The Need

Why another school to train pastors and ministry leaders?

When we ask pastors and ministry leaders “Why have you not taken advantage of graduate level ministry training?” or if you have, “What are the major things you did not get that you really needed or wanted?” the answers are amazingly similar.

  • It costs too much.
  • I don’t want to be trained by people who have spent the majority of their time in the classroom rather than on the battlefield of ministry.
  • The training is not relevant to my practical and personal needs.
  • I can’t afford to move my family and/or relocate for several years to get the training.
  • The training is too impersonal and lock-step.

Thus, when we are asked “Why another ministry school, why another Graduate School for pastors and ministry leaders,” our simple answer is that we have not seen a school that meets all of the following criteria:

  • Instruction by successful practitioners – Our instructors and mentors are men and women who have significant experience on the frontlines of ministry.

Most seminaries and Bible colleges are dominated by full-time faculty who have not been in active ministry for a long time. Thus, students miss the opportunity to be taught by those who are seasoned veterans from the real world of ministry.

  • Spirit led training and equipping – Our primary focus as students, instructors, mentors, and staff must be to learn how to be Spirit-led and Spirit-directed.

Most graduate schools focus on a traditional model of learning (commonly referred to as passive learning), others focus on newer models of learning (commonly referred to as active learning). We believe both of these models can work in the appropriate context, however we believe that for students interested in ministry the primary emphasis must be on what we refer to as Spirit-led or Spirit-directed learning.

o   Male & Female StudentMinistry success comes when we have a deep personal relationship with God and are led by the Holy Spirit to overcome the world.

o   A Spirit-led Christian is able to experience the sanctifying work of the Spirit in his life. (Phil 2:13)

o   Spirit-led believers live for the glory of God, not the praise of men. (John 12:43)

o   Joy is one of the promised fruit of a Spirit-led life. (Gal. 5:22)

o   A new redeemed, Spirit-led mind results in the life of Christ manifesting in and through a believer. (Roman 8:9-11, 12:2; Gal 2:20)

o   A believer’s Spirit-led obedience becomes the evidence that he is enjoying the mutual abiding relationship with God that the Apostle John was writing about (1 John 4:12-13).

  • Mentor-Assisted – All students are personally mentored by a seasoned minister who not only has the academic qualifications, but also the practical experience to guide and direct the student’s unique personal development progress. Mentors provide the necessary direction and motivation and accountability to keep the student on track to complete their training.

Students in traditional brick-and-mortar schools usually have access to academic counselors, but do not normally have a personal mentor with extensive ministry experience who can guide them in the learning process.

  • Focus on the unity of the Body of Christ – There is incredible strength in having students and instructors representing the full spectrum of theological perspectives of the Christian faith as well as from a wide diversity of cultural contexts. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

80% of all the current seminaries and Bible colleges are formally affiliated with one church or denomination. Thus, most students are not exposed to other traditions as well as students from other cultures.

  • Training modules based on the real needs of pastors and ministry leaders – IGSM focuses on practical issues pastors and ministry leaders face every day personally as well as in their ministry context. Thus modules and assignments are designed to provide application, integration and implementation for ministry that is relevant in churches as well as marketplace settings today. The IGSM learning community celebrates and extends each minister’s God-given passion to transform their local culture.

Most seminary and Bible college curriculums are dominated by theological courses with relatively little emphasis on the practical aspects of ministry. While ministry obviously requires theological training, it also should include significant training in the practices of real world ministry.

  • Training modules designed for those in part-time or full-time ministry – All modules are offered in formats that allow students to focus on their educational efforts, while maintaining their respective ministry and marketplace assignments—getting the necessary training and equipping without disrupting their life.

The Association of Theological Schools, the largest accrediting agency for seminaries, reports that, “The increasing gap between the number of students enrolled and the FTE (full-time equivalent) enrollment data indicates that increasing numbers of students are enrolled on a part-time basis.”

  • Accessible to students in virtually every location – IGSM has purposely chosen to operate with maximum flexibility for all students utilizing pervasive digital media that allows learning-on-demand anywhere, anytime in the world.

