Are Seminaries Making the Grade?

Does the modern seminary provide adequate training for relevant ministry? Peter Wagner says it's time to change the way we prepare students for practical ministry.

I was recently talking to a graduate of the seminary where I taught for 30 years. He said, "Peter, I spent $8,000 in seminary to learn Greek and Hebrew. Since graduating, I haven't used it once."

It is hard to get a statement like this out of your mind. I was going to ask, "Well, why didn't you choose other courses?" But before I did, I knew the answer would be, "Because they are required for graduation."

Then I started listing the megachurch pastors across the United States who came to my mind, and it occurred to me that the majority of them minister to thousands of people week after week without having opened a Greek New Testament or a Hebrew Old Testament in years, if ever.

What is going on? Just ask almost any pastor who graduated from seminary or Bible college and who has been in the ministry for five years or more, and almost all of them will say something to the effect that "I wish I had spent more time in school learning how to do practical ministry, rather than learning the subtleties of theology, the dates and details of church history, the nuances of Greek and Hebrew exegesis or the philosophy of ethics."

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These are not signs of good health in our current modus operandi for ministerial training. Many institutions that are designed to train people to do ministry have a curriculum that features 80 percent theory and 20 percent practice. And even the practical parts are frequently more directed toward maintenance of an existing institution than toward dynamic, boundary-breaking, entrepreneurial, Spirit-empowered, visionary growth.

George Barna, president of Barna Research Group, a California-based Christian organization recognized for its analysis of church and faith-related issues, understands the limitations of the academic model. Regarding the training of leaders he asks, "But how will those leaders be identified, developed and nurtured for effective ministry leadership? Is there a role for the seminary in the future of the church? If so, what should that seminary look like, and what would its ideal role be? If churches continue to rely on seminaries--or some alternative developmental structure--to provide them with leaders, it is imperative that the leader training grounds be reshaped. Mere tinkering with a broken system won't provide the answer; creating a holistic, strategic and intelligently crafted process is needed."

I cannot help but agree with Barna that some radical change in the way that individuals are being trained for practical ministry needs to take place. It sounds as if a long-standing paradigm needs changing. In fact, I had been thinking this way for some time before June 6, 1998, the day God gave me a life-changing prophetic word through Cindy Jacobs, president of Generals of Intercession.

God told me that I was to start my own school and that the curriculum would be vastly different from anything that I had ever imagined. In obedience, I began developing the Wagner Leadership Institute (WLI). This is such a radically new paradigm for training pastors and other leaders that I am sure it couldn't have emerged from my own wisdom, shaped by three decades in traditional academia. It had to come as revelation from God!

The Scope of WLI. The first year of WLI was 1999. My goal was 50 students by the end of June and 150 by the end of the year, and both goals were met. I am expecting 500 students by the end of 2000, and my vision is for 15,000 students.

In 1999 we taught nine courses, and I am hoping that we teach 30 to 40 courses this year. In February we kicked off WLI in Australia, and I believe that God wants it up and running in 50 nations, all thoroughly contextualized to the local culture and to the needs of each particular country.

One of my first goals in designing WLI was to free it from as many of the built-in, burdensome restrictions of traditional academia as possible. As a result, we are not fettered by required courses, resident students, resident faculty, theological party lines, denominational control, faculty tenure, library facilities, influence of large donors, academic restrictions, institutional self-centeredness, financial endowments, competition with other institutions, academic accreditation or geographical limitations.

Our goal: impartation. With the liberty this provides, WLI can concentrate on providing the students with what will help them the most to be effective in ministry. I carefully instruct my faculty that their primary assignment in class is not to transmit information. Rather, it is to impart to the students vision and anointing for practical ministry. Certainly large amounts of information do get communicated, but it is secondary to the spiritual transactions that take place in the classes.

This mind-set has two immediate implications. First, academic credentials are not prerequisites for faculty recruitment. My desire is to recruit a faculty of men and women of God who have known track records of serving as effective apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

The second implication is that this kind of education does not require either exams or grades. When a student spends 15 hours in a classroom with leading prayer and prophetic ministers such as Ted Haggard, Bill Hamon, Jack Deere, Cindy Jacobs, Dutch Sheets, Alice Smith or Chuck Pierce, I know of no way to grade the impartation that takes place.

