From the President – Heard “On the Road”
“I received great training at seminary, for which I’m profoundly grateful. And yet sometimes I wonder if I was trained for a church that no longer exists.”
If there is one sentiment I’ve heard expressed more than any other during my time “on the road” meeting with congregational leaders, it’s this one. It’s not that seminary training wasn’t excellent, it’s that the world has changed … a lot! … and keeps changing at a pace most of us find rather bewildering. For this reason, many of us have wondered whether what we were trained to do, and have done faithfully for many years, is still adequate to the challenges of the world in which we currently live.
But suspecting we are “behind the curve” and doing something about it are two different matters. So … several suggestions for preparing for leadership in a changed and ever-changing world.
First, admit that you don’t know the best way forward. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. But as Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner suggest in their most recent book, “I don’t know” may be the hardest words in the English language for most of us to say. (1) Why? Because admitting we don’t know something can seem to undermine our credentials, education, and even self-esteem as a leader. Further, admitting we don’t know the answer to a question or challenge can create a sense of anxiety – if we don’t know, who does? Or even, does anyone know the way forward?
But admitting we don’t know something can also provide an invitation to learn more, explore a new context or field of study, gain new competence, and delve into the mystery that this new world offers. Admitting we don’t know something, that is, can be exciting as it validates our curiosity, sparks our creativity, and invites us to discover how best to serve a world we confess God loves deeply.
Second, join others who are seeking to lead in this changed and changing world. You don’t have to travel this road alone! Many of us are trying to ask good questions and think through new answers and strategies, and we do that work better when we do it together. Continuing education and lifelong learning opportunities, conferences, or directed courses of study like the Doctor of Ministry, are all ways that we can study and learn together.
Toward encouraging this kind of collaborative inquiry and discovery, on Monday, December 8, we are hosting at LTSP a free event with two fantastic keynote speakers, workshops, and worship. Because it falls the day after my installation as president – to which you are all invited! – we are describing this day as the “Inaugural Lectures and Resource Day” with a focus on “Faith Formation and the Future of the Church.” Led by Andy Root and Audrey West, it should be a fantastic opportunity to think together about God’s call to leadership and service in a rapidly changing world. You can find more information about the event and register here. I hope you can join us!
Third, pray – more than that, pray in hope and confidence. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7). While I am confident that no one of us knows the answers to our questions about how best to minister and serve in this rapidly changing world, I’m even more confident that God has blessed our larger community with the gifts, creativity, and experience to find a way forward that is faithful to our tradition and fitting to the day and age in which we serve.
Yes, this world is changing rapidly. Yes, we may wonder if our training is still adequate. Yes, we may find the challenges ahead daunting. But we are in this together. More than that, we are in this endeavor equipped by the Spirit of God for lives of faithful service. This God has been using the Philadelphia Seminary to train leaders for God’s beloved world for one-hundred and fifty years, and we count on God doing the same for the next century and a half as well. Blessings to you as we travel this road into God’s preferred future together.
Yours in Christ,
(1) Levitt, Steven D. and Dubner, Stephen J, Think Like a Freak (William Morrow, 2014), pp. 19-48.