Steve Kneale recently posted a blog article about one of the things that they don’t teach you at Theological College. The specific thing he is dealing with is church finances but there is a wider point I think which is that for church leaders, especially those in paid roles, there are wider leadership responsibilities than just how to preach the word and offer pastoral advice.
To be fair to the Theological College scene, I think that things do vary a little from place to place. Some colleges do offer modules on wider, practical leadership matters. For example, at Oak Hill, we had the option of taking a second year module called Independent Church Leadership and then later, Chris Green offered a module called “Advanced Christian Leadership.” Additionally, you tend to find that some of these matters are covered as part of denominational certification as part of preparation for ordination. However, that doesn’t help those who have come through an independent church route.
So, first of all, I would encourage Theological Colleges to look at whether they are including adequate training in these nuts and bolts areas. I’d argue that these things should be compulsory rather than an option so that the majority of pastors who receive formal theological training are also trained in the practical aspects of leadership too.
Secondly, we do need to think about how to “fill the gap” for those who did not benefit from such practical training. There are a couple of options here. One is simply to ignore the issue. Or rather to lean into the benefits of plurality. This should mean first of all, that there will be a range of experiences and gifting among the elders but it should also mean that leadership is wider than elders and their responsibility for teaching the word and prayer. Others may bring these particular gifts and responsibilities to the team.
There’s as strong case for what I sometimes call studied ignorance. There are things that for a variety of reasons we choose not to involve ourselves in. For example at a previous church, frequently people tried to get me up to date on how to set to programme the heating system and also to be a first aider. They caught me once on the latter but I chose to remain oblivious to the exact innewr workings of the thermostat and did not renew my first aid certificate. To be clear, it’s not that I thought those things didn’t matter. Nor did I think that pastors and elders were above practical work. I did my fair share of seat shifting, serving teas and coffees, jumping on the p/a and even a bit of weeding. However, I think there is a benefit to not knowing everything as it stops the church from being dependent on one person and prevents them from being dragged into everything.
At the same time, I don’t think that we can just absolve ourselves from wider, practical leadership. We may not need to know the detail of spreadsheets alarm systems, legal precedents etc. However we need to be able to lead in all aspects of church life and so that requires a level of awareness and skill – even if at a top level.
Therefore, I would advise three things.
- There are a couple of good books helping Christian leaders think through practical aspects of leadership. I would recommend Ministry Nuts and Bolts and Advanced Strategic Planning both by Aubrey Malphurs.
- If you are in leadership, take time to read widely including secular books on leadership such as “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. You can also pick up books that will introduce you to Employment Law, Charity Law, basic management accounting etc.
- Look at what is covered on blogs by those with ministry experience. I try to cover these kinds of things on faithroot.com. I’d also strongly recommend Chris Green’s blog Ministry Nuts and Bolts.