Imagine that as a swimmer you had trained diligently for the breaststroke and at the competition discovered the event was, in fact, freestyle. Or, worse still, that it wasn't swimming at all, but sumo wrestling! All that work and effort, however sincere, would have been terribly misdirected.
The competition or event you are entering has everything to do with the kind of preparation that is necessary. Even the superior athlete is developed to his fullest potential only when the training matches the challenge.
This is even more critically true in preparing for ministry leadership. How can we be fit for ministry in the third millennium if we don't understand what kind of ministry we must prepare for? In the same way that every sport requires a certain kind of athlete, this new world demands a new kind of pastoral leadership.
Here are a few ways the playing field in ministry is changing:
Six shifts in culture
- from Christian world-view to pluralistic world-views
- from Western influence to Eastern influence
- from secular debate to syncretistic dialogue
- from homogeneous to multicultural
- from suburbs/local to cities/global
- from words/books to images/films
These are just some of the sweeping and radical changes that are transforming the context in which the church must minister. In response to these massive cultural shifts, the church has new demands on spiritual leadership. These critical shifts are already requiring a new kind of leadership to face the emerging challenge:
Six shifts in ministry
- from teaching to leadership
- from education to equipping
- from organization to mobilization
- from tradition to creativity
- from pastoral to missional
- from called by a church to sent to a community
Taking these and other significant factors into consideration, one realizes that the traditional preparation for ministry simply will not do. The competencies we must gain to be effective in the new world are as different as swimming and sumo wrestling.
Who would ever have guessed that the twenty-first century pastor would, in essence, be a cross-cultural missionary? How could he have known when he was being trained as a historian that he would have to be a futurist? Oh, the difference there would be in his ministry if he could exegete the culture as well as he does the Scriptures! The wordsmith is going the way of the blacksmith and now must return to the methodology of Jesus himself, using image and metaphor to communicate the gospel of grace. All this without even mentioning the navigation skills the future pastor-leader will have to possess to chart the course through the turbulent waters of radical and rapid change!
No wonder the rules for ministry and ministry preparation have changed so dramatically. The reality is that theorists and theologians alike are being pushed aside for practitioners who can "make it happen." Preparation for ministry leadership needs to begin now.
Suggestions for preseminary preparation
- Use your gifts now, before you are trained.
- Study the culture as well as your Bible.
- Develop friendships with people of other belief-systems.
- Join a missional church and learn by serving.
- Go overseas to expand your mind and enlarge your heart.
- Enroll in an assessment center to grow in self-awareness.
- Read books on leadership and creativity.
Finally, do whatever you have to do to get the training you need to become an effective leader in this new, emerging world. If seminary is in your future, look for one that is responsive to cultural shifts and visionary in its structure and programs.
A seminary to align with
As you look for a seminary, look for one that:
- Partners with local churches that are making an impact.
- Produces leaders, not simply academics.
- Focuses on anthropology and sociology as well as theology.
- Prepares you to reach a pluralistic urban society, not only to pastor a congregation.
- Prepares you to work with radical change and transition.
- Specializes in training church planters to start new communities of faith.
- Has a faculty that has practical field experience and expertise.
Remember, when you run the race, run to win. And the key to victory is preparation. Make sure you are fit for ministry.
Erwin R. McManus, futurist and urbanologist, is lead pastor at Mosaic in Los Angeles, California.