Questions We Answer

We know that you grapple with many difficult questions as a Christian leader. We want to help. Complex concerns about ministry can’t be fully addressed here, of course, but we provide a starting point for engaging the deep issues. If you don’t find what you are looking for, please see if our partners can help or contact us.

Institutions

How can institutions best be kept institutionally strong and focused on their essential missions?

By thinking in a way that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition. L. Gregory Jones coined the phrase “traditioned innovation” to describe a biblical way of leading that integrates the transformative work of Christ into our ongoing identity as the people of God rooted in biblical Israel’s calling. (more…)

What is the biblical vision of healthy Christian community?

A thriving community may exhibit the features found in the Acts of the Apostles. They include networking; visibility; room for the weak; incorporating disagreement; articulacy of belief; and taking suffering seriously.

Foundations of Christian Leadership involves an in-depth study of the Book of Acts and its model of Christian community.

Why are organizations beyond the local congregation needed to sustain vital Christian community and ministry?

Thriving communities that are signs of God’s reign, to which all of our work points, need institutions because institutions allow practices to flourish. Our call is, therefore, not to malign institutions or allow them to languish; rather we are called to serve and improve them and start new ones so they can be bearers of tradition, laboratories for learning and incubators of leadership. This is a core belief of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

What trends are shaping the future of Christian ministry?

Wise leaders know that it’s important to pay attention to deep trends shaping society and its institutions. These trends give leaders the raw material that enables them to retrieve key insights and practices from their traditions, tinker with new ideas and solutions in their organizations, and adapt to substantive cultural changes.

In an essay on Faith & Leadership, L. Gregory Jones and Nathan Jones describe seven “deep trends” affecting Christian institutions: the digital revolution; a multimodal world; reconfiguring denominations and emerging forms of congregating; the questioning of institutions; economic stress; shifting vocations of laypeople; and the lure of cities.

The challenge, they write, “is to cultivate patterns of discernment, guided by the Holy Spirit, on how to adapt faithfully and creatively to them rather than to pretend they don’t exist or to acknowledge but ignore them.”

What is the future of denominations and other Christian institutions?

Some believe that denominations are a relic of a bygone era. We believe, however, that there remains significant promise for Christian denominations in the United States in the coming decades. While congregations have been and will be the primary unit for Christian community, we hold that congregations need each other and the supportive systems that denominations have traditionally created.

However, business as usual will not be enough. Denominations must confront crucial questions that enable leaders to clarify mission, vision and strategies and thus become willing to lead adaptive changes within institutions.

In this essay on Faith & Leadership, L. Gregory Jones suggests that one way to begin is to unpack four key questions about the mission and telos of denominations; their essential functions; their role in training lay and ordained leadership; and their funding models.

In addition, you can see how Christian institutional leaders from a variety of traditions answer this question in a series of video interviews with people, including Sarah Davis, Christopher L. Heuertz, Jeffrey Leath, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle and others.

Why are Christian institutions often isolated? What creates opportunities to relate effectively with one another and with other institutions in the larger society?

Many Christian institutions have a big vision, limited capacity and few strong relationships. To have lasting impact, such institutions are challenged to work differently and with each other.

Institutions create spaces that shape and pattern human life.  One of the keys to addressing the challenges of limited capacity is to strengthen relationships with partners that do similar work shaping human life. Identifying such partners requires leaders to articulate how and why their institutions do this work and to develop a means of assessing the similarities of others.

Another key to creating stronger relationships is to invite others to work with your institution on a problem that is so challenging no one is sure where to start. Tackling such “wicked” problems with several stakeholders requires both building relationships and doing important work that stretches everyone involved in healthy ways.

Christian institutions often are constrained by limited resources, which can cause fear and isolation. Focusing on building relationships in such a time may seem counter-intuitive. Yet a vision of God’s reign and a sense of how our institution contributed to God’s work pulls our eyes to a longer view that provides hope that counteracts fear.

Have more questions?

The role of institutions is just one of the topics Leadership Education addresses. Visit our complete questions page to learn more.

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