Four Skills You Didn’t Learn in Seminary

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 162

Seminary is a wonderful place to learn how to preach a sermon and study Scripture. Undoubtedly, these are critical skills for successful ministry. But historically, seminaries are less useful for learning leadership skills and preparing you for the 90% of ministry that isn’t preaching, sermon-writing, and Bible study. 

While many seminaries are addressing this issue and doing better, by and large, most pastors learn their leadership skills from the school of hard knocks. At The Malphurs Group, we want to help you sidestep common potholes and give you a clear picture of four skills you need to develop that seminary might not have taught you.

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Conflict Management

How you handle conflict is largely a byproduct of your temperament. We all have a natural inclination in how we deal with people, and are more likely to engage in or avoid conflict. But the majority of the population have an “S-type” temperament, which is conflict-averse. This population-wide reality is compounded by the fact that people who are drawn to ministry tend to be those with “pastoral” skills (counseling, shepherding, etc.). 

Therefore, many pastors need to learn how to engage in healthy conflict and how to make decisions–even if they are unpopular and might ruffle feathers. This is a skill that can be cultivated over time, but must be done with intentionality.

Some pastors are more like the “D-type” temperament (dominant type) and enjoy conflict. In this instance, these leaders need to learn how to slow down and listen to criticism–as it may be warranted. Be humble enough to look for the nugget of truth and not dismiss any challenge to your ideas outright.

In either extreme, pastors must learn how to look for healthy feedback and reject toxic criticism. Engage with people and ideas, and pursue what’s best for the church. If you want to learn more about how temperament impacts your leadership, you can read our “Deep on DiSC” series (D-type, i-type, S-type, C-type).

Change Management

Managing change is a critical part of leadership in the church. It goes without saying that change for the sake of change is a short trip to the unemployment line in most churches. But effectiveness in outreach and evangelism requires the ability to adapt to changing community dynamics. Additionally, our approaches to discipleship can become ineffective over time, and change is sometimes necessary to live out our mission.

Therefore, when managing change, it’s important to communicate why the change is necessary and why the status quo is intolerable. Make a plan for communication, and be diligent to execute that plan. Far too many good ideas for change have failed for a lack of good communication.

Change management also necessitates engaging in church politics. Many pastors lament the existence of church politics and claim that it makes their job miserable. I have bad news for you. As long as your church is filled with people, your church will be filled with politics. Therefore, you can choose to hate church politics or you can learn to master them. Resenting their existence doesn’t make them go away. 

Church politics is just code for being good at understanding people and how to influence them. Mastering church politics doesn’t mean you need to manipulate people or situations. It means you need to be good at reading people and situations, and adapting to the relational and strategic reality. You can become good at church politics in a way that honors God and honors people.

Time Management

Time blocking is your friend. If you don’t learn to master your schedule, your schedule will master you. Ministry isn’t like other kinds of jobs. In most jobs, your responsibilities and schedule are dictated pretty clearly. In ministry, you have a lot of flexibility. While this is a benefit in some ways, it can lead to some leaders being over-worked and others to be inefficient. 

We explore in-depth how to master your schedule in this article. But the highlights are this: divide your weekly schedule into thirds. The first third should be dedicated to strategic and creative work—think sermon writing and ministry planning. This is the kind of work that only you can do and makes you most valuable to the church. The second third should be dedicated to leadership development and discipleship. Think about the key relationships you need to invest in this week, and make time for them. Finally, leave a third of your week for administrative tasks. We all like to think we can delegate all of our administrative work down line, but we can’t. There will always be emails to reply to, phone calls to return, and tasks to accomplish. 

The key to mastering your schedule is treating every task like a meeting. Physically block off time on your calendar to work on projects, planning, sermon writing, etc. Only leave a third of your calendar available for meetings. Using software like Calendly empowers people to select an open time slot on your calendar and see your availability. This removes the sense that your door is “always open” and your “always available.” As a pastor, it’s good to be accessible—but it’s not good to be accessible at any moment. You’ll never get high-level leadership tasks done if you don’t prioritize them and put them on your calendar. 

Emergencies will always come up. But plan in advance what actually qualifies as an emergency. Often what we deem an emergency could easily be handled next week—or in an email.

Organizational Management

Finally, recognize that as a pastor, your responsibility is to lead the ministry—to lead the organization. Therefore, you need good structures for decision-making and authority so that you don’t become the bottleneck. Your church may have a polity determined by your denomination that leaves little flexibility. But if your church is independent, do a deep dive into the bylaws and root out any inefficiencies that lead to poor planning and decision-making practices. 

Watching some churches operate is like watching an American football game where both teams keep punting the ball back and forth. It’s boring, no one is winning, and there is little action. When the lines of authority in a church are unclear, teams and committees take turns punting decisions to each other. It’s boring, and the church is probably stalled out in terms of effectiveness. 

Also, organizations that thrive are the ones that plan ahead. Most churches are reactionary. They only make the decisions they have to make, and they’re usually three months (or three years!) behind when the decision needs to be made. Plan ahead. Understand that churches take months to make decisions—even in relatively healthy situations. So get in the habit of forecasting problems and projecting decisions that need to be made six to nine months in advance. This way, you’re able to make decisions in a timely manner. 

Church leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. And unfortunately, seminary is unlikely to prepare you for most of your day to day work in ministry. That’s why The Malphurs Group exists. We help church leaders become more effective in making disciples and growing leaders by providing training and resources that fill in the gaps left by seminary. 

If you have questions about these four skills or need help leading a healthy church, contact our team

BONUS: Watch this episode on YouTube.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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