I’ve just finished teaching a summer intensive course entitled, “Models of Wesleyan Pastoral Leadership.” It was a fascinating experience. I want to share the plan behind the course because I think it is the type of thing that seminaries or annual conferences elsewhere might want to explore.

Why teach a course in Wesleyan leadership? I teach on the faculty of Memphis Theological Seminary, and my primary academic area is historical studies. (I did my dissertation on the means of grace in John Wesley’s theology.) But a part of my role with MTS is to teach in Wesleyan Studies more broadly. That means that I’ve been exploring ways to develop courses that fall generally into what you’d consider practical theology. My own understanding of practical theology, in this vein, is that it is the appropriation of the Christian tradition as a way to inform the practices of the church in the present.

My first attempt at this kind of course development in Wesleyan practical theology was through a course I called, “Evangelism and Discipleship in the Wesleyan Tradition.” That course was enough of a success last year that I am teaching it again this fall. The Wesleyan leadership course in my seminary’s summer term earlier this month represents my second attempt. With it I am trying to key in on the current interest in leadership studies that runs across academic disciplines (in business, education, etc.) but through a lens that is specifically theological and oriented within the Wesleyan tradition.

Plan of the Course: This leadership course was scheduled to be taught in an intensive format, over the course of 5 days during our first summer term in May (8 hrs/day X 5 days = 40 hrs of contact time). To make a course feasible in that format, required readings had to be distributed significantly in advance, and the major writing assignment for the course was given a due date of 1 month after the end of the final class session.

I decided to name the course “Models” of Wesleyan Pastoral Leadership for a couple of reasons. One is that I am not at all convinced that there is any one dominant version of Wesleyan pastoral leadership on offer. So I wanted to prod my students to explore different models as a way to come to a greater understanding about how Wesleyan leadership could be conceived and practiced in the present. The initial consideration of Wesleyan leadership models came primarily in the form of the assigned class readings and the discussions that followed from them. We had¬†four main reading texts, all of which were from authors with Wesleyan backgrounds and all of which exhibited to some degree a “sacred-secular tension” (meaning a tension between leadership-as-theological category and leadership-as-secular-concept-imported-into-church-life).

Another reason I went with the pluralistic “models” notion of Wesleyan leadership is that I wanted to present various models to the class in the form of ministry practitioners who would meet with our class. To that end, the five day course featured four main guest speakers who, like the authors, were all from Wesleyan backgrounds. The kicker was that the guest speakers would all represent significantly different areas of experience and expertise in pastoral ministry.

So our assigned reading texts–which gave us material for significant class discussions–included:

  • Lovett Weems’ Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit (the “historical model”)
  • Adam Hamilton’s Leading Beyond the Walls (the “congregational model”)
  • John C. Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (the “heroic model” or “pragmatic model”)
  • Kenneth Carder and Laceye Warner’s Grace to Lead (the “virtue model” or “theological model”)

In terms of guest speakers, we were fortunate to welcome these folks into our course for conversations about their calling, career in ministry, and understanding of leadership–all with reference to their distinct ministry settings:

  • Dr. Cynthia Davis, McKendree District Superintendent in the Memphis Conference (Leadership in the Superintendency)
  • Dr. Maxie Dunnam, Pastor Emeritus of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, TN, and former president of Asbury Theological Seminary (Leadership in the Large Church)
  • Dr. Johnny Jeffords, Senior Pastor of Covenant United Methodist Church in Cordova, TN, and former pastor of St. John’s UMC in Memphis (Leadership in the Urban Church)
  • Rev. Chris McAlilly, Pastor of Brewer and Shannon UMCs in the Mississippi Conference (Leadership in the Rural Church)
Rev. Chris McAlilly speaking about leadership in the rural church

Rev. Chris McAlilly speaking about leadership in the rural church

Accompanying all this wonderful material were some supplementary components to the course. For instance, I did lecture presentations each of the five days. This included material on leadership from Will Willimon, Gil Rendle, and John Wigger, as well as a basic presentation on the Greek understanding of virtue and the possibility of locating leadership within a virtue framework. We also engaged in class discussion on what I called “Key Questions” and “Key Considerations,” including examinations of biblical models of leadership, students’ personal understanding of leadership as it related to their own spiritual gifts, and preliminary explorations into a Wesleyan understanding of leadership as the students conceived of it. I think it is a testament to the richness of this material that I typically had to cut conversations short for time considerations–in other words, we never ran out of topics to discuss despite our marathon class sessions!

What about evaluation? Clearly, in any seminar of small size and intensive format, the attendance and participation is going to make up a significant percentage of students’ overall grades. But I rarely teach a class where I don’t have some kind of substantial writing assignment as the major instrument of evaluation. (For a number of reasons, I find such assignments to be better formation for ministry than either exams or reflection papers, although in normal semester-length courses I assign a mixture of evaluation instruments.)

The writing assignment for the leadership course is what I decided to call a “Leadership Credo.” It is a 12-15 page writing assignment where students are expected to articulate a working statement of their understanding of Wesleyan leadership in practice. Its four sections include a “thick description” of social location and ministry context, an evaluation of biblical models of leadership, a significant engagement with one of the assigned course texts on Wesleyan leadership, and a constructive statement of how the student sees him/herself as a leader in the Wesleyan tradition (along with challenges, areas of growth, etc.). By the nature of the assignment, the Leadership Credo is intended to be part self-evaluation and part mission statement. My hope is that it will be theologically robust but will also have real practical benefit to my students as they continue to be formed as Wesleyan pastoral leaders.

How’d it turn out? The class sessions are over, but students have not turned in their writing assignments yet. So the jury is still out. But the in-class feedback was very positive. I’ve already begun thinking about how I might restructure parts of the course if I teach it again in a few semesters, including other readings I might use. I’m trying to develop a significant portfolio of courses in the area of Wesleyan Studies that our students at MTS can take advantage of. And I think the leadership course will likely become a staple in that portfolio.

Any questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below.