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Traditional Seminary
Needs To Change


The need for qualified leaders within the church is clearly expressed by Jesus in Luke 10:1-3 - The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them on ahead in pairs to all the towns and villages he planned to visit. 2 These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is so great, but the workers are so few. Pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest, and ask him to send out more workers for his fields. 

A Worker (also referred to as a Laborer) is a disciple, a follower of Christ.  As many of us know, qualified workers don’t just happen, they must receive training.  The Apostle Paul lists two important criteria of being trained as a Laborer.  The first can be found in Colossians 2:6-7 - And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to live in obedience to him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done.  Here Paul clearly indicates that becoming a Christian is important, but having your roots grow deep in Christ is necessary for maturity.  There is a direct relationship between being intimately connected to Christ, personal growth and a life overflowing in ministry.  Being established (rooted and nourished) in one’s faith is necessary for growth which naturally results in authentic ministry. 

The second criterion Paul mentions is found in Ephesians 4:11-12 - He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, 13 until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.  Paul reveals that the process of discipleship that leads to being a laborer in the Kingdom of God involves equipping.  Evangelism leads to becoming a disciple of Christ, but being born again is not the end but the beginning of our journey.  To be an obedient disciple we must be continually established in our faith and growing in maturity.  This process naturally leads to Paul’s point of being equipped for service in order to minister to believers and the lost.  This process is intentional and lifelong.

Making disciples presupposes that the one doing the training is a laborer.  You cannot successfully train others in any discipline if you do not exhibit a personal command of that subject in your own life.  We know that the laborers are few and we know there is a qualitative difference between infancy in Christ (a new believer) and the maturity of a Christian able to train other laborers (2 Timothy 2:2).  This leads to a very important question.  Why are so many of our churches full of believers who are infants, yet they have been Christians for many years?  It is important to acknowledge that every believer has a personal responsibility to take steps that will encourage their maturity in Christ.  Yet in order to answer this question, we must look at those who labor in our churches, and in turn, also consider how these laborers are being trained.  Many of our pastors and church staff have received formal training from a seminary but lack substantive experience as a laborer in a local church—even though these graduates have a masters or doctorate in traditional theological studies. 

The thesis of this document is threefold.  First, there will always be a need for more laborers.  Second, present research (Lilly Endowment funded) and the state of the church reveal that traditional seminary training is not sufficient in developing biblically-qualified laborers to evangelize, establish and equip people to become laborers in our Lord’s Kingdom.  Third, CLI’S intention is to train laborers who possess the maturity and skills necessary to be relevant in our postmodern and future generations. The following are ten suggestions of what CLI believes will enhance the quality of theological education.




FIRST, FOCUS ON LOVING GODUnderstanding what the Scriptures say and mean is vital to growing in maturity as a Christian.  But often times we can become focused on Biblical content and miss what life and ministry is all about.  When Jesus was questioned as to the most important commandment His response was clear and simple.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Therefore, loving God is the heart and foundation to CLI’S training.


SECOND, TRAIN THE WHOLE PERSONThe educational philosophy often assumed in theological education is that acquisition of factual content is sufficient.  This approach is too narrow and focuses only on the cognitive.  The Great Commission’s spotlight is lovingly obeying God through out all of life realizing that whatever we do our Lord is always with us.  To love God as you eat, drink or play racquetball requires a different type of training in comparison to the typical lecture format of the traditional seminary classroom.

Matthew 28:16-20 - Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them still doubted! 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus makes it vividly clear that the type of behavior that honors God must grow out of a clean and pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5 - The purpose of my instruction is that all the Christians there would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith.). This clearly does not include behavior that is meant to impress others or to meet someone’s stated standard.  The Scriptures call us to obey God’s Word in all of life.  This obedience is not to be out of fear or duty, but loving gratitude.  This isn’t fostered by simply depositing God’s Word into students’ minds. Scripture makes it clear that obedience out of loving gratitude constitutes Biblical learning.