Even though some seminaries and Bible colleges have begun to offer online courses, most are still dependent on providing training in an on-campus environment. Additionally, few have a national presence with multiple locations. Thus, the vast majority of students who want to attend have few choices in their geographical area.

This problem has been accentuated by the fact that the average seminary or Bible college student is much older than the typical student. The fastest growing decadal group attending seminaries is 40-49. ATS summarized this trend by stating, “Many second-career students are geographically limited, and they attend the school that allows them to maintain the employment or housing their families need, even if the nearby school does not reflect their theological understanding.”

  • A Socratic learning environment scaled to one-on one interaction – The training process and the curriculum are personalized for maximum growth and development for each student. We assume that each student not only has a unique background, but also is uniquely gifted by God for ministry, therefore needing a personal learning environment.

Traditional training schools have a standardized instructional format required for all students. And as a result are not able to personalize the learning process to meet the unique needs and gifts of each student.

  • Affordable pricing – A fundamental operating principle of IGSM is that tuition must be affordable for students, not driven by the need to cover large overhead expenses required for full-time faculty, large facilities, etc. There is no reason that the cost of training cannot be scaled to fit the needs and economic capability of each student regardless of where they live.

It is an amazing statistic, but tuitions at the seminaries across the United States cover, on the average, only 31% of the actual costs. Furthermore, tuitions have increased 58% over the last decade far greater than the rate of inflation. The overhead costs of a typical seminary along with maintaining a full-time faculty makes the cost of these programs much greater than is necessary. The average professor currently makes about $85,000. Even if they taught 6 classes a year, which is significantly above average that would mean it costs $14,200 per course just for the professor. Compare that with adjunct faculty where $2,000 per course would be a more typical fee. You can see why the typical seminary is not cost efficient.

Internationally costs for seminary education are even further out of line with local economies. For example, in Nairobi, Kenya there are three excellent seminaries (very similar to Dallas, Fuller, Biola, etc.). However they are charging students $120+ per credit hour. This would equate to $11,600 per credit hour here in the U.S (compared to a U.S. average of about $500 per credit hour). As a result very few pastors and ministry leaders are able to get advanced training internationally.

The rapid degree of change taking place in the church

The church is faced with a world that is changing at an increasing pace. The level and degree of change that has taken place in the last 20 years is unparalleled in the history of the world. Everyone is trying to figure out how to deal with this new and changing environment. Old systems and methodologies no longer work. New methods of thinking are required to cope with our new environment. Many writers are saying that in the U.S. and Western Europe we have entered the “Post-Christian Era.”

  • What does this mean for the church, the parachurch and marketplace ministries?
  • What are the implications of this changing context for the ministry style and practices of the church?
  • How should the church, the parachurch and marketplace ministries respond to this changing culture?
  • What changes will have to take place for the church to remain relevant in many diverse cultures?

God’s frozen people… will not get thawed by changing one dynamic or by trying one more program. We need a systemic solution to problems such as: over-functioning leaders… unmotivated laity… standardized pastoral roles… leadership burnout… recurring problems… maintenance focus… The church is stuck. The reason for the unreleased congregational potential is much deeper than the problem of clericalism of pastors protecting their turf. We are convinced that the stagnation of the laity is caused mainly by the frustrating power of a church system that keeps the laity marginalized and prevents the pastor doing the most important work: ‘equipping the laity for the work of the ministry.

Paul Stevens and Phil Collins

The globalization of Christianity

Kenya Student with BibleThe center of Christianity has dramatically shifted from West to East. Christianity is enjoying a worldwide boom, but the vast majority of believers are neither white nor European, nor Euro-American. By the year 2025,

…there would be around 2.6 billion Christians, of whom 633 million would live in Africa, 640 million in Latin America, and 460 million in Asia. Europe, with 555 million, would have slipped to third place. Africa and Latin America would be in competition for the title of most Christian continent. About this date, too, another significant milestone should occur, namely that these two continents will together account for half the Christians on the planet. By 2050, only about one-fifth of the world’s 3 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites. (The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity – Philip Jenkins)

Thus, if we want to prepare pastors and ministry leaders for what is coming in the near future, we need to think primarily about how we can train and equip those outside the U.S. and Western Europe. And we need to be able to train globally, not locally.

