Making it Hard to Lead


Most of the evidence points to the fact that the more formal education that is required for those who lead God’s people, the more detrimental it is to the vitality and the growth of the movements they serve.

Yet it is amazing to see the criteria that institutional, traditional churches continue to require of potential leaders. Of course the most common justification for all the educational and evaluative hoops “clergy” have to jump through before being credentialed is that such a system maintains quality, which is in reality an absurd argument. What actually happens is that such requirements exclude entrepreneurial, visionary men and women and only attracts leaders who can endure such stifling pathways to eventual responsibility. He or she who plods wins.

Such ecclesiastical pathways have been built around the untenable assumption that academic ability = spiritual leadership.

These systems –regardless of the confession or the tradition – are mostly about control and conformity. If existing leaders had to jump through such hoops and pay their dues as they were moving up in the system, better be sure that any young, aspiring leaders have to do the same. What a waste.

9 Responses to “Making it Hard to Lead”

  1. michael Says:

    Very True… very well put.

    This is why the Church is where it is today.

    “so Jesus sent out the seventy saying ” go, and get your four year degree at DTS and then you will be ready to minister” and he never saw them again.

    Rise up oh men and women of God and take back the Church [be nice about it if you can] from the well meaning yet often misguided “professional” clergy.

    Like the Jews in the Old testament….. and man forever….

    we want Kings,,,, because we are , not confident, we are Lazy, we are unsure, we are afraid, we are timid, we do not really see ourselves as Children of the King…. heirs to the thrown…

    So we allow ourselves to be marginalized and placed in buildings large and small,, groups large and small…... and Ministered to for our lifetime…. never [rarely] living up to what God has for us…..

  2. Keith Says:

    We confuse “being educated” with “getting an education.” Leaders need to be well educated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean from a school or seminary. Leaders need to be learners, more than they need to be taught. A learning attitude will serve him or her throughout life.

    Confusing learning with a degree is a huge mistake.

  3. Wes Roberts Says:


    ...when your blog shows up on my Google Reader…I read it…thanx

    ...and I could not agree more with this post

    ...just wondering where your “evidence” comes from, beyond what the two of us run into daily with our work with developing leaders?

    ...grateful for you!


  4. Sam Says:

    Nice to hear from you, Wes. Hugh is with us these several days here in the UK and we were talking just last night about your contribution to all that is happening in Denver and beyond

    The “evidence” is certainly anecdotal, but there have also been some actual statistical studies that show that the growth of churches in selected denominations is inversely proportional to their educational requirements. Require more, grow less.

    Sorry, I can’t put my hands right now on the actual studies.

  5. steve van diest Says:


    I agree. I have come across a new model found at of Ray Bakke helping leaders from all over the world get a masters or Dmin. we take classes all around the world and the partnerships with so many leading graduate programs all over the world is profound. I think it would be worthwhile to check it out. I think some of your staff, Neil Tibbott teach there. I’m in NY right now, doing an urban experience from churches doing work in urban centers. 5 days long and stimulating.

    I think this model is actually about getting it contextualized and incarnated to leaders all over the world.

    Thanks for leading.

  6. Brian B Says:

    Great post Sam. I love training, but it seems like we’re due for a complete renovation. So much of today’s training is divorced from reality, and head-based. I would love to see more focus on the heart and growing our capacity to lead through experiences, rather than classroom time.

    Also, I think many leaders underestimate the ‘training’ that the Lord is doing through our everyday life experiences. Reggie McNeal has written some about this, but I think there is so much more potential.

  7. Sam Says:

    Sam, now that I’m among the educated sorts and have also grown up in churches and participated in many ministries I’m a little mixed on this.

    My problem wasn’t that I felt I needed to get an education to be a ministry leader—Baptist and Pentecostal churches don’t have that demand. My problem was that I really wanted to know God. Desperately. During times of darkness I sought out leaders and pastors with depth and they didn’t have it. They knew techniques and strategies, but not Scripture or deep spirituality. Many have experiences but they couldn’t respond outside their experiences, and enforce a shallowness that limits celebration of God’s work in this world.

    I think it is an absolute shame I had to pay a whole lot of money, get in debt and thus lose freedom to really reach out as I’d like, in order to learn what I think the church is in the business of teaching.

    Jesus didn’t require a formal education for his disciples but he certainly gave an informal one that far surpasses the demands and the learning we expect. They met together daily, asked questions, studied under him. He was called Rabbi, after all, “teacher”.

    His ministry involved both study together and action.

    Paul and Peter and the others had mastered Scripture and were able to so poignantly talk about the work of Christ in practical and mystical ways.

    My hope is that the church is in a transition—not one in which the learning of seminaries or colleges is bypassed—but one in which the churches themselves do that kind of teaching, elders passing on wisdom to those who are younger.

    I’ve worked in churches where the pastor was without a formal education… and it was no end of frustration and damage caused in all directions. We need to have depth, more depth than even seminaries teach, but we need to have it conveyed without costing tens of thousands of dollars.

  8. Patrick O. Says:

    Oops! I’m not Sam, you’re Sam! I’m talking to Sam. I think I have identity issues…

  9. John Says:

    Dr. Charles Van Engen wrote about the consequences of this as well:

    “The term laity, if used, must be given its biblical sense of the ‘people (Gk. Laos) of God,’ with distinction in gift, function, and ministration – but not distinction in holiness, prestige, power, commitment, or activity. Today we often use the term ‘layperson’ in contra-distinction from the word ‘professional’ and we mean that the layperson in a certain discipline is one who dabbles, muddles, tries hard, but certainly does not have expertise. The professional is ‘in the know,’ the expert, the person dedicated to competence in the discipline. There is no biblical basis for such a distinction in the Church, and the unbiblical practice has only served to place ‘professional’ clergy on a pedestal as being ‘close to God,’ removing the vast majority further from holiness and the activity of the Spirit in their lives. The rise of a clergy-laity distinction from the third century on continues in the Protestant denominations since the Reformation as one of the main sources of decline, secularization, and sinfulness of the Church.”

    —Van Engen, God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Role of the Local Church, p151

Leave a Reply