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It was the whisper that made me leave my church. 

It was the one line that I heard over and over again in the five years that I traveled across the country, first in leading a commission for my denomination and then as a consultant in organizational change. 

 “Why didn’t seminary prepare me for this?”

I would hear that line echoed in my mind long after each conversation was over. I had a sense that it was going to be shaping my future call. I even wrote a blog post about it in December 2012. 

And then a year after I wrote the blog post, I was invited to do something about it. I had already discerned that my next step in ministry was to invest in leadership development for the mission of Christ. I had already announced to my congregation that I would be leaving in the near future to respond to this voice. I had used my sabbatical to work on a book on leadership in “uncharted territory.” I didn’t know where this would lead, but this much was clear:

The world is changing. Rapidly. 

Businesses, universities and organizations are being forced to adapt as the old rules and expectations are being cast aside. And now the Church realizes the same. For generations, would-be pastors and Christian leaders were all prepared for ministry in the same way, with the same set of expectations. Seminaries gave you the "tools," and you would quickly find a "calling" in which to use them. And for decades there were more positions to fill than qualified people to fill them. 

Not today. Today churches are closing, ministries are down-sizing, Christian organizations and denominations are looking to the seminary to produce leaders that can integrate their academic learning with wisdom, resilience and deep spiritual maturity. The Christian leaders of today and tomorrow must be more than theologically educated, but personally, spiritually, academically and globally formed with the leadership creativity and missional savvy to develop ministry in arenas that are increasingly resistant to the Gospel.  

Often bi-vocational, increasingly working in churches that are in need of a "turn around," the pastor of today is more like a missionary than a chaplain, more like an entrepreneur than a shopkeeper. And the mission of God needs equipped leaders who go far beyond pulpits and pastor’s studies into a myriad of places and settings. 

Unfortunately, most seminaries are still equipping students for the church of a generation ago. 

But while sitting in the Newark Airport last fall, newly appointed Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton told me of a significant change taking place at his school. It’s the kind of change that most people say never happens.

The Fuller Faculty changed the curriculum. 

Mark told me how the faculty commissioned a team to do an in-depth study, including listening to their students and alumni. And they heard them loud and clear. The students told them that they loved the Seminary but feared the future. The Alumni told the study team that for the church to be relevant in the world, the seminaries must be willing to change the way they prepare Christian leaders for that world. 

This team listened and got to work. And when their report came back. the faculty—that tenured group of highly regarded experts who have everything to lose and little to gain—set aside their well-earned privilege and security to re-tool the entire project of theological education.

In the fall of 2014, Fuller Seminary will inaugurate a new day in theological education. After listening deeply, doing extensive research and conducting their own experiments in the integration of theological education and Christian spiritual formation, they concluded that, for the unchanging grace and love of God to be made manifest in this rapidly changing world, the Church needs leaders capable of serving with wisdom, deep spirituality and creative, agile leadership. 

To do that the study team revised the entire curriculum to be—from start to finish—as formational as educational; as committed to the vocational development and spiritual formation of their students as they are to their academic and theological education. And today, Fuller Seminary is in the midst of a wholescale reorganization that puts the formation of Kingdom vocations at the center of the entire institutional life. 

And this is where my life got interrupted. This is where the whisper of my pastor friends and clients became the call of God on my life.

To support the new curriculum to accomplish all that they envision, President Labberton and the Board of Trustees established a new division within Fuller Theological Seminary, led by a Vice-President for Vocation and Formation. This division will have the charge for creating one seamlessly integrated organizational culture that forms Kingdom vocations in a changing world. They are declaring to everyone who is looking to be equipped for this world: “From the moment you visit our website to the moment you go to glory, you will always be part of a learning community forming you to live out your calling for God’s mission in the world. “

In January, I was appointed to this new position. Since March I have been working part-time at Fuller while I finish up at my beloved congregation. In the days ahead I will be learning and writing and collaborating with a team of people to reshape the entire process of theological formation. 

