Can't Teach Leadership

President's Pen, February 2023


David Horita, the Regional Director of Fellowship Pacific, once shared with me that leadership cannot be fully learned in a classroom alone. While classroom learning has its place, true leadership is best learned through real-life situations where one must lead. Just as medical students can only learn so much about surgery from books and professors before entering the operating room to watch and then perform surgeries, leadership is best taught and learned within the context of watching others lead and then being required to give leadership.


This is one key reason why Northwest, with the investment, input and full partnership of Fellowship Pacific, pioneered Competency-Based Theological Education (CBTE). We started with our inaugural master's program, Immerse, and now offer a bachelor's program, the Korean Bachelor of Christian Leadership (KBACL). Instead of solely learning in classroom, Immerse and KBACL students serve in leadership or lay leadership roles within their ministry settings, typically in their local church. In addition to theology seminars and reading books, students have two or three mentors who walk alongside them as they work to achieve competency in various areas of Christian leadership.


An example to demonstrate the power of CBTE in teaching Christian leadership can be seen in the difference between a traditional classroom setting and a CBTE student's experience. In a traditional classroom setting, students are often given case scenarios to help them think through real-life situations they will face. For instance, an assignment might be introduced like this: “You are a youth pastor and have just received a six-paragraph email from an influential parent who criticizes your programs as ineffective and your leadership as deeply lacking. The parent follows this up by forcefully outlining six ways they want you to change the youth ministry.” The case scenario then provides an email to read, and the assignment asks you to write two pages describing how you would respond. While this assignment is helpful in some ways, it is limited in how much can be learned because, as the youth pastor, you are not emotionally involved in the situation, and the parents are only hypothetical people.


Contrast this with one of my Immerse students who had just begun serving in youth ministry. He received a harsh email from a parent, which struck at his sense of calling, identity, and revealed his lack of leadership skills. The experience was painful for the student, but over a few weeks, his mentors helped him work through his identity and sense of calling in light of the gospel. They also taught him how to handle the situation, including drafting an email to the parents, sending it for feedback, talking through revisions, and finally sending it to the parents. Within a few short weeks, this student had worked out his identity in light of the gospel, been reaffirmed in his calling by his mentors, and gained skills in conflict resolution, writing, and youth programming effectiveness.


If you are looking to grow as a Christian leader, consider becoming an Immerse or KBACL student at Northwest. If you want to develop leaders within your church or ministry setting, we can walk you through how we partner with you to make this happen. If you want to invest your money in something that makes an eternal impact, visit our website to partner with us through giving toward Northwest.


Leadership is best learned by leading, and Immerse and the KBACL provide the opportunity for students to serve in leadership roles within their ministry settings while receiving guidance from mentors to achieve competency in various areas of Christian leadership.


Barton Priebe, DMin


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