reliable assessment tool we applied in all three stages of our research.15

As in all of our studies, the pastors assessed were in ministry, having four through ten years of experience following their educational program. Scores on leadership practices were obtained by having key congregational leaders rate their pastors.

We found a consistently higher ranking of graduates from the three selected programs when contrasted with graduates from the SDATS. The degree of correlation between leadership emphasis approaches in graduate curriculums and growth in leadership practices provides a significant factor in the design of seminary curriculum for professional programs in pastoral education.

Our dream

Where does Seventh-day-Adventist ministerial education go from here? Imagine if we could design a professional graduate theological program that met the needs for effective church leadership. Having invested years in research and reflection, we felt it appropriate to imagine "the way it could be." Here is our dream.

We would first touch the past. We must do that before we reach for the future. The church has learned the value of theological orthodoxy and of church leaders who exegete Scripture correctly and effectively. We would value those lessons and assure a Master of Divinity program with a strong background in theology and biblical studies. Ministry is for God, guided by Him. The passion for ministry comes from Him. We must be students of His Word. We would be foolish to compromise that aspect of church leadership development.

The same reflection on our shared history as Christian peoples reveals that seminary education has been concerned first with theological themes, and only secondly concerned with professional development. There is encouraging evidence that we are addressing that practice. Andrews SDATS, for example, took an important step only five years ago by increasing the professional curriculum in the Master of Divinity program.

We would consider how others are addressing the challenge. We found some researchers suggest consigning the Master of Divinity program to a predoctoral theology degree and starting all over again with a new professional program.

Others suggest a new kind of seminary, free from the restraint of academic traditions. While we concur change is needed, we prefer the fol lowing alternative:

We would reposition the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program to offer two alternate tracks: "professional" and "emphasis in theological studies." A person settled on a predoctoral theology program, preparing for a career in higher education, should pursue a typically shorter M.A. in religion program, and a person preparing for ministry in the church or community setting should choose between the two M.Div, tracks.

The professional track in the M.Div. program would be a true professional program, designed for per sons planning careers in church leadership ministry as pastors, organizational leaders, chaplains, or other distinct ministry professions. It would be the usual choice for preministry professionals. Emphasis offered in the program would offer opportunities to further concentrate electives within the curriculum around specialties such as evangelism, preaching, youth ministry, leadership, religious education, counseling, family ministry, world mission, etc.

A second track, "the emphasis in theological studies," is needed. There are candidates preparing for ministry who wish to spend some time in practical ministry but intend to pursue an academic career. They wish to have some professional preparation while receiving significant theological study preparing for acceptance into an academic doctoral program. Others may see teaching as their ministering gift within the pastoral setting.

Both tracks would prepare the participant for continuing education. A person with three or more years of ministry who has taken the professional track would engage in a Doctor of Ministry program should they wish to advance in professional competency or teach in areas of Christian ministry or mission.

Alternatively, they might complete some language and theological prerequisites native to the "emphasis in theological studies" track, and complete a Ph.D. degree advancing their theological studies and preparing for an academic career in theological or biblical studies.

Why two tracks? Why not accomplish both objectives in a single M.Div. program?

The pursuit of professional competency within the pressures of time and space in an M.Div. curriculum— 80- to 90-some credits in most seminaries—make that objective untenable. The excellent M.Div. programs of 90 credits or more already occupy a person for at least six quite stressful semesters.

While we do not suggest making the M.Div. program briefer, we have heard the voices calling for reduction of credits to meet practical economic and family concerns. And increasing the length of the residency is not practically possible. Satisfying excellence in the curriculum objectives described by both tracks in a single blended degree is simply not realistic. Nor is it actually necessary. The needs of a professional in ministry leadership are different from those preparing for an academic career.

The studied and reasonable position of both theologians and ministry practitioners need to be understood in this discussion. Theologians might believe there is enough room in the traditional curriculum of an M.Div. program to provide adequate professional preparation. Professional practitioners will respond that there is enough room for adequate theological curriculum. Each tend to imagine that the other should make any necessary accommodations when it comes to the credits provided in the program.

A two-track program

When a vision for excellence of each position is well considered, the reality emerges that more time and space are needed for each objective. Further, integration of learning into practice is demanded within the curriculum of professional preparation. Thus our research has led us to imagine two tracks as the best solution.

