Formal Education and Leadership


“The most extensive, pervasive strategic error in the Christian tradition lies squarely in our coveted and generously supported, but unquestioned, concept of years of “schooling” as the way for leaders to develop and be trained ….In this country and abroad, every church movement which has come to depend solely upon residential school products for its ministry is dying.” – Ralph Winter in “Mission Frontiers”, March-April 2003

The fact is, information rarely transforms lives. Relationships do.

While accurate information about God is certainly necessary, it’s relating to God in a deep and personal way that actually produces substantive change. And if I want to see genuine transformation in the lives of others, it’s most effective through the power of a relationship, not through the passing on of facts or concepts regardless of how true they may be.

Truth becomes most powerful when it is embodied in a person and made manifest in a relationship. It’s called the incarnation.

4 Responses to “Formal Education and Leadership”

  1. Tim Jeffries Says:

    Preach it brother!

    I’ve just switched from a classic classroom model of ‘preparation for ministry’, to a more practical based approach. Praise God I did, I’m learning bucketloads more.

  2. Innes Says:

    Excellent. Yes! Too much of Christian life is lived in the head and not enough in the messiness of relationships. This applies to leadership development too.

    Just to be a little bit wicked :-)

    Do you have any suggestion as to how to find these relationships and how one would evaluate whether the relationship is transforming in the positive sense or in a negative sense?


    ps. Thanks for this post and all the rest … still chewing over a quote from your Frost & Hirst post “China has made church simple and discipleship complicated; the west has made church complicated and discipleship simple.” I suspect you are suggesting we move towards a Chinese approach to leadership development (discipleship) and resist the urge for nice and easy (orderly) learning.

  3. Sam Says:

    Tim and Innes:

    Thanks for your comments. A few thoughts for the conversation:

    1. “The Academy” does have a place and a definite contribution to make. I am grateful for what it has given to me. But the problem is when we expect it to do something in a life that it is poorly designed to do.

    2. I would regret for anyone to read this last post and think I was anti-scholarship or anti-intellectual. Rather, I want to be realistic about what role such pursuits play in the life of one serious about following Jesus.

    3. Just because someone has a seminary degree means very little when it comes to leadership. It means I am smart enough to do the work and rich enough to pay the bill.

    4. As an old seminary prof of mine said very publicly, “The only problem with seminaries and institutions of higher learning is who is going and who is teaching.”

    5. The western educational model when embraced, as Winter says “uncritically”, has always been conflicted in its relationship to the Christian movement. Does it exist to produce leaders and labor for the movement or does it exist to produce scholars? These are not the same.

    6. Where do I find relationships which transform? In my experience, three places:

    a. Healthy expressions of the church in its local form
    b. Apostolic expressions of the church in its missionary form
    c. Divine contacts, ie mentors and individuals God brings into my life for just such a purpose.

    7. The kicker sometimes is whether these relationships are healthy. Unfortunately, transformation can be good or bad. And there are far too many group environments, even with good intentions, that are unhealthy and damaging. The relational dysfunctionality out there from enmeshed and spiritually abusive relationships inflicts a lot of pain.

  4. Winter of discontent » Steve Addison’s blog » World Changers Says:

    [...] Ralph Winter, “What’s Wrong with 4,000 Pastoral Training Schools Worldwide?” Mission Frontiers, March-April 2003Via: Sam Metcalf [...]

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