Our goal is nothing less than turning that plaintive whisper into a grateful word of confidence. Someday soon, we want to hear Christian leaders in a changing world declare:

"Yes, the world is changing. But by God’s grace, I was prepared for such a time as this.” 

Dr. Tod Bolsinger came to San Clemente Presbyterian in 1997 after serving for ten years at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1993. He earned a Ph.D. in Theology and Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and has taught M.Div and D. Min classes at Fuller Theological Seminary and Denver Seminary. He is the author of two books and contributor to two others. He speaks and consults with church, organizational and business leadership groups with TAG Consulting.

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Douglas Dean

commented on Jun 26, 2014

It sounds very good preparing leaders in a changing world. yes we must do everything in study and teaching in theology and leadership principals. However Its God that has to change us our hearts our character and it is God that can prepare us in a changing world through circumstances , pain and sometimes suffering.WhenGod says we are ready then we are ready to do mighty exploits in his name. we have to be filled with the person and power of the Holy Spirit and a spirit of intercession in our hearts. Keep up the good work but remember it is God that worketh in and through us . So the power of prayer must not be neglected. After all Jesus didn't say go get academic qualifications but he said pray without ceasing , go into all the world and preach the gospel be a witness of sharing the faith with everyone you meet . The world hasn't changed as far as the sinner for he/she needs Jesus. Follow me said Jesus and I will make you fishers of men . So my question is how many fish have any of us caught. Thatwill determine how close and how much we are following Jesus. All our degrees and qualifications are meaningless if God is not working in us and through us. Like Paul said I count them all but dung that I may win Christ. I trust my comments are not discouraging but i'm just trying highlight any dangers in academics in not putting our whole trust in them rather that the Lord Jesus Christ. God Bless for all the work you are doing

Renee Jiggetts-Tucker

commented on Jul 4, 2014

I read all of the commenst but this one I relate to most. I do believe in theology as a means of maybe giving a sense of confidence, especially for the new callee but I feel that in maturity you know that the Word is the only teaching needed. Yes things have changed but the Word gives you, undrstanding, knowledge and wisdow that youcan reach this new culture.

Jim Needham

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Doug, I agree completely. My seminary (two) and post graduate education prepared me quite well to function in the world of academia and Christian education of the mind. I am very grateful for that education. What was missing was true spiritual formation of the heart, character and relationships with God and others. Though the former is needed, it is the later that the pastor most needs. I'm not sure if it is the seminary is the place to do this but advanced spiritual formation needs to be addressed in an intentional and focused way.

Jacob Conner

commented on Jun 26, 2014

I am not saying this personally against the author, but the Presbyterian's have changed to much! study their recent stances. I am not saying we shouldn't do some adapting of methods, but we must be very careful to not dilute sound doctrine.

Cathy Hunnicutt

commented on Jun 26, 2014

His is not going by scripture. I think that says it all. Like I said find another occupation. This doctrine is doing an injustice to the Word of God.

Keith B

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Actually, that may well be the case. If I'm not mistaken, Fuller does not hold to inerrancy of the scriptures.

Matt Barker

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Personally, I think this has similarities in any school. Seminary/college/etc. can't prepare you fully for anything. What I really think we need to see more of is churches actually investing in those that are being sent to seminary, both before, during and after. Seminary can only prepare you for so much, but there is a lot of practical experience needed before someone can fully appreciate all that it takes to be a pastor, missionary, leader.

Gene Cobb

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Ephesians 1:23 (The Message) "The Church you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the Church. The Church is Christ's body, in which He speaks and acts, by which He fills everything with His presence." What we as pastors must never forget is that Jesus Christ is in charge of it matter how many letters of the alphabet you have behind or in front of your name, Jesus Christ is the center of everything, not the pastor, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, not the ministry.

