Think about it. Can you imagine being treated by a physician who possesses all the medical knowledge in the world after just graduating from several years in school but has absolutely no hands-on experience?
Ironically, this is essentially what we do when it comes to the relationship between church leaders and the people we serve. We may have an enormous amount of head knowledge and even voracious eagerness to learn, but we often lack the experience, training and real-life perspective we need when it comes to interacting with real human beings, in real time, about real spirituality, that produces real transformation. And we also lack all the pain, mystery, wisdom and wonderment that go along with it.
Many protégés who attend seminary as their sole preparation end up stumbling around the church upon graduation and battling confusion and frustration. Why? Because they initially believe they've been properly prepared, trained and equipped for the demands ahead, but they soon realize it's not true. In actuality they were, more often than not, only given information instead of personalized and intentional development.
We must join together to shift our paradigms on what it looks like to train and develop ministers, church planters, social entrepreneurs, and other spiritual leaders. Our current system does a disservice to protégés when we tell them (or even imply to them) that education is enough, or that it's the primary path. We all know life doesn't happen in a classroom—it happens far beyond those walls. And it's only outside those walls that a more holistic process of leadership development is even possible.
From Iconic Leaders to Real Mentors
Another common way that misguided protégés seek to prepare for ministry is through that iconic leadership figure in some far-off successful church or ministry. Protégés may have searched for ways to cultivate their skills but found no obvious path. So they begin to search elsewhere—like the megachurch pastor, charismatic leader, well-known nonprofit leader or prolific communicator. In a quest to fill their hunger for knowledge, they devour books, sermon podcasts, and attend any conferences they can (all of which can be an important part of development). And how can we blame them? Pursuing knowledge when a drive to learn strikes is commendable.
On the other hand, seeking development from masters of the trade who live nowhere nearby is remarkably similar to watching DVDs on how to take dance lessons. You could incessantly observe and study the flawless expert moves of a renowned dancer on a TV screen, but without someone training you in a non-virtual way, you will never come close to optimizing your maximum potential.