Leadership development is an important part of our collective culture.

This happens in a variety of ways nationally, regionally and locally. More information will follow over the course of this year so keep an eye out for updates.

How to Create a Culture of Leadership in Your Church

Available downloads

    The Church as a Teaching Hospital

    Mike Summerfield

    During a time of intense persecution in North Africa in the 4th Century, several Christians handed over their scriptures to the Roman Governor as a token repudiation of faith, in order to spare their lives. After the persecution ended, the church needed to decide what to do with people who they considered had been lapse in holding on to their faith. Some called for forgiveness and leniency, others derided them and declared them no longer fit for purpose. At stake was the kind of church that God would want on earth.

    Augustine of Hippo was a significant church theologian at the time and is quoted by his contemporaries as declaring that the church is best described as a hospital for sinners, rather than a school for saints. For him, the church is most Christ-like when tending to the wounds and short-comings of people, rather than seeking to find the most holy ones and giving them positions of prominence. Against him were a group known as the Donatists, who strived for a pure clergy teaching faithful church members to resist the corrupting influences of the world.

    The question is still alive today – is the church better described as a hospital or a school – and every church grapples at some point with the tension between resourcing hospital work and school work. Whenever there is an ancient tension that has been irresolvable over time, it’s best to ask the question of how we might organise ourselves to be both. Dunedin has a good model of a teaching hospital that might help inform the kind of church we are called to be.

    Every patient at a teaching hospital needs treatment, and every treatment is an opportunity to grow someone in competence and confidence to become a medical professional. If we were to consider this model as a church, then we would seek to deliberately structure ourselves and spend our resources on helping people to become proficient ministers whilst attending to the needs of congregation, the city, and the world. 

    A teaching hospital knows that the bulk of the people trained by them are destined for other places. A teaching hospital knows that there is a steady stream of new people coming at various points of their medical journey who will contribute and learn, and then either remain or leave. A teaching hospital knows that you measure success both in the lives of those receiving treatment, and in the development of those who come to learn. I think a church with a heart to be like this could emulate the goals of that hospital within its own context.

    This would largely require a shift in pragmatic thinking away from an economy of scarcity and towards an economy of excess and generosity. It would be a commitment to deliberately spending resources for the benefit of members of other churches, as we strive to increase the pool of Cross-Shaped, Bible-Literate, Culturally-Engaged church workers in the world.


    Medicine is attractive and the way that people enter the profession is well known and well-advertised. Church ministry is not really either of those things. To get people on to the journey of serving God in ministry:

    • We need to find a way to grow a culture of expectation that people will be regularly called by God to abandon their former hopes and dreams and work instead for a new goal and calling. 
    • We need a culture where it is assumed that people will be asked to spend time discerning if God is drawing them towards a different career than they first thought. We need to be a church renowned for being where people often radically change direction.
    • We need structures in place to identify when people are exploring a sense of calling and know how to get alongside them and their families in discerning what is happening.

    Pre-clinical training

    The first stage of learning medicine is learning the basics (how the knee bone connects to the thigh bone, what becomes of the broken-hearted, why guilty feet have got no rhythm (ok, not that one)). In the same way, the first stage of ministry development is learning the basics. A church that seeks to take people and shape them towards ministry needs to have things in place to start people on this journey. There needs to be a commitment to resourcing the curious, with reading, 1:1 discipleship, groups, home-groups and ministry opportunities. The whole church needs to be open to shouldering the cost of helping specific people to explore the basics as part of asking “is this for me?”

    Ideally, we would also resource people to take a light-weight introduction to theology course of some description.

    Clinical training

    Following the basics is a time of learning the necessary skills to progress. Senior medical students and junior doctors spend time learning the specific skills they need in life (where you don’t stick needles and where you do stick thermometers), and so too must emerging ministry candidates. Ultimately, some formal theological training is necessary to progress in most ministry positions. Whether it is theology, counselling, youth-work or global mission, there will be a proscribed pathway that candidates will follow.

    Just like churches support missionaries in the field, so too must a teaching-hospital-church support people in this phase. We need to find ways to resource people financially to undertake study. We need to grow a culture that supports people through what can be an immensely difficult time. We need a culture that lets people know they are important to us in their absence, and that they are free to pursue the best opportunity for them when the time comes.


    As people progress through hospitals, their day-to-day existence becomes one of managed mimicry. Everyone follows the person above them and learns from them. A church that excels in getting people into ministry will also have a commitment to structuring themselves so that there is opportunity for people to learn on the job. 

    We would need a culture of saying “yes” to ministry opportunities that might suit people who are with us and seeking to learn. We would need a culture of constantly giving things a go as people learn the skills to identify and undertake their own ministry. We would need a culture where we deliberately make room for people to learn, by getting out of the way and letting them find their feet in a supported environment.

    The more ministry partnerships we have with other churches and organisations, the easier it will be to find places for people to learn and grow whilst making a positive difference in the lives of others.


    The final phase of medical education is choosing a specialisation and completing the final, specific training. Ministry is similar in that there are many, many shapes of what can be done, and a person needs to find where they best fit their calling. We would need to be completely sold-up to trusting what God is at work doing in a particular person as we helped them find out where they needed to be. Most of them would need to be somewhere other than here. We would need resources to help people work through how they functioned and where they had the most to offer, and then create a supportive environment that helps them into that situation.


    This is the time to also explore the other specialisations that exist in a teaching hospital and make it possible for it to undertake its function. There are many, many roles that support the workings of the hospital (administration, nursing, social work, technical support) and likewise a church needs those roles covered to achieve its purpose. There will need to be a group of people who stay. Who own the purpose of the church and seek to make it happen. The general congregation that seeks to see people built up and sent out, and then comes back the next Sunday to carry on as normal.