Sean Harder

commented on Jun 26, 2014

What ever happened to having a sense of call? If God is calling you to lead in a church will He not provide what we need? I am very concerned about the entire North American Christian culture being so concerned about "developing leaders". It sickens me when I go to conferences and such and all these people are talking about all this leadership and business jargon designed to make the church another capitalist organization. Why don't we use the Bible as our guide anymore? Is it that outdated, that we have to adapt everything to our culture? Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Why are we so afraid of our churches dying? Do we not believe what Jesus says about HIS church. He is the leader and I am very afraid we are usurping His authority. Preach the word, tell the truth and don't tolerate worldly garbage in the church. If people don't like that and they leave, they don't belong there anyway. I'm not mad I'm afraid for the American church.

Cathy Hunnicutt

commented on Jun 26, 2014

You are absolutely right. Ministers only need to preach the gospel of the Word of God. Not what some theologian has taught them. To many churches today surcomvent religion to suit their agenda. This is against God and the Word of God. If you are not going to minister from the bible. Do not preach or teach anything about religion. Find you another occupation this is not for you. Actually it is a form of blasphemy.

Keith B

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Unless you know sound theology, it's very possible to veer off into blasphemy. We need to study and show ourselves approved. A good seminary will teach not just a system of belief--but what the Word of God says.

Manny Perez

commented on Jun 26, 2014

AAAAmen brother. As pastors we need to preach the Gospel and preach it the way it was written, secondly the church program should be about reaching the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour of all who call upon His name. All this to be done under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. If God gives you the vision He will also be your provision. i Cor 15:58

Jared D

commented on Jun 28, 2014

"If God is calling you to lead in a church will He not provide what we need?" Developing leaders is absolutely one of the ways that God does this. 2 Timothy 2:2 "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." Training leaders is of extreme importance. Jesus had many followers - He even sent out 70 or so into different cities - so we know there were others that followed Him faithfully. And yet Jesus chose 12 to specifically work with on a closer bases. He trained them for the work that they would do when He was gone. That didn't diminish the power of the Holy Spirit calling or guiding them, but it does tell me that developing leaders is important.

Keith B

commented on Jun 26, 2014

A few points.....1--this generation is hardly special. Do we think that by being "relevant" to the culture that we will suddenly have droves of people knocking down our doors wanting to hear the answer for the hope we have? My second point is that the author spoke of some changes....but not a lot of specifics. What does it all MEAN?

Peter Dunn

commented on Jun 26, 2014

I live in a country that over the last 40 years at least has moved from being referred to as "God's own" to one of the most secular countries in the western world. If the American Church is going to have to face what we have you are going to do it so hard going by the negative reactions to Tod's article. Academic training that is ongoing is hugely important in a secular society so like Paul you can reason with the Greeks, but that is not enough. Spiritual character deeply rooted in the person of Christ is the key. Only then will you be able to stand against the onslaught of the world against the Gospel. As for today, my academic training and ordination with the laying on of hands and experience in ministry hasn't prepared me for today, my communion with Christ has. I am not ready for tomorrow yet but will be by tomorrow. In a secular country like mine, the Gospel remains eternal and powerful bringing people to Christ, but when Christian leaders are cloistered in the Christian thinking and practices of decades past - oh the pain. Tod is onto something.

Tim Hewson

commented on Jun 27, 2014

I am disappointed by some of the short sightedness and dismissive comments about this article. Have we read the same article? Where does the author say that this element of the course is as a replacement to sound biblical teaching or following a call? What I see is a man who believes he is called to what is doing and that God has opened the door for him to meet his calling. THAT TO IS BIBLICAL. In my own ministry I am wholly bible based, but have learnt to use ideas from outside the traditional box to pass on that message to a changing world, however I see many ministers who struggle with technology and see these modern ways as wrong, mainly because they are scared of change. Guess whose services don't work today, even churched people want some life in their services! We are not going to see Christ's Kingdom come to glory unless we are willing to meet the un-churched where they are and yes, not by diluting the word, but by presenting it in a real and approachable manner, with love. Good luck Tom in equipping those who come in the future to do this.