THIRD, USE TIME EFFICIENTLYTraditional seminary training typically uses the training time only to lecture from their notes while students record those comments.  They give good Biblical content, but students have very little time to interact deeply with the professor or other participants about God’s Word.  The need is not to develop good note takers!  Jesus said that the laborers are few.  Therefore, the time used to equip laborers must include not only providing good Biblical content but also building godly character and proficiency in ministry skills.  Mere lecture is not sufficient and when relied upon as the primary means of training tends to hinder contextual understanding, personal application, and eventually the quality of the training done by these leaders in local churches.  Seminary graduates commonly reproduce the same educational strategy within the church that was modeled for them in seminary – telling, rather than teaching to obey out of loving gratitude.  This often results in developing hypocrites in the pews.  Most Christians’ minds are far ahead of how they live.  Howard Hendricks, a Christian educator once said, The opposite of ignorance in the spiritual realm is not knowledge but obedience (Disciplemaking in the 80’s Conference held at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, CO).   


FOURTH, DEVELOP SPIRITUAL GIFTS.  The Holy Spirit has given each Christian at least one spiritual gift to build up the body of Christ.  If we are going to equip laborers, we can’t sidestep intentional identification and development of the gifts that God has given His children. 


FIFTH, USE VARIOUS TEACHING METHODSThe typical seminary curriculum utilizes the classroom as a place of recording, memorization and regurgitation of content.  This reflects the lowest levels of learning.  This isn’t training that develops lifelong learners.  CLI’S teaching methodology will focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  These forms of learning represent the highest levels of training.  Strategies employed to facilitate these will include different forms of media, case studies, critical thinking skills, dialogical questioning and on the job training.  CLI realizes that people learn differently therefore we not only want to provide opportunities to learn in diverse ways but also help participants grow in relevant life long learning skills.


SIXTH, DEVELOP COMPETENCIES.  There is a qualitative difference in the learning strategy when the means of evaluation are letter grades in contrast to contextual understanding with personal application.  The corrective should involve competencies based upon demonstration in life and ministry, not a written test evaluated by a letter grade.  A focus on contextual understanding and personal application will avoid the stress and distraction present in traditional classrooms, which so often leads to questions like, “Is this going to be on the test?”

Col 1:28 - So everywhere we go, we tell everyone about Christ. We warn them and teach them with all the wisdom God has given us, for we want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

An emphasis on grades fosters competition and comparison among the children of God. The Bible is clear about unity, harmony, fellowship, love and learning from the Scriptures together.  Truth is meant to be obeyed (Mt 28:20 - Teach these new disciples to obey…) and shared with others.  We are to love each other, learn from one another and help one another grow into maturity.  We are not to harbor truth while attempting to impress one another about how much we know about the Bible.  Nor are we to evaluate our degree of godliness or preparation for ministry based upon getting a better grade than our brother or sister in Christ.

1 Cor 8:1-3 - …You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.



Christian Leadership Institute will implement these six suggestions by providing safe learning communities that will synthesize content with life.  Emphasis will be placed on competencies based upon giftedness not grades.  The weight of CLI training is on divergence (deep integration with all of life) of learning rather than convergence (primary focus on content) only.  This approach fosters personal understanding, deeper application and the ability to teach from experience.

The participants learning experiences will be in five areas: Large Group, Small Group, Mentoring and Apprenticeship and a Cross-Cultural Trip.  Each area will utilize the following: analysis of content and context; synthesis with private and public life; and evaluation in accordance with a Biblical Worldview. 

An overview of the five areas of learning: 

Large Group – This will be a non-competitive learning community that fosters working together. The necessary content will be distributed to participants in printed form. The environment will be interactive and didactic with the emphasis on convergence of truth which includes the following: the identification of truth; the understanding of truth; and highlighting potential forms of personal and public application.  Competencies will be assessed utilizing pass/fail criteria based upon learning contracts.  The classroom trainer may draw upon the insights of the small group facilitators (see below), professional counselors, church staff or parachurch personnel, and when married, the spouse of the student.    


