Equipping Leaders from Within: Partnerships

By David Faust

Spend much time around church leaders and you’ll hear candid comments like these: “Seminaries? They’re irrelevant.” “The day of the Bible college is over.” “When we need to hire staff members, we hire from within our congregation. All that really matters is whether they can do the job.”

Others wonder, “Since the Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers, do we really need to provide special training for church leaders? Higher education is expensive and time-consuming, and Bible colleges and seminaries are not mentioned in Scripture. Why bother with them at all?”

But then, the Bible doesn’t specifically mention youth ministers, pastoral counselors, church planters, and senior ministers either. The crucial question is: How can we recruit and equip the maximum number of workers to serve the Lord with maximum effectiveness over the long haul?

Obviously there’s wisdom in hiring someone you know and trust who already understands the local church’s culture. And a seminary diploma doesn’t guarantee a minister’s effectiveness any more than a Realtor’s license guarantees he will find you the perfect house. But while I can’t speak for everyone, after 30 years in ministry I can tell you several things Christian higher education did for me.

It deepened my understanding of Scripture. Professor Lewis Foster used to say, “Life’s greatest lessons aren’t taught; they’re caught.” I’m grateful for the useful insights I caught from wise instructors who explained God’s Word with clarity and depth.

It fueled my passion for ministry and my love for lost people. When I entered Bible college as a freshman in 1972 I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but as godly professors loved and guided me, the Lord stirred in my heart a desire to preach the gospel.

It broadened my relational network. My life has been enriched by fellowship with friends I’ve met on Christian college campuses.

It increased my capacity for pastoral care. No, seminary didn’t prepare me for all the practical realities of ministry any more than a flight simulator can give a pilot the full sensation of flying a plane loaded with 200 passengers. But in today’s complex world, I’m thankful for every bit of knowledge I gained in school about discipleship, counseling, and the practical side of leading a church.

It expanded my understanding of culture. The lessons of church history have helped me deal with current thoughts and trends. While ministering in New York and in a university community in Cincinnati, I was thankful for classes that helped me understand religions and worldviews different from my own.

It gave me an extra edge of credibility in some ministry contexts. Ministering outside the Bible Belt where Christian churches are not well-known, I was asked by neighbors and professional colleagues, “Where did you go to school?” and “Are you an ordained minister?” In such cases my seminary training helped to open doors.

It sharpened my communication ability. As a student I griped about reading assigned texts, writing papers, and discussing ideas in class, but the process helped me to think and express myself more clearly.

Perhaps most important, my years in a Christian college and seminary motivated me to be a lifelong learner. Years after I graduated, my former professors still serve as advisers and encouragers, and I continue to use resources and skills I learned in school.

At Cincinnati Christian University one of our mottoes is, “Building Christian leaders one person at a time to serve the church and change the world.” If Bible colleges and seminaries ever stop serving the church, we have no right to exist and may as well close our doors. There’s something worse than being perceived as irrelevant, and that’s to actually be irrelevant!

But let’s be honest. Many churches are unhealthy—plagued by doctrinal problems, personality clashes, and weak vision. Many church leaders are not healthy. Overwork, high stress, and interpersonal conflicts take a heavy toll. And to be perfectly frank, Bible colleges and seminaries have not always been healthy places either.

Many students are not spiritually healthy when they first arrive on our campuses. An increasing number have experienced painful family problems. Others have experimented with drugs and alcohol. Many have not received a solid foundational education in elementary and high school. Some don’t know much about the Bible, and most have grown up amid the moral relativism, loose sexual standards, and non-Christian attitudes common in our culture. Mark Scott, academic dean of Ozark Christian College, lists “accelerated maturity” as one of OCC’s goals for their students, but it’s quite a challenge to shape young adults into mature and well-equipped Christian leaders in three or four years.

One of our goals at CCU is to fuel our students’ passion for ministry while they are with us. We want them to keep their “spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11), and to be more zealous for the Lord when they graduate than when they arrived as freshmen.

We want our school to produce competent but humble graduates who are eager to keep learning and serving in the classroom and on the field. We want to equip and send out thousands of leaders to make disciples of all nations by loving Jesus Christ, communicating biblical truth, and applying the ideals of the Restoration Movement to our current culture with passion and relevance. Does the 21st century church still need such schools? I think so.

Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, points out that in recent years, “Not a single task in ministry has become easier. . . . In a world that abounds in shades of gray, moral guidance is more complex. In a world of media over-stimulation, preaching is a harder task. In a world of sophisticated institutions, even small ones need to be wise. In a world that needs to understand the gospel’s vision more deeply, ministers need enhanced skills to convey that vision passionately, reasonably, and winsomely.”

Now more than ever, our schools and churches need to work together. Let’s be partners.

David Faust, president of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University, also serves as executive editor for The Lookout.

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