What would the distinctions in the two tracks be? An undergraduate theological degree would be assumed for both tracks, and compensated by added credits in theological studies when absent for students in either track. Adequate theological preparation must be assured.

The "emphasis in theological studies" track would provide significant required and elective study in theology, Christian philosophy, biblical studies, and church history, along with minimum professional competency. Competency in Greek and Hebrew would be required, and electives would provide emphasis in theology or biblical studies. Thirty-seven credits would be required in Christian ministry and world missions, including two in spiritual formation. The program would be quite like the present M.Div. program of traditional seminaries, SDATS included.

The "professional track" would offer the more distinctive variation from current practice. Students would achieve competency in Greek but demonstrate only a survey of Hebrew, understanding attributes of the language and how expository tools are used. The required credits, including electives, in Christian ministry and world mission would increase to 56 of 96 credits.

Each student would take two levels of spiritual formation, and emphasis would be offered in professional areas such as preaching, leadership, pastoral care, communication, worship, evangelism, family ministry, youth ministry, religious education, and world mission.

Required courses in interpersonal relationships, leadership, administration, conflict management, small groups, ethics, leading in diversity, and organizational change would expand preparation for the leadership challenge. The curriculum would require an in-residency experience of six semesters, but completion of the program would occur after a six credit (these credits are included in the 56), two-year subsequent field practicum with ministry integrated learning experiences including reading, journaling, reflection, small group work, and mentoring. One two week on-campus interaction would complete the practicum course and the program prior to graduation.

Our dream includes pedagogy characterized by integration and collaboration among professors and with students. Most of the literature regarding seminary curriculum, especially in the past ten years, has shown a strong emphasis on the themes of reflection, integration, and adaptation to societal changes.

Carolyn Jurkowitz summarized it well: "Professional learning happens in communities where students not only learn through reflective practices how to apply knowledge, rules, and procedures and to think like a particular type of professional, but where they are coached to invent new rules, reframe problems, and make new sense out of uncertain, unique, or conflicted situations." 16 The literature contains examples of innovative attempts by various seminaries to implement the type of learning described by Jurkowitz. 17

One example is Emmanuel School of Religion. It has attempted two innovative programs for pastoral leadership development. The first program is an integrative approach to teaching the subjects of preaching and worship, education, counseling, evangelism, administration, and leadership."18 The entire practical theology faculty team teaches, designs integrative assignments, and seeks to "lead students to develop their understanding of ministry in the light of the nature of the church and to integrate the various activities of ministry together into a theology of ministry."19

The second innovative program is a three-module field education ministry supervision program. The three modules include assessment (initial and final), supervised ministry experience that includes a learning covenant and personal growth goals, and finally, weekly group meetings for interactive reflection on their ministry experience.20


We realize the risk of talking about this dream. Valued colleagues who differ may feel their viewpoints are unappreciated. And since we are not occupying this space with consider able detail, the dream may be dis missed as flawed or not practical. But our research, observation, and dialogue convince us a change is needed. Further, both our community of col leagues and these concepts are strong enough to thrive in rigorous discussion and collaboration.

What we hope for is conversation, collaboration, and change. We have focused on leadership development for professionals in ministry for years, and the church should engage in the enquiry. Ours is the greatest mission and opportunity in the world—to prepare people who will transform others, and thus the world, according to God;s design. We simply hope we may do our best.

1 Skip Bell and Roger Dudley, "Leadership Formation in Ministerial Education—Part I. Assessment and Analysis of leadership Traits in Seventh-day Adventist Pastors in North America," Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 40, No 2 (Autumn 2002).

2 Ibid., 290

3 Skip Bell and Roger L. Dudley, "Leadership Formation m Ministerial Education—Part 2 The Impact of Graduate Theological Education on Leadership Development in the Local Pastorate," Andrews University Seminary Stutim, Vol 42, No. 1 (Spring 2004).

