The Protégé Path
An introduction to a better way to train church leaders
Throughout history, if someone wanted to learn a particular skill, he or she would find a master or mentor to guide them. This person seeking to learn and grow is called a protégé. And like any skill or trade, ministry leadership involves a set of abilities that must be developed and cultivated.
There are countless protégés simply waiting for an experienced master of their trade or wise mentor, but they so often become lost in the deficit of strong and developmental leadership that is so absent and misprioritized in today’s culture, and in today’s church. Where do these hungry protégés go to learn the skills and character they long to develop so that they can maximize their impact in the world? Who do they seek out to guide them on this critical journey?
A large majority of protégés within the church currently seek development from the educational system, predominantly from seminary. Others search for guidance from an influential, but distant, church figure, perhaps looking to imitate their success from afar. Although these tracks of learning and development are important, there are significant limitations when someone chooses either of them as their primary, even sole path.
Don’t get me wrong, attending seminary can be (and was for me) a remarkable resource for attaining knowledge (of the Scriptures, church history, leadership, etc.). Do I believe seminary can play a significant role in a person’s development? Absolutely. It has in my life, and in many others I know. So let me be clear. I am a believer in the value, and even necessity, of a theological education. However, research tells us that the overwhelming majority of seminary graduates don’t gain the adequate hands-on experience necessary for effectiveness in the world outside those classroom doors. Ninety percent of ministers report that they were inadequately trained for pastoral ministry, and fifty percent admit that they feel incapable of meeting the needs of their current job.
Although I greatly appreciate the seminary I attended (Bethel Theological
Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.), it’s still limited in its scope compared to what it takes for a ministry leader to develop in a holistic, customized fashion. I’m profoundly convinced that attending seminary without also receiving “on-the-job training” is the equivalent of a physician attending medical school without ever practicing their skills in clinical rotations. And this dilemma is not solved with a simple field education course, as good as it may be.
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.
Being in relationship with a live personal mentor versus studying one from afar is the most significant way for a protégé to grow at the speed and depth necessary for them to reach their fullest potential. If protégés aren’t under the close watch and care of a passionate, intentional, wise mentor, they’ll always be one step behind. And, they may remain frustrated at their lack of ability and finesse in what they long to be great at, and what they yearn to accomplish through their leadership endeavors.
We all face the daunting challenge to develop ourselves and to develop the next generation of leaders who will shape the future of the church. Improving our thinking, sharpening our theology, adapting our approach, changing our paradigms, and sometimes adjusting our methodology, can be exactly what we need to help catalyze the church into having greater impact on the culture in which it exists.
The local church is full of possibility. I believe in what it can become. I’m convinced that when the church gets it right (which starts with leadership) we can see God do the impossible through us to impact our world. I’m convinced that we can radically influence the culture in which we live—the church has done it before, and we can do it again.
The hope of the church is to keep believing that we can make a real difference in our world. And most importantly, we’ve been entrusted to help usher more people into the kingdom of God and to see the kingdom of God bursting forth from the inside out.
With the help of one another and the power of God to reach our most broken places, every one of us can rise to the level worthy of our callings. I say to you what the apostle Paul once said to another community of influencers: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).
Taken from Protégé: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders by Steve Saccone, with Cheri Saccone. Copyright(c) 2012 by Steve and Cheri Saccone. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.