By W. Mark Richardson
At Church Divinity School of the Pacific, our mission statement calls for forming “visionary spiritual leaders who embrace God’s mission and serve a changing world.”
Imagining what tomorrow’s Church might be, identifying the type of leadership this calls out in us, and determining how to support and guide its development are the tasks of theological education today.
At CDSP, we have reorganized our curriculum around classic markers of Christian vocation — mission, evangelism, and discipleship — while knowing that we must stretch these markers to meet new conditions in today’s world.
I believe this is true also for leadership formation. The classic markers hold true, but as we press forward we must realign them for new contexts. In Charles Taylor’s terms, it means “breathing new life into the half-collapsed lungs of the spirit.” Future leaders must first model faithful leadership for their communities — through spiritual practices, character development, the integrity of a thoughtful life, and the willingness to take risks in service of the truth. This should motivate our seminaries to focus on emotional and spiritual growth for leadership. If seminaries become places where we simply check the boxes for ordination, we are not preparing leaders for navigating the uncharted waters of our future.
As important as formation is in seminary training, faithful Church leadership also requires rigorous study in the classic theological disciplines, as well as what I call practical critical thinking. Put together, the outcome of this holistic education is leadership that serves the spiritual healing of wounds, and prepares the Church community to enter God’s mission in the world.
Our presiding bishop is calling us out of the pews and into the world as gospel people. Future Church leaders need to develop confidence at the interface of faith and public life. This means gaining the skills for public relationships, and thoughtful management of the Church’s resources for both community worship and public interaction.
I believe the Church should prepare leaders, lay and ordained, who will participate in the problem-solving that must go on in our society, such as our response to climate change, or policy making in issues of medical access. Our participation will not necessarily be as technicians, but as contributors to conversations about the good we seek as we face momentous issues and cultural crossroads. Perhaps listening and giving utterance in these new locations is where we will find the good news.
One thing is certain: we cannot afford to prepare leaders to play it safe in the sedilia. We need leaders willing to take the risk of finding out what the gospel calls us to in new and unfamiliar places.
The Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson is president and dean of Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
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One question, eight reflections
This is the fourth of eight essays in which The Living Church and the Episcopal Church Foundation asked eight of the foundation’s Fellows this question: How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church?
The eight voices published here represent only a small cross-section of over 50 years’ worth of ECF Fellows whose work continues to focus on forming leaders for tomorrow’s Church.
ECF identifies and supports scholars and ministry leaders who are committed to forming the next generation of leaders, both in the seminary classroom and beyond seminary walls. The application process for the 2018 Fellowship is now open and the deadline is March 16. If you would like to learn more about becoming an ECF Fellow, be sure to visit the ECF website.