Leadership Development: Where We’ve Been, Where We Must Go
Where we’ve been…
1987. This was the year campus operations ceased at Berkshire Christian College. At that time, Berkshire was the primary means through which pastors were trained and developed within the Advent Christian Church. It had been more than a decade since pastoral studies programs had ceased at the Advent Christian Church’s other college, Aurora College, so with Berkshire’s closure, the Advent Christian Church was left without a clear avenue through which pastors and key denominational leaders could emerge.
This was a problem that was certainly understood and recognized at the time. However, the complexity of the situation and the difficulty of uniting during this difficult period were also recognized as well. Dr. Freeman Barton, on the back cover of his book, Mary Queen of Scots at Berkshire Christian College, wrote that “the Advent Christian denomination is challenged by the need for the education of its future leaders.” Further, he writes that “it cannot afford long to mourn the passing of Berkshire Christian,” calling for prayer that “its leaders will be given wisdom and one-mindedness in discerning and developing the alternatives.”[i]
Dr. Barton clearly understood the challenge facing the Advent Christian denomination quite well. And while some options for the training and development of pastors have emerged over the three decades since the closure of Berkshire Christian College, the one-mindedness Dr. Barton called for has not been present. Some wonderful training programs have been developed and cultivated, such as the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies and the partnerships created through the Berkshire Christian organization. However, even to this day, little unity seems to exist within our small network of churches in regards to how we should be seeking to develop pastors and leaders for present and future Advent Christian work.
In addition, three decades later, the spirit of mourning that Dr. Barton warned we could not afford still appears to be present within our ranks. Wherever I travel within the Advent Christian denomination, I still hear those cries of lament, wishing we could return to those days gone by, when Berkshire stood as a rite of passage for those seeking to serve the Lord as a pastor or missionary. It can hardly be argued that since campus operations ceased all those many years ago, we have struggled to consistently identify, cultivate and develop new pastors, church planters and missionaries. And now, it can hardly be argued that if we don’t seek to unite and place concentrated attention on the development of new pastors, church planters and missionaries, we will not have enough adequately trained leadership for future Kingdom work.
At this point, we must come to grips with the things that have happened in the past and begin to move together toward a more unified future, as it relates to this issue. I am not unaware of the reasons for many of the hurt feelings surrounding the closure of Berkshire. I am also not unaware of the difficulties of uniting around anything in an organization that is structured like ours. However, we are now at a time when disagreement on something as central as the development of pastors and leaders must be put aside and a willingness for partnership must take its place.
We must also recognize that it is unlikely, at least in the short-term, that we will be able to launch another campus-based institution like Berkshire, regaining those “glory days” I have really only ever heard about. The cost of launching a campus-based, fully-accredited, degree granting college or university is substantial. And with our shrinking resource pool, the cost would likely be too significant to handle. This is a reality we must come to terms with if we are ever going to be able to address our current leadership development needs.
Where we must go (a proposed approach)…
With these things in mind, we must move forward with the tools we do have at our disposal. To this end, we at Advent Christian General Conference are proposing a three-pronged approach to developing future generations of Advent Christian pastors and leaders.
First of all, all around the country (and even the world), there are great training institutions for pastors and church leaders which many of our Advent Christian students are already attending. At different points in time, this fact has been met with fear that these schools may have a desire to pull our students away from the Advent Christian Church and insert them into service within their denominational context. Because of the crippling nature of this fear, we as a denomination have, at times, failed to adequately support many of the students who choose to train in these schools, thus sealing a self-fulfilling prophecy that they will inevitably leave us.
In contrast, we need to seek out a united approach to supporting these students, pooling our collective resources and time to help them stay connected with us and to help them catch the vision for what serving in our little part of Christ’s Kingdom may look like. Some of this has already been happening, due to partnerships through the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies and Berkshire Christian. However, for us to truly meet our leadership development needs, it will require a willingness on everyone’s part, from the local church to Advent Christian General Conference, to work together on staying in communication with these students and providing them with the relational, spiritual, and even monetary support necessary to follow God’s call on their lives. This will require greater partnership on the part of all local Advent Christian churches, as well as partnership between Advent Christian General Conference and our various regions, conferences and educational ministries.
Second, we have long lived in fear of pastors entering our denomination from other traditions and backgrounds. We have feared that many of these men and women will enter our churches with a desire to lead our churches away from their Advent Christian heritage. While this, at times, has happened; this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as well. This is because our fear has, at times, caused us to be cold to those who join us from other movements and has caused us to be unwilling to truly involve those pastors and leaders in fellowship and partnership in the Gospel. So, inadvertently, through our efforts to protect our kingdom, we have, in turn, made enemies out of those who might seek to be partners with us.
Again, this must be corrected, and could easily be done through a unified approach to welcoming in those pastors and leaders who might desire partnership with us; providing them with a clear view of who we are and what we are about. This, again, will require partnership together at all levels, as well as a universal recognition that those who join us are more likely to want to grow in their relationship with us if they feel connected to the greater whole (the local church, conferences, regions, and ACGC). As such, we all need to work together to provide information, and even training, to those who join us, helping them to understand our history and heritage, as well as our vision and desires for the future.
Third, since Berkshire’s closure, we have failed to unite around any clear alternatives for leadership development. While, again, some clear alternative avenues do exist through the programs and initiatives of the Berkshire Institute for Christian Studies and Berkshire Christian, as well as more recent additions such as Antioch School, none of these initiatives have been universally embraced or been built upon by the whole of our denominational community. This has left us with no clearly embraced or endorsed avenues to recommend to potential pastoral candidates, especially those who may not have the means to pursue education through a traditional college or seminary program.
With this in mind, we need to work with some of our existing institutions to build some generally accepted alternative approaches to educating our pastors. This can, and probably should, be done through local church partnerships, as well as through partnerships with institutions like the Berkshire Institute and Berkshire Christian. Such partnerships could capitalize on the already existing course material (and even avenues for distribution) provided by these institutions, building upon them to create some alternative training approaches that would be generally accepted by all Advent Christian churches and ministries.[ii]
Overall, while it is true that, in many ways, we have been living out the prophetic words of Dr. Barton, written three decades ago; and it is true that we are largely now seeing the consequences of not heeding his words; I believe the future could still be bright for us in this important area of leadership development. However, for this to take place, I believe that we must move past our days of mourning. And we must find unity, not behind a single approach, but through the various doors that God appears to be opening to us at this moment. In my recent travels, I have seen renewed enthusiasm and excitement about raising up the next generation of leaders. I have seen a renewed sense of responsibility on the part of Advent Christian pastors and leaders all around the United States. It is up to us, simply, to build upon the momentum, which already appears to be there, and put aside the baggage of the past, so that we can see a new generation of Kingdom-minded leaders raised up in within the Advent Christian Church. It is our calling. It is where we must go.
[i] Freeman Barton, Mary Queen of Scots at Berkshire Christian College: Case Study in the Dissolution of a Christian College (Lake Wales: Society for Advent Christian Thought), back cover.