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Clergy Leadership Training for the 21st Century

What does effective worship look like? How effective are church clergy in their ministry and leadership functions? What do churches lack? What do they need? These are some of the questions David Gortner, director of the doctor of ministry program at Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal), has explored over the last 15 years. As the principal investigator of the Clergy Into Action Study, a Lilly Endowment-funded analysis of 45 “Transition into Ministry” programs that the Endowment has supported at theological schools across North America, Gortner is in a strong position to comment on the work seminaries and schools of theology are doing, and their effectiveness in preparing clergy for current ministry challenges. So Virginia Theological Seminary asked him to prepare a white paper with analysis and recommendations for the seminary’s board to consider. 

According to an edited version of that paper, published in In Trust Magazine, a publication of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools, a member organization of seminaries and schools of theology in North America, Gortner discovered “that effective clergy approach the challenges and opportunities of ministry...consistently across denomination, age, gender and race.” Effective clergy have “a deeply positive regard and expectation for the capacities of people in the congregation, a moderate degree of assertiveness and decisiveness blended with a high degree of collaborative interest in others, a capacity to work with and anticipate conflict, a creativity that is vigorous yet well-managed and grounded, an ability to think theologically about situations in a way that moves toward transformational action, a savvy sense of networks of influence in congregations and communities and a clear and consistent process of communicating and gathering feedback.” Unfortunately, however, mainline Protestant denominations tend to be populated by “‘placeholder’ clergy who may have basic skills in the core functions of preaching, pastoral care and sacramental ministry, but who have not developed these other, more hidden (but perhaps more central) capacities for effective leadership of congregations.” 

See the article for a nuanced analysis along with recommended actions aimed at the Episcopal Church, but easily transferred to any denomination. Also see our feature article that highlights core capabilities and skills the next generation of clergy must have: “Ten Essential Skills the Next Generation of Religious Leaders Will Need.”

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