Leaders – what sort of training do they need? Do they need any training at all for that matter? Opinions differ. Are leaders born or trained? This little blog series is written for those who are seeking theological education (to help them get the best out of it), for those disillusioned with a theological education that did not equip them for ministry, and most of all for those who want a ministry for a long haul and know they can not make it on their own. For all those who long for someone to stand beside them, for opportunities to forge their skills, and for a platform for their gifts.

It is unfortunately true that a lot of theological institutions seem years apart from the Church and society; they live their own ‘greenhouse’ lives and produce ‘greenhouse’ raised leaders. Many leaders that leave theological institutions today often look pampered and prepared, their heads are filled with right answers, but their eager efforts are short-lived and their spiritual lives lack fresh flavor. Their names may be written in the Book of Eternal Life, but their communities have never heard of them.

This is a universal problem; churches around the world are growing faster than we are able to train leaders to lead them, and when an institution is able to provide training it struggles with ensuring the most effective curriculum and structure.
Theological education is in demand, but it needs to change. Its main limitations are:

  1. 1.defragmentation of theological training,
  2. the subjects studied are often disjointed and randomly put together,
  3. high financial cost of study,
  4. cultural dislocation of students, where often a student will be unwilling to return or unable to fit in with their people any longer, and
  5. failure to adequately equip leaders for ministry, who too often see theological education as separate to their ministry.

The problem that Swiss theologian Emil Brunner and English psychiatrist Frank Lake saw in India, with a high rate of missionaries abandoning their posts and burning out in ministry, is the problem that relates to leaders that leave theological education. Far too many ‘rise like a rocket, and fall like a stick.’ There is too much output and no discipline of input in the lives of leaders. Many deep within feel a failure and have no inner resources to draw from.

There are many opportunities, but these will require more than just a few cosmetic changes. The reality of the condition of theological education today forces us to consider alternatives, but it also forces us to look beyond western methods of education to the global community, and beyond our denominational constraints, to find the most effective ways of equipping others. We must focus on introducing and insisting on finding new modules of mentoring leaders for missional engagement and sustainable personal spiritual life even before they leave the theological institutions and long after they are in the field.

Check our website next week for Part 2 of the blog series ‘How not to rise like a rocket and fall like a stick’ but to continue on the ascending plane in the company of others.

Joanna has a passion for mentoring female leaders to become mentors for a new generation. She is a founding director of One Rock, a board member of Renovare UK, and is studying for a doctorate with Asbury Theological Seminary. In her spare time she loves taking photographs of nature, and playing with her cat Chester.

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