4 T J. Naman, "Pastonng the Church into the Twenty-first Century" (a dissertation, Pepperdine Ujiiversry 1998), !43.

5 Alan E Nelson, "Leadership Training of Ministerial Students in Evangelical Institutions of Higher Education" (Ld.D., University of San Diego, 1994), 111

6 R. D Beach, "Managerial Leadership Instruction Assessing Contemporary Seminary Coverage m Light of Biblical Standards" (an MBAMA dissertation, Regent University. 1994), B Bramard, "Professional Education and the Preparation of Assemblies of God Ministries in Oregon," (an Ed D. dissertation, Portland State University, 1996}, D MacaskUl, C N Shaw, "A Philosophy of Education Leadership Development through Theological Studies" (a D MiSS dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary. 1989), C. Weese
and C S Wong, "Chnstian Religious Education m Hong Kong- Professional Ministery and Ministerial Preparation" (a Ph.D dissertation, Trinity Evangelical School- 1998).

7 R M Franklin, "Future Directed' Trend Theological Education, 37, No 2(2001)

8 E M Clouzet, "A Biblical Paradigm for Ministerial Training" a (D. Min. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1997), E.L. Dower, "A Needs Assessment of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary's Master of Divinity Program as Perceived by the Graduates, Faculty, Students, and Employers of Graduates" (and Ed. D. dissertation, Andrews University, 1980).

9 Bramard, 1-28

10 A. Le Cornu, "1 he Shape of Things to Come I heological Education in the Twenty-first Century," British Journal of Theological Education, Vol 14, No 1 (2003). 13-26

11 Macaskill, 32-.M

12 Nelson, 165

13 T.C. Turner, "Seminary Practices and Ministerial Realities: A Dichotomy that Calls for Change" (a Ph.D dissertation, Washington State University 2001), 108

14 Alan E Nelson, "Leadership Training of Ministerial Students m Evangelical Institutions of Higher Education" (Ed D , University of San Diego, 1994)

15 The assessment instrument used in each research stage was the Leadership
Practices Inventory (LP1) developed by James Kouzez and Barry Pozner. The LP1 tonsiits of 30 descriptions of behavior The observer is asked to rate the pastor on each behavior using a ten-point scale from ''almost never" to "almost always." Answers are then aggregated into five scales of MX responses each The scales are (1) Challenging the Process, (2) Inspiring a Shared Vision, (3) Enabling Others to Act, (4) Modeling the Way, a/id (5) Encouraging the Heart A technical presentation of the Leadership Practices Inventory may be obtained at www leadershipchallenge com or Josey-Bass Publishing.

16 Carolyn M. Jurkowitz, "What is the Literature Saying about Learning and Assessments m Higher Education," Theological Education, Vol 39, No 1 (2003J.8S

17 See Efrain Agosto, "The Gift of Urban Theological Education A Personal and Professional Reflection," Theological Education, Vol 33, No 1 (1996) 100, Pau! Ballard and Stephen Pattison, "Practical Theological Education: A Profile," British Journal of Theological Education, Vol 13, No 2, (2003), Robert W Bum, "How Pastors Learn the Politics of Ministry Practice," Religious Education, Vol 97, No. 4, (2002), Robert M Franklin, "Future Directed Trends in Theological Education," Theological Education, Vol 37,No 2(200l).114,RobertT Gorman. Kathlennd Talvacchia, and W Michael Smith, "Teaching from a Community Context: The Role of the Field Educator in Theological Education," Theological Education, Vol 37, No. 2 (2001), Kraig Klaudt, "The Ashram as a VIodel for

Theological Education," Theological Education, Vol 34, No. 1 (1997), Patricia A Lamoureux, "An Integrated Approach to Theological Education," Theological Education, Vol 36, No. 1, (1999), Merv Mercer, "Formational Initiatives at Wycliffe College," Theological Education, Vol 39, No 2 (2003)'53-63, Harry L, Poe, "The Revolution in Ministry Training," Theological Education, Vol 33, No 1 (1996) 28, Cathy Lynn Hall Stengel, "Pastoral Supervision as a Vehicle (or I eadership Development in Theological Education" (a dissertation. United Theological Seminary: 1998) 88-103, and Malcom I Warlord, "Renewing the Practices of Ministry," Theological Education, Vol 33, No 2(1997)

18 Bruce E Shields, "Integrating Ministry and Theology," Theological Education, Vol 33, No 2(1997) 12

19 Ibid., 14.

20 Ibid, 16



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Skip Bell, D. Min., is professor of church leadership and administration, as well as director of the Doctor of Ministry program, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

Roger Dudley, Ed.D., is director of the Institute of Church Ministry, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Douglas Tilstra is associate professor of religion at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee.

July/August 2005

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