Developing Seminary students into Christian leaders

by Brad Thiessen

Before immigrating to Canada, Michelle Huen was an anti-corruption investigator in Hong Kong. John Mair earned a Master’s in Business Administration from Wilfred Laurier University, in his home town of Waterloo, Ontario. Cecilia Lau is a nurse in Vancouver, working with children who have cancer.

Michelle, John and Cecilia now find that their life paths, which seem to be miles apart, have intersected. Through classroom and internship experiences at MB Biblical Seminary’s campus in Langley, British Columbia, these three students with vastly different experiences and vocational goals are learning what it means to be a Christian leader.

Doug Berg and Ron Toews are two of the professors accompanying them on their journey. Both have experienced the challenges of being a leader: Doug was president of Bethany College in Hepburn, Saskatchewan and taught there a total of twenty-two years, while Ron was a pastor for fifteen years. As they investigate scripture passages, explore leadership theories, and share their stories, Ron and Doug are helping students like Cecilia, John and Michelle grow into effective and healthy leaders.

MB Biblical Seminary has campuses in Fresno, California; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Langley, British Columbia. At its Langley campus, MB Biblical Seminary is a member of the Associated Canadian Theological Schools (ACTS), a consortium of six seminaries.

When Ron Toews came to ACTS in 2002, the leadership courses were in need of rebuilding. Barry Pallfreyman, the professor who had designed many of the courses, had passed away unexpectedly of cancer eighteen months prior to Ron’s arrival at ACTS, and Ron was asked to redesign the CLD program for greater impact. He molded the program around a combination of classroom education and mentoring in hands-on ministry.

As the courses were re-worked, the name of the leadership stream was changed from Church Leadership Development to Christian Leadership Development. The change reflects an understanding that Christians play a leadership role beyond the walls of the church, as they are involved in para-church ministries, mission work, chaplaincy and careers in the marketplace.

Says Toews, “Long before the church establishes a single program or church-based ministry, its people are out and about in society-working, serving, learning, leading. As part of the creation mandate, God’s people have an obligation to give leadership to themselves and the situations in which God has placed them. Our hope in CLD is that our students will see themselves as leaders contributing greatly to the significant work God wants done in our world.”

Today, the Christian Leadership Development courses reflect the breadth of issues involved in development as a Christian leader. Topics include Christian leadership foundations; personal dimensions of leadership development; power, change and conflict; mentoring, team building and equipping; values, vision and strategic planning; and a multicultural leadership encounter experience.

Embodying Diversity

Each course may include teaching by several different faculty members, plus an assortment of people who serve as leaders beyond the Seminary walls. In one session, an area pastor, along with an ACTS administrator who worked for years as a private consultant, shared their experiences of leadership and answered questions from students. An evening session placed students in teams where they were faced with hands-on challenges designed to stretch their decision-making and leadership skills.

The diversity of input and activities is intentional. “We don’t want just one person’s perspective,” says Doug Berg. “The viewpoints and experiences of different people add to the richness of the courses.”

The ACTS consortium’s multi-denominational student body brings a variety of theological perspectives to classroom discussions. And because Christian Leadership Development courses are core requirements for students in the Master of Divinity and Master of Christian Arts degrees, classmates come from, and are heading toward, a variety of vocations. One result of this diversity is that students encounter a variety of issues and perspectives from classmates.

Doug Berg comments on the implications of this diversity: “As leadership concepts are discussed in class, an individual from a certain denomination or ethnic group could struggle with the implications of that understanding in their situation. For instance, the notions of servant leadership and multiplicity of leaders reflected in the New Testament are difficult to implement in some contexts. There is enlivened discussion about the concepts, but the environment of ACTS is such that all opinions and perspectives are respected.”

Mentoring – a key component

Toews recognizes that classroom learning is only one piece of a successful education. Mentoring is a significant element of the leadership program, with four of the six CLD courses including a mentoring component. In these courses, students are formed into affinity groups based on their current or anticipated vocation, such as lead pastors, youth pastors, chaplains, and those in para-church ministries.

Each affinity group is given a faculty member who mentors the group. Meetings of the groups occur face-to-face (or by teleconference call with the group for those living outside the area) and in online chatrooms. A recent meeting of Toews' new eight-member affinity group spent the best part of a Saturday on just four questions: Who are you? (Information); How are you doing? (Polite); How are you really doing? (Honest), and; What are the open questions you are living with? (Trust). Each group member was the focus of prayer following her or his sharing.

Mentoring also happens on an individual level. While enrolled in each CLD course, students commit to an eight hour per week internship in which they will get one hour per week of mentoring from, as Ron says, “someone they’d like to be.”

As part of the mentoring program, Toews and a colleague have developed a website, at The site provides tools for the students' mentors, so that the relationships can be as effective as possible.

Ron says his commitment to mentoring grows out of deep gratitude. “My life has been deeply shaped by the many women and men who took me seriously, and who prayed for me, modeled the way, challenged, and simply kept on loving me,” he says. “I wouldn’t be the person I am without the impact of their intentional mentoring in my development.”

Ron shares the illustration from As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship, where Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks write, “when you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

Seeing their lives change

John Mair, Cecilia Lau and Michelle Huen have all experienced growth through their Seminary experiences, and in the leadership courses in particular.

Cecilia says her greatest driving force is learning to provide effective spiritual care in her vocation as a nurse. “I love my job,” she says. “It’s a position of honor to be part of children’s lives for a while.”

As she has studied Christian Leadership Development, Cecilia says she has learned more about calling, servant leadership, and marketplace ministry. “The courses are a foundation. They provide me with the core values of the Christian leader and how to be a proper witness.”

During his MBA studies in Ontario, John was exposed to secular leadership theories and models. At seminary, familiar models are being given Christian application. “I’m coming to understand what the differences are between Christian and secular leadership,” he says. “I hope it will help me develop into a Christian leader, to be more effective in leadership in the local church.”

Michelle’s goal is to minister as a Christian education coordinator at her home congregation, Vancouver Chinese Mennonite Brethren Church. “I’ve been serving since 1997 in Sunday school, on the fellowship committee, and in other roles,” she says. “But I never had a full grasp of what Christian leadership was about. The Christian Leadership Development course shifted my thinking, to seeing leadership as more people-oriented, as leading people toward God.”

To learn more about MB Biblical Seminary, visit For mentoring resources, visit

Posted: January 04, 2006