The failure of seminaries and Bible Colleges to adequately train and equip pastors and ministry leaders

Management expert Peter Drucker has described pastors and ministry leaders as the “most frustrated profession” in the nation. Why is that? Well for one thing, all the demands that are placed upon them. It would be impossible to fill all the competing demands for time, energy and resources.

A second reason is that many pastors and ministry leaders lack the practical training and skillsets necessary for leading healthy and effective ministries. Many feel ill-prepared to deal with the very practical issues they face as they serve their congregation or ministry. They may know a lot about God but they do not have the personal skill sets needed to adapt to the changes they are facing. Most do not really know who they are in Christ, what their spiritual gifts are, or their specific calling.

Alan Hirsch puts it this way,

The problem is that most of our training institutions are geared toward training a more maintenance type of leader. One has only to survey the types of subjects and the people teaching them for the point to be proved. If we are going to learn from the dangerous stories of the Jesus movements and attempt to gear ourselves around Apostolic Genius, then we simply have to find “the better way” of forming leaders.

Dr. Phillip Walker, President of International Christian Ministries, a ministry that is training pastors and ministry leaders in the third world concludes,

As theological institutions around the world launch into the 21st Century there is a growing chorus calling for substantial changes in the way we train the leaders for our churches and denominations. The rapid growth of evangelical Christianity in many parts of the world has made our traditional models obsolete and inefficient. There are those in the chorus of voices calling for changes who say the current models are not only inefficient but ineffective. Regardless of the reason, theological education as we know it, is going through a major paradigm shift. This shift will leave many institutions grounded on the shoals of inconsequence as new models arise to meet the challenge.

Dr. Ralph Winter, the head of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA goes so far as to say,

“…to the degree the U.S. theological institutions successfully export their model of training to where the church was growing the most rapidly would be to the degree it slowed church growth.”

While this may sound like an overly harsh criticism of our training institutions it actually has been verified by recent research. A study done by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research of megachurches in America (identified as churches over 2,000 in attendance) reported the following,

Interestingly, as the education levels of the pastor decrease, the rates of growth of these churches increase. This finding is similar to the findings from the Faith Community Today 2000 study. It raises interesting questions about the mentoring of young pastors and the role of seminaries in producing clergy to fill these very large congregations.[1]

It is clear that technology has fundamentally changed education. Technology allows for the personalization of learning. The traditional format where educational systems “owned and transferred knowledge” has been replaced by a democratized, open access system that provides instant, real-time training and equipping. Students can now choose how and when they will be trained/equipped and individualize the process to meet their unique personal needs.

After the Vietnam War, most of the officers of the various branches of the U.S. military chose to retire rather than continue their military careers. However, a small cadre of men chose to stay. Among them were such distinguished officers as Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Tommy Franks. It was General Tommy Franks who later wrote how these men felt compelled to make sure that what they saw in Vietnam would never happen again.

It was the unanimous view of those who stayed, that the main problem was the training the military received before they went into battle. General Franks and those who revamped the military training systems realized that existing training was totally out-of-date for the kinds of situations the military was facing in wars like those in Vietnam. They felt they were sending men and women into combat totally unprepared for what they were about to face and the result was unnecessary loss of life as well as a failure in morale. The difference between what we saw in Vietnam versus what we saw in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom shows what can happen with improved and modernized training.

The failure of many seminaries and Bible colleges to genuinely train and equip the students is based on outdated methodology and learning objectives. In the western world our educational focus is primarily on the acquisition of information (knowledge) and only secondarily on actual implementation of that knowledge.

As we study the Bible we see a much different picture of what is meant by training and equipping. In the Old Testament we find the root word “lamad” which meant both “to teach and to learn.” In the Hebrew culture, the teacher had not taught unless the student had learned. Therefore in that culture the purpose of teaching was not just the impartation of facts, but the genuine changing of lives. The same concept is seen in the New Testament. To become a “disciple” required not only being a student, but becoming an adherent, an imitator of the teacher.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31)

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:8)

This requires a different format for instruction than is typically available in most seminaries and Bible colleges.

[1] Page 15, www.hirr.hartsem.edu/org/faith_megachurches.html or www.leadnet.org.