5 Classes Seminaries Need to Teach

Yesterday was a great day. I had lunch at one of my favorite BBQ restarants with my favorite seminary professor. Dr. Don Sunukjian has been a great role model and influence for me in ministry. This is evidenced by the fact that I still remember and use his preaching principles 17 years after taking his class. 

Dr. Sunukjian gathered a handful of former students and local leaders to ask us about ministry out there in the "real world." He just sat there and listened to us. At last, the student has become the teacher.

Dr. Sunukjian is the chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership department of Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. They have realized that their "Practical Theology" department has ceased to actually be practical in current ministry settings. Talbot has a great curriculum track for preachers. I believe Dr. Sunukjian is THE BEST preaching prof in the nation. However, Talbot doesn't have a good program for the other aspects of ministry.

Seminaries are criticized by many as being irrelevant today. Some pastors even call it “Cemetery.” It’s true that my seminary education didn’t give me all the tools that I needed to be an effective pastor. But I still believe in that formal education is part of a good foundation for ministry. 
Talbot is thinking of developing another curriculum track for the other aspects of ministry. Dr. Sunukjian asked us what we thought was missing from our seminary education. He is thinking of adding four or five classes to the curriculum to fill in the gaps.

As I sat there at that lunch, I furiously scribbled a page and a half of ideas. After everyone else left, I stayed back and talked with Don for an hour about what I thought was missing in the seminary curriculum. I suggested five classes that seminaries need to teach.



Nothing ruins a church faster than an unhealthy leader. In order to be a good leader of people and of an organization, you have to be able to lead yourself well. 

The goal of this class would be to help pastors and leaders grow in self-awareness and gain personal development skills and habits. This would give leaders a strong foundation and framework for a lifetime of healthy ministry.

Some potential topics would be:

  • self-awareness
  • finding your “sweet spot” in ministry
  • knowing your calling, gifts and strengths (APEST, DISC, MBTI, Strength Finders, etc.)
  • knowing your weaknesses and blind spots
  • developing a "Life Plan"
  • personal productivity habits
  • soul care to avoid discouragement and burnout
  • understanding personal motivations, wounds and idols

    - "Living Forward" by Michael Hyatt
    - “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey
    - “4 Obssessions of an Extraordinary Executive” by Patrick Lencioni


If you don’t do things on purpose, you are doing it by accident. The second class I suggested would focus on what Will Mancini calls the "Vision Frame." The goal is to have a tool that will give you extreme clarity for your ministry. No matter what role you play in ministry, you have to be able to be clear about the vision and direction of the ministry. This class would give leaders the tools to create a clear ministry philosophy and plan that they can implement in their churches and organizations.

Topics would include:

  • the "Kingdom Concept" (which is the nexus of your leadership passion, the collective potential of your congregation, and the needs of your community) 
  • developing a mission statement (What are we doing?)
  • identifying core values (Why are we doing it?)
  • developing a ministry philosophy and process (How are we doing it?)
  • developing a ministry plan with measures and milestones (When will we celebrate?)
  • the importance of creating and protecting a healthy church culture

    - "Church Unique" by Will Mancini
    - "Built to Last" by Jim Collins
    - “The Purpose Driven Church” by Rick Warren
    - “Visioneering” by Andy Stanley


This is the one class that everyone in ministry needs. No matter what you do in ministry, you need to develop leaders. Leaders are volunteers, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, deacons and elders, part-time staff, ministry directors, pastors and church planters. 

Developing, equipping and managing leaders is vital to the effectiveness of the church. But they don't teach you how in seminary. The goal of this course is to give pastors the tools to create and develop a leadership pipeline in their churches or ministries. 

This class would cover the following potential topics:

  • What to look for in a leader or staff member
  • How to recruit, train, and nurture volunteers
  • How to develop and equip lay people for ministry
  • How to hire the right staff member
  • How to manage and lead an effective staff team
  • How to develop job descriptions
  • Mistakes you want to avoid in staff hires
  • Developing a Leadership Pipeline

    - "The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni
    - “The Disciple Shift” by Jim Putman
    - “The One-Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard


The previous class focused on leading people. This class would focus on leading and managing the organization. The goal of this class is to help you be able to develop systems and processes for effective ministry.

Some potential topics are:

  • Church systems (worship planning, volunteers, small groups, finance, leadership development, outreach, discipleship, and assimilation)
  • Governance, policies, and legal issues
  • Working with an elder board
  • Working with staff
  • Administration (how to work with an admin assistant)
  • Communication (internal and external)
  • The use of technology and social media
  • Facilities

    - "The E-Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber
    - “The One Thing” by Gary Keller
    - “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni


This final class is about leading the church into the future. It starts with an understanding of where you are and where you want to be. It answers the question, "How do we get from Point A to Point B?" Of course there is a minefield between Point A and Point B that you should avoid. But who has the map?

Some potential topics:

  • Growth Barriers (35-65-125-200-400-600-1000-etc)
  • Leadership dynamics at different stages
  • How to transition a declining or dying church
  • How to prepare for a new pastorate
  • Strategic planning for special initiatives
  • Stewardship and fund raising for special projects

    - "Taking your church to the Next Level" by Gary McIntosh
    - “Good to Great” by Jim Collins
    - “The Next Generation Leader” by Andy Stanley
    - “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni
    - “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni

What do you think? What else do you think that Seminaries need to teach? What other books should be required reading for pastors?