David Odom is the founder and former president of the Center for Congregational Health, an agency that helps faith communities through training and consulting. Since starting the center in 1992, he has thought extensively about the qualities of an effective Christian leader.
“The short-term measures of success are extremely difficult to discern,” says Odom, who has also served as a local church pastor and a leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “Long-term, some of the clues I would look for are: What are people talking about in their meetings? If the conversation is about the survival of the institution and the loss of money, that’s not very healthy.”
For his part, Jones hopes that Leadership Education at Duke Divinity inspires cultural change in institutions—environments that nurture and invest in excellence, systems that encourage collaboration and creative problem solving, ambitious goals for living out the gospel.
“What would success look like?” Jones asks. “There would be much deeper and richer pipelines of people ready to assume positions of leadership. There would be a whole constellation of resources to support leaders in their work. There would be networks of relationships among leaders.”
Retired United Methodist Bishop Ken Carder, now Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams professor of the practice of Christian ministry, hopes LEADD influences the curriculum and creates an ongoing conversation about leadership.
“We have a unique opportunity to link theological inquiry and education and some of the tools from the outside world,” Carder says. “But I don’t think we can accept those uncritically.”
Virtue agrees. She admires that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, trained preachers to study not just Scripture, but science, medicine and a variety of other fields.
He trusted that these preachers could connect their life of faith to these other sources of wisdom,” Virtue says. “I don’t think the church is a business, but I do think it is an organization with particular habits and practices we can examine and improve.”
Like Virtue, Willimon names Wesley in explaining his interest in learning business principles to enhance his ministry. He also cites Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Four United Methodist churches have closed recently in West Birmingham—the same area where a gleaming new KFC is thriving. Willimon says that KFC is “the only functioning social institution serving that community.” In that fast-food restaurant, Willimon sees lessons in how best to welcome and serve people.
“I think it’s pitiful when you can sell soggy chicken to people,” he says, “but we can’t proclaim the gospel. Half of the churches in my conference are 100 years old. They’re doing much the same things they did 100 years ago. We need a new set of skills.”
Kelly Gilmer joined Duke Divinity School in February as director of communications for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.