School of Leadership completes its first year

‘Our work among ordinands has shown how formative the years in a college can be, yet few colleges have offered much in terms of leadership development.’ –James Lawrence, CPAS

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It has never been easy to lead a church. Jesus models and teaches a rather counter-cultural style of leadership, one that does not abdicate responsibility for exercising proper influence but yet is thoroughly focused on being a servant to others. A key challenge facing the Church is how to forge a model of leadership that is authentically Christian, which draws on the best wisdom from other sectors, and which is confident enough to shape the wider leadership discourse.

In 2015, Trinity responded to the increasingly complex leadership needs of the church by establishing a School of Leadership, in partnership with evangelical mission agency CPAS.

The birth of a School of Leadership

‘For some years now, our students had been asking for more time for dedicated leadership training and development alongside their existing study programmes,’ says Ineson. ‘A School of Leadership would give us the opportunity to delve deep into important issues. It would inform, and be informed by, our existing offerings and run alongside our emphasis on practical formation and corporate theological reflection. This programme sets us apart as a college responding to the challenge of the current mission context.’

Trinity has had a long-standing connection with the Anglican evangelical mission agency CPAS, which works through leadership development to enable churches to help every person discover the good news of Jesus Christ. When Emma Ineson became principal at Trinity in 2014 and began to work toward establishing a School of Leadership for Trinity students, CPAS was a natural partner in that endeavour.

‘The leadership aspect of the ordained role is increasingly complex,’ says CPAS Leadership Principal James Lawrence. ‘Changes in society and the Church of England mean clergy face some significant challenges. At CPAS, we’re keen to be involved in the School of Leadership because our work among ordinands has shown how formative the years in a college can be, yet few colleges have offered much in terms of leadership development. We were excited about the opportunity to intentionally invest in this aspect of their formation over a two-year period.’

What does the School of Leadership offer?

The School of Leadership offers two tracks, one for first-year students, and a second level for second-year students. During their two years of training, students gather in Trinity’s chapel fortnightly for School of Leadership sessions, which run between September and April and cover topics in the areas of leading yourself, leading people, leading change, and leading mission. Topics could range from personal development issues, such as ‘Developing courage’ or ‘Growing in confidence’, to practical topics that include ‘Handling conflict’ and ‘Pioneering as a leader—church planting and fresh expressions’.

The majority of the sessions are led by CPAS Leadership Specialist Ian Parkinson, who joined the CPAS team last January after thirty-two years in church leadership. He is author of Reignite: Seeing God Rekindle Life and Purpose in Your Church, which reflects upon his experiences in helping to lead the turnaround of two different local churches in the north of England. He has also worked for twelve years as Regional Director of New Wine in the North, overseeing leadership training and offering consulting for church leaders. He is passionate about coaching and mentoring other leaders, especially those involved in turning around less promising church situations and those who want to see a missional culture developed in their churches.

‘I want to see missional leaders raised up,’ says Parkinson. ‘When I started out, there was nothing like [the School of Leadership]. I had to learn the hard way, and I made plenty of mistakes. I wanted to give people something of a head-start, to short circuit some of the mistakes I’ve made, to help people have a set of tools, an interpretative framework, a leadership map, that will give them a good foundation as they embark on the leadership journey themselves.’

In this way, students are able to gain wisdom from experienced practitioners who have travelled certain paths and taken the time to reflect on their experiences. They can hear stories and gain ideas about how to handle potential challenges and best serve and lead their future congregations.

‘I’ve been impressed by the students’ appetite to learn, by their level of engagement,’ says Parkinson. ‘It’s really encouraging.’

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How does this impact future church leaders?

Second-year ordinand Jo Purle came to Trinity from Canterbury Diocese after working for ten years as a qualified nurse and six years of mission work in Uganda. She imagines herself next working in a deprived community, and ‘thinking outside the box’ about how best to minister.

‘Personally, I feel passionate about being trained not just to help maintain the Anglican church,’ she says, ‘but to be a dynamic leader who senses where God is leading and has the courage and equipping to lead a church forward, to explore new ways of being and doing church, learning together in an authentic community of faith.’

She was excited in one School of Leadership session to hear Ian Parkinson tell the story of his experience with a church plant on a council estate. ‘The church released eight people to move into the council estate to live incarnationally,’ Jo explains. ‘They got involved in the local community, built relationships, led home groups, set up practical initiatives, and people began to come to faith. It was very contextual—being observant about the context you’re reaching. It’s about looking at the needs of that community and living alongside them, making it your community, and starting a church.’

After joining Trinity’s community last September, Neil Shepherd (pictured above, middle) has completed the first year of School of Leadership sessions. The Bristol ordinand had worked in children, youth, and family ministries at churches for thirteen years, while at times working as a full-time teacher in secondary schools, until he felt called to pursue ordination. He senses God calling him to church planting work, to ministry in urban areas where the church is in decline.

‘It’s been great having the theory combined with Ian’s practical experience in turning churches toward growth,’ Neil says about the sessions. ‘He tells practical stories—how does this apply? How do you really do this stuff? As we get to the end of the first year—the beginnings had been more theoretical, but now we’re getting into how to walk a PCC through vision development. How do you have them be part of the whole process? Or, how do you build teams that can go on and plant a church? That’s been really helpful. And Ian is really open to our questions. He provides plenty of time for that.’

Over the summer, Neil will complete a summer placement in an urban area of Bristol, where many empty church buildings mark John Wesley’s history in the area, but indicate the lack of leadership there today. ‘It will be a good experience for me to think about how to approach ministry there,’ Neil says, ‘and then come back to the School of Leadership in September and bring new questions.’

Ultimately, students in Trinity’s School of Leadership have a unique opportunity to think more deeply about leadership, to develop a framework and ideas in the context of their theological training, which should then make them more effective ministers when they embark into full-time ministry. As James Lawrence explains it, in the end, ‘The primary driver for developing missional leadership is our desire to see churches fruitful in reaching people with the gospel.’

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