A Different Kind of Leader
Almost every call committee I know, when searching for a pastoral candidate, has identified what it hopes its future pastor will be able to do: preach, teach, lead worship, pray, visit, extend pastoral care, and so on. That makes a certain sense and aligns with how we often think of leadership — leaders are the people who do things, who get things done, who take actions on behalf of their organizations.
What I haven’t witnessed is that many congregations search for a leader to equip them to do things: share their faith, interpret the Word, care for and visit each other, pray with one another. This also, if put into practice, would represent another kind of leadership, where leaders are those people who equip and prepare others to do things, get things done, and take actions on behalf of their organization and community.
Increasingly, I believe, the church needs this second kind of leader, the one who equips and trains and prepares its members to exercise their Christian faith actively in the world.
Two examples to flesh out what I mean, the first on the topic of sharing faith. In most congregations I know, the pastor is the one who most frequently, and sometimes exclusively, shares his or her faith publicly, usually in the context of preaching and sometimes in other leadership settings like offering devotions before a meeting. On the whole, this worked pretty well in a cultural context that supported congregation life and, indeed, in many ways had a vested interest in congregations flourishing.
Today, however, that is rarely our context. More often, the larger culture is somewhat indifferent to congregations and there is little to any cultural pressure to attend church. In this kind of context, having only one person trained and prepared to share his or her faith seems like a criminal waste of resources. In fact, I would argue that the day attendance at Sunday worship stops decreasing in our country and begins to increase is the day a majority of our people can articulate why their faith and participation in a worshiping community is important to them and are confident of their ability to share that with others. A leader, in this context, is not simply the one that can share his or her faith, but the one who prepares others to do so, too.
My second example is about prayer. By and large, pastors are the “professionals” when it comes to prayer, which is why at almost every church function, someone asks the pastor to “open us with prayer.” Perhaps because they’ve not been trained or rarely have had an opportunity to practice, many adult Christians in mainline congregations do not feel comfortable praying aloud. But think how powerful it would be if, when our members saw a co-worker, friend, neighbor, or family member struggling, he or she will feel competent and capable enough to say, “May I pray with you.” Not simply, “You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers,” mind you, but “May I pray with you.” To develop in their people this kind of confidence, pastors will not only need to know how to pray, but also to teach others to pray as well.
This kind of “formative leadership” is at the heart of the new curriculum being developed by the faculty of United Lutheran Seminary, as we seek to train leaders who not only know how to do things but how to teach and equip others to do them as well. For this reason, at the moment we are actively designing courses with assignments that give students an opportunity both to gain certain skills for themselves and also to equip their members with them as well.
To tarry with the example of prayer a little longer: perhaps students would not only learn about various biblical models of prayer and how prayer can shape pastoral care, but they might also be asked to develop a sermon series that not only teaches about prayer but actually trains the people listening to the sermon to pray — out loud — with those around them over the course of the series.
I know this sounds different than the typical preaching or pastoral care class. But that’s the point: we need to train leaders not for the church that has existed over recent decades but the one that exists today. Which is why we’re working on putting together a curriculum that trains a different kind of leader: one valued not primarily for what he or she can do, but for what, over the course of five or seven years, that pastor has trained his or her congregation to do.
This isn’t easy work, of course — changing established practices never is. But it’s important work, and I’m proud to serve an institution that’s willing to rethink how it does things, to listen to constituents and others “in the field,” and to take some risks for the sake of the Gospel. No one doubts that this is an immensely challenging time to be the church, but I’m not always sure we realize the tremendous opportunity hidden among the challenges. Facing a time when people don’t just go to church because they’re “supposed to” can be daunting. But recognizing that the people who remain are there not from some sense of obligation but because they want to be there to grow in their faith can be both encouraging and liberating.
As LTSP and LTSG continue to come together to form United Lutheran Seminary, we are working hard to prepare leaders ready to face these challenges and, even more, to seize the opportunity to equip and empower Christians to live their faith actively in word and deed and in so doing to witness to the hope they have within them. Thank you for your continued support of this mission and ministry and in your own endeavors to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
Yours in Christ,