Small Group – The three primary purposes of these gender specific small groups are as follows: First, to grow in your personal love and intimacy with your Savior Jesus Christ; Second, to grow in personal holiness; Third, to grow in your love for the Saints and the Lost.  These three purposes will be facilitated by the following: First, a learning community that facilitates the utilization of one another’s gifts; Second, assisting students to identify Biblical Principles that will enable them to develop a Biblical Worldview for personal development as well as public influence; Third, this safe and gracious environment will be one of high-trust, interactive and didactic, with the emphasis on divergence (analysis, synthesis and evaluation) of truth.  To accomplish these goals the small group experience will utilize large group content, case studies, field trips and various forms of media.  Competencies will be assessed utilizing pass/fail criteria based upon learning contracts.   

The small group leader may draw upon the insights of the classroom instructors, other small group facilitators, professional counselors, church staff and parachurch personnel, and if married, the spouse of the student.    


Mentoring – This is a safe relationship that utilizes personal accountability to foster an abiding relationship with Jesus. This portion of the educational experience will include the following: First, development of a life map; Second, a series of psychological instruments; Third, (if married) interactions with spouse; Fourth, identification of talents, gifts and call of God).  Issues of sin will be honestly addressed and openly worked upon through such avenues as prayer, Bible study, confession, repentance and interactions with the student’s spouse (and other family members if necessary).  Marital health will be assessed and facilitated through marital counseling and small group accountability.  Competencies will be assessed utilizing pass/fail criteria based upon learning contracts.  The small group facilitator may draw upon the insights of the classroom instructors, other small group facilitators, professional counselors, church staff or parachurch personnel, and if married, the spouse of the student.       


ApprenticeshipStudents may be apprenticed in a local church or parachurch setting.

Local Church – Numerous opportunities will be provided to enable each student to have practical experiences with various staff within a local church.  This area of the educational experience may include the following: First, spending time in the office, on the road and in other ministry contexts with an Executive Pastor, Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Worship Pastor, Church Administrator and any other staff or volunteer position deemed beneficial for the student’s development.  Second, special attention will be given to the student’s giftedness and call of God in determining who requires further training and how long they may need to be trained within a given ministry arena.  Third, participants will be expected to perform numerous ministerial activities without being financially compensated for these responsibilities.  Competencies will be assessed utilizing pass/fail criteria based upon learning contracts.  Church staff and CLI leaders may draw upon the insights of classroom instructors, small group leaders, professional counselors, and if married, the spouse of the student when assessing competencies.


Parachurch – Opportunities will be provided to enable students to have practical experiences from various ministries within a parachurch community.  This area of the educational experience will include the following: First, spending time with field staff in ministries such as (but not limited to) military, collegiate, business & professional, church-discipleship and community fields of service.  Second, special attention will be given to the student’s giftedness and call of God in determining who requires further training and how long they may need to be trained within a given ministry arena.  Third, participants will be expected to perform numerous ministerial activities without being financially compensated for these responsibilities.  Competencies will be assessed utilizing pass/fail criteria based upon learning contracts.  Parachurch staff and CLI leaders may draw upon the insights of classroom instructors, small group facilitators, professional counselors, and if married, the spouse of the student when assessing competencies.


Cross-Cultural Trip: This trip will involve the following purposes and process:

1. Purposes

a. Develop a servant leader ministry philosophy;

b. Experience ministry in a cross-cultural setting;

c. Contextualize and critique your servant leader ministry philosophy within a cross-cultural setting.


2. Process

a. Study the Bible from Genesis to Revelation identifying principles of ministry; 

b. Participate in a 10 - 12 day cross-cultural trip;

c. Competencies will be assessed utilizing pass/fail criteria based upon learning contracts - no grades will be given.


SEVENTH, AVOID FINANCIAL DEBT.  Many individuals never go to seminary because they can’t afford the enormous expense.  While others either drop out due to high debt or graduate with great financial liabilities.  This situation may be exacerbated by disappointment:  A frequent response by graduates is that they did not get what they were told they would receive in the school catalog.  This is an institutional integrity issue. 

The average church in the U. S. has less than 200 people in attendance.  When students come out of school $40,000 in debt often the smaller churches are unable to pay these graduates enough money to take care of their family and their debts.  This typically results in one of the following four options:  First, The seminary graduate accepts a position from a church, secures a second means of income, and is unable to do either job well; Second, seeks employment at a larger church which may pay a higher salary; Third, accepts a smaller church salary and the family constantly struggles with financial tension; or Fourth, seeks full-time employment in another vocational field. 

