Developing Christian Leaders: A Panels' Perspective

Date Posted: 6/13/2013

How can churches and colleges work together more effectively to foster an atmosphere that nourishes the mind and soul, to create strong Christian leaders for future decades? The conference panel of five experts share their thoughts.


What is it that UMC congregations should expect from our educational institutions,

and likewise, what should they expect from the churches? Moderator Reverend Chap Temple explored this and other questions around developing future leaders with a panel of experts from Wiley College, Southwestern University, Perkins Theology, Duke Divinity and Princeton Seminary. “We explored several existing and potential ways schools and institutions can transmit some of the cultural values of the faith to their students, particularly in a multi-cultural setting,” he explains.

When asked how their institution is bridging education and the church, some of the answers included:


·         We ground students in ethical standards via an annual leadership conference providing students the opportunity to reflect with philosophers and theologians.

·         We foster an atmosphere that nourishes the mind and soul in such a way that dozens of students have entered full time Christian ministry in recent years.

·         We weave spiritual formation training into the curriculum via daily communion, a meditation room, labyrinth and other expressions.

·         We commit to intellectual rigor and the church by hiring personnel with lay or ordained ministry experience to bring a real world presence to the classroom.

·         We revisited our mission statement to be intentional about infusing all academic and social activity with Christian values.

·         We provide a Bishop in residence and establish a United Methodist Committee to focus on a stronger partnership with the church.

·         We create a strong sense of family where all are on a first name basis and faculty is accessible around the clock.


As colleges are deemed unsustainable (ie: Lon Morris) in this economically challenging time, how can we work together to transmit a rich Methodist culture to future generations?

Endowments admittedly have not kept up to support the need. Funding continues to be critical. Overcoming this takes daily intentionality, strategic planning and all the things that make great business great. Need to do much more work finding partnerships with those passionate about Christian education as well as keep recruiting great students and faculty. This also depends heavily on academic institutions developing a marketable image for students as well as expanding to a larger public beyond the church world – particularly for funding.


“There’s no one at Princeton Seminary that would reduce faith to a cognitive enterprise,” notes Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, a United Methodist pastor and Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. “Although we are all part of a culture that tends to define success in terms of academic rigor than faith, the Methodist brand is institutions that are models of integrated lives. We bear witness that, if you want to be smart, you don’t have to leave your faith at the door. We don’t separate the two. That would be like trying to dance with one foot.”

What are these learning institutions doing to help students to sense God’s calling?

·         Asking students: How do you serve others?

·         Offering a lecture series and weekly chapel services that engage young people in mission;

·         Giving everyone on campus access to a chaplain;

·         Sponsoring student leaders in various activities of church such as Nothing But Nets;

·         Encouraging students to mentor in the community to serve and learn what it means to be a Christian and a Methodist; and

·         Maintaining a ‘Culture of the Call.’


How are you helping the TAC develop a larger of diverse pastors?

Some of the institutions are offering regional courses of theological study offered in two languages. Others have established an academic resource center for Latino ministry and built the faculty needed to offer an entire degree in Spanish. All of the experts agree that the real goal is to equip pastors to be prepared for a diverse world and that speaking multiple languages is ideal.


In summary, the panel reminded attendees, “We are not necessarily training a future generation of Methodists, our collective goal is to create academic institutions to improve the entire society. We want to be very good at the work of higher education, but we want the outcome to be: transforming the society.”