Mike Spencer

commented on Jun 27, 2014

Here's a whisper for ya' Tod, Fuller Theological is going the way of liberalism. Rob Bell is one ugly example of what they are sending out into the world. It raises red flags in my mind every time I hear of a graduate of this seminary speaking, teaching or writing a book. I am highly suspicious of the lack of specifics in your article. As is, your article sounds like much of the social justice, kingdom now, or we're gonna change the world clap-trap coming out of the evangelical church in the U.S. for the last 30 to 50 years. Just in case anyone missed it, it's not working as planned, and if anyone is to blame, it is the seminaries that are doing the slow slide into denying orthodox Christianity as understood by the reformers. These teachers and preachers and professors treat God's word like a book of suggestions and salvation like its a self-help doctrine. The gospel is boring to them until they rewrite it in their own image. All the while these little Caesars fiddle, the church suffers under their misguided leadership. The world is changing...bla, bla, bla... God does not change, and He still offers us the words of life, but there will be no sharing His glory, it is all His. Christ is building His church, not us. We are merely messengers. It is not the persuasiveness of our argument, nor the appeal of our attempt at a look-a-like sub-culture, nor our clever twists of God's word to appear relevant to the culture. It is His power, His call, His blood and His message. The message is simple and straightforward: God has judged the world, repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved or you will die in your sins and be separated from Him forever.


commented on Jun 28, 2014

Something to think about, what he may be putting forward is the need for Fuller to paying more attention to the need for practical and spiritual formation and not only the teaching of theology. Theology is very important but so is an understanding of how to apply it. Neither of these will be of much benefit without a strong strong reliance on the Holy Spirit to dirdct us.

Mike Spencer

commented on Jun 29, 2014

Good Doctrine (teaching) is essential for spiritual formation/growth. Whatever you want to call it, if it does not hold to the 5 solas, it is a non-starter. You cannot teach good orthopraxis if you do not teach good orthodoxis. Dr. Bolsinger seems to think that Fuller is entering into virgin territory with regard to the seminary. This "They never taught me about this in seminary" whine is common, but it fails to understand the real need that seminary's should fulfill, and by all reports, Fuller is failing. The need for seminary is to help the student understand the central focus of scripture, and to be able to successfully teach these things. Seminary doesn't prepare you for all of life's vagaries, nor will it tell you how to put feet to peoples faith. Where scripture does not speak, we must remain largely silent. The good works that God has created us to do are as different as the individuals themselves. Preachers, churches and Bibles Schools of all kinds continue to look for some kind of formula that would add 3000 to the church with every grand-standing event. They continue to be disappointed in the results they have. But like good modernists, they believe that if we continue with trial and error, we will finally discover it. (Shades of having a form of religion, but denying the power thereof). However, Fuller's problem is even larger, they deny the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture. They are compromised by professors that hold unorthodox views, and because of this, they compromise the very church of Christ in an age of deplorable Biblical illiteracy. We return to the middle ages where even the priest didn't know enough Bible to fill a tea-cup, and when they did, the Holy word was sullied with the traditions of men. I for one will not return to the miserable and hopeless hocus-pocus of the false church. Fuller needs to repent of their failure to hold up the Word of God as the measure of our practice, purge its faculty of those unwilling to hold to its judgement, and remain ever vigilant. I hope and pray that they do.

Stephen Ventura

commented on Jul 1, 2014

We need to be culturally relevant but as time goes on the culture shifts further and further from the truth. We need to remember the reason for the flood was that "every intention of man was only evil ALL THE TIME." It still is and Paul warned us in the last days people will be lovers of evil... In Romans Paul says God gives men over to their lusts. If people don't want God then we need to STOP trying to force feed these people. If the spirit is not moving we can do NOTHING. It's articles like this that take a concept and tries to change the church. What we need is solid theological teaching from the pulpit with expectation of application and accountability from the congregation as well as the pastor. I believe the problem with the church is not so much due to style and method but rather worldly leadership which trickles down to worldly congregants that look like hypocrites to the world. Christianity is old in America. Everyone's been there and done that. We see the same decline and worse in Europe while the church is spreading like wildfire in other countries where Christianity is new. This shows us something. Think about it. It's not method it's commitment.

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