CLI’S STRATEGY REGARDING SUGGESTION SEVEN.  CLI hopes to one day offer scholarships for student’s theological education. In the meantime, each student will be responsible for their entire tuition, books and all other expenses.  CLI’S two-year certificate is $14,800.  When compared to the typical four-year degree from Denver Seminary ($35,000), Dallas Seminary ($40,000) and Trinity International University ($48,000) CLI’S tuition is very reasonable.  But more importantly, when one compares the predominantly lecture approach of traditional seminary training to CLI’S five areas of training the depth and quality of CLI’S educational approach is clearly seen.


EIGHTH, FACILITATE FAMILY INTERACTION.  Studies of seminary couples have revealed that poor communicative skills develop while in school and often times don’t change upon graduation. This results in tremendous stress within the pastor/leader’s home while in ministry.  Combine this with the stress from financial pressure and you have the two greatest sources of divorce within the American home including Christians.

CLI’S STRATEGY REGARDING SUGGESTION EIGHT. To strengthen the marriage of a Christian leader will not only equip them to be a better labor with Jesus but will also strengthen the CLI graduate’s ministry.  Therefore, each student’s spouse will have regular opportunities to participate in the educational experiences of their mate’s training.  Also, Christian counseling (marital and personal) is a part of the CLI curriculum.


NINTH, FOCUS ON SPIRITUAL CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION.  Most of the present seminary educational strategies do not take into account the following common characteristics of enrolling students:  First, the lack of godly character; Second, the lack integration of Scripture with life; Third, the increasingly common dysfunctional families in which students were socialized.  Two particular assumptions by students also come into play: First, thinking that they will grow in their walk with God due to their seminary training; Second, believing they will be adequately trained for ministry if they obtain satisfactory grades in the courses the curriculum requires.          

Many seminary educational models do not employ any significant character development apart from chapel attendance and what might happen between a professor and student.

CLI’S STRATEGY REGARDING SUGGESTION NINE.  The primary focus of CLI training is to help each student grow in the Two Great Commandments.   Mt 22:34-37 - Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  The entire CLI educational experience is based upon the premise that nothing can be done without Christ (Jn 15:5 -…For apart from me you can do nothing.).  Authentic ministry only grows from an abiding relationship with Christ, which supernaturally produces godly character and fruit.


TENTH, APPLY SCRIPTURE TO EVERYDAY LIFE.  Traditional seminary training is not done in the context of life.  Full time seminarians are pulled out of typical living and working environments.  They lack the time, opportunity and the modeling necessary to experience the truth in the commonness of life.

CLI’S STRATEGY REGARDING SUGGESTION TEN.  Participants’ training will encompass their giftedness and call of God. Furthermore, they won’t need to quit their employment but will receive training in the context of their lives and work.  Most importantly, students will have a model, an example to see and interact with regarding truth, life and ministry.



CLI understands the importance of offering students a formal recognition for their training.  To make this possible, CLI has a formal partnership with Denver Seminary, a long-established and fully accredited, evangelical institution, that warmly embraces the CLI educational philosophy and spiritual transformation strategies.  Therefore, upon graduation students will receive a recognized certificate in leader development from Christian Leadership Institute and Denver Seminary.


  1. A substantial curriculum overhaul would need to take place;

  2. There would need to be a major change in how seminary faculty are trained and recruited;

  3. Many present seminary professors are very articulate in dispensing Biblical content and are aware that educational strategies need to change, but they are uncertain of what that training should be;

  4. There are seminary administrators and professors who are well aware of these issues but are unwilling to change their content, lecture driven format.  These same faculty are quick to say, Seminary is the academy, students can get the practical training in the local church.


Please select our Investing in Christian Leaders button to see how you can help CLI in this exciting opportunity to train laborers for present and future generations.


Christian Leadership Institute
1439 N. Foote Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80909

Michael F. Sabo, President