Tag Archives: Wheaton College

Leadership in Christian Higher Education

I have observed an odd phenomenon.

If I wanted to hire someone to run my business, I’d look for a person who studied Business Administration (e.g. an MBA). If I wanted someone to run my hospital, I’d look for someone with a Masters of Healthcare Administration (MHA). If I wanted someone to run my non-profit organization or an agency of my government, I’d look for someone with a Master of Public Administration (MPA). So when I want someone to run my seminary, I’d look for someone with a Higher Education Administration degree, right?

Wrong.

In Christian Higher Education, we look for people with training inĀ Communications, Theology, New Testament, and Bible. Rarely, you may find someone who studied Leadership. Now, I can hear the objections.

1. “But it’s a seminary! Don’t you want someone who understands the Bible to make sure we stay true to the Word?” Yes, but a Seminary is an educational organization. If I want someone to run my educational organization, I want someone who understands (a) how to lead and run an organization and (b) how to educate someone. That means, in part, an understanding of Bible and theology, but it primarily means someone who has studied and understands Education and Leadership.

2. “But isn’t the Bible sufficient?” There are leadership and educational principles found in the Bible, true. However, the Bible speaks to many things, but not all things, and we do well to study the things related to carrying out ministerial tasks that are not in the Bible. For instance, if I’m going to run an non-profit educational organization, it would do the organization well if the one running it has studied finance, fundraising, and accounting. I don’t recall Jesus’ sermon on the principles of accounting, employment law, payroll and non-profit organizations.

3.”But if you studied enough Bible and theology, won’t it help you do those things?” Studying Bible and theology helps, especially when it comes to the ethics of running an organization. Managing the intricacies of Student Development and Academic Affairs, however, requires a specialization. Yes, I want my teachers to be experts in exegesis and to be top notch theologians. However, the people running the school should have expertise in, well, running schools.

We wonder why theological education is on the decline and why people question its value, and yet we continue to employ educational methods started by D.L. Moody. As a result, churches wonder why they should invest in a pastor who utilizes antiquated methods which cannot reach the people. Then our parents, educated in the church, cannot pass on the faith to their children because they don’t know how to disciple them. We need students and scholars committed to understanding the strengths and uniqueness of Christian education, who are willing to study and expand the understanding of the field so that practitioners can then take that knowledge and apply it in the academy, church and home.

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Student Development in Christian Education

As I reflect on my personal experiences and observations of student development and student development theory as it applies to Christian education, I find our practice of it severely lacking. While I do agree with current movements and secular theorists that the entire educational environment contributes to the student’s education, I would say that a Christian educational institution should also concern itself with Spiritual Formation and the spiritual development of the student (of course, I would argue that the entire curriculum should work toward this aim as well).

We talk about this a great deal, and schools dedicate entire departments and degrees to such (see Biola University, Wheaton College, and Fuller Theological Seminary, to name three). Unfortunately, these usually boil down to mandatory chapels and quiet times interspersed through the semester. That little-to-no research exists in spiritual formation as student development exists indicates that Christian educators and scholars have not recognized the need to take seriously the art and science of shaping the spiritual growth and development of students in Christian education. We then wonder why our seminary-trained pastors remain out of touch with their congregations, unable to communicate the wonders of the word to the world. We gape in amazement (and a bit of condemnation) at our pastors who spend years studying the word but then indulge in inappropriate behaviors when the pressures of ministry bring deeply buried sins to the surface. We stare in astonishment at our students who go through years of Christian schooling only to live lives we find contrary to our values and practices.

I do not hold institutions responsible for the sins of others, but I do suggest that we need think through the training and formation we practice in Christian education. I think we need to start by engaging in serious conversation, deep evaluation, and contemplative study guided by historical practice, current social science research, solid theological guidance and careful biblical exposition. Some have begun, but we need to do better. We must do better.

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