High entrance requirements. Entrance requirements for WLI are higher than for most similar institutions. True, there are no academic requirements for any of the four levels: associate, bachelor, master and doctoral. However, the minimum requirement is that students must be no less than 24 years of age and have at least two years of ministry experience. WLI is an in-service educational program, not a pre-service educational program.

Our purpose is not to train people who think they might go into ministry some day in the future. Such people do need training, and there are many other institutions from which they can choose to get help. All WLI students are currently in ministry, whether lay ministry or professional ministry.

This tends to level off the student body, alleviating the need to hold separate classes for students in each different level. Even though some students in a class may be working on their associate of practical ministry diploma, and others in the same class may be working on their doctor of practical ministry. They are all experienced in ministry, and they all enrich one another. The median age of students is currently mid-40s.

Placement in the various levels is done on the basis of age, experience in ministry and maturity, as opposed to academic achievement. At the same time, previous work in areas related to ministry is not ignored.

For example, a pastor with a master's of divinity degree who is at least 27 and who has been in ministry for five years or more would immediately be admitted into the doctoral program and in many cases eligible for some advanced standing. While we do not take transfer credits from other schools, work in other schools can be a consideration for advanced standing in all programs, up to 50 percent.

Accumulating Training Units. If we don't give grades, how does a student move toward graduation? By accumulating "training units" (TUs). In the master's program, for example, 120 training units are required for graduation.

There are many ways that students can earn training units. They can enroll in classroom courses, they can attend certified conferences, they can do mission trips, they can enroll in seminars, or they can arrange to use courses in affiliate institutions.

Students can also accumulate training units through home-based studies. For example, they could secure the audio or videotapes of a conference on a subject they're interested in but that they might have missed. The WLI office will consider this for a certain number of TUs.

The same thing can be done with books for a reading program or with tapes available from prominent ministries around the country. Certified home-based studies are listed in the WLI home-based studies catalog. Home-based studies can comprise up to 50 percent of the bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs, and up to 80 percent of associate's.

Classroom courses. The premier vehicle for WLI training is classroom courses. A classroom course is a 15-hour experience with one of the faculty. Most often it is 2-1/2 days, with classes only in the mornings and afternoons.

This is where much of the impartation takes place. As they teach their subject, most of the faculty pray for the students, minister to their needs, invite the presence of the Holy Spirit into the classroom, eat lunches with the students and develop personal relationships as much as possible.

Beyond the 15 hours, students read 500 pages of related material, they report on the books, and they then do a self-evaluation paper, which shows how the experience has related to their personal life and ministry.

At least twice a year we schedule two-week Fast Tracks at our base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Each of these two-week blocks contains five back-to-back, 2-1/2 day periods for classroom courses, and in each of the periods we schedule two or three courses simultaneously.

It is during the Fast Tracks that WLI seems more like a traditional school. Many students come for the entire two weeks. They sit in class, eat lunch and hang out in the evenings with other students. Bonding takes place and lifelong friendships are formed. Virtually every student reaches surprising new levels in their personal life and in their ministry during that relatively short period of time.

Concentrations. Because the WLI students are mature and already in ministry, we believe they are the best judges of what courses will help them the most. Consequently, there are no required courses.

The selection is enormous. WLI has 30 concentrations, many of them up and running at the present time. Each concentration is under a coordinator who determines which courses will count for a certificate of proficiency in that concentration.

Twenty-four TUs are required for each concentration, and some coordinators are contemplating advanced concentrations as well. Students can elect to take as many or as few concentrations as they wish since they are working toward diplomas in any of the levels.

Currently the most active concentration is in prophecy, coordinated by Cindy Jacobs. Joining Cindy on that faculty are Chuck Pierce, Dutch Sheets, Bill Hamon, Gary Greig and Eric Belcher. A Prophecy Concentration Fast Track was held in August, during which four back-to-back courses for the impartation of prophecy were taught. Rarely, if ever, has such a 10-day opportunity to learn about and minister in prophecy been offered in our country. I personally coordinate the concentration in prayer, and we did our first three-course Prayer Fast Track in June, with Chuck Pierce, Alice Smith and me teaching.

Regional extensions. My plan is to spread WLI geographically across the country through regional centers. Jack Deere, WLI dean of extension, is currently implementing the establishment of regional centers. Each regional center is anchored by a regional assistant dean who provides a regular venue for classes in the area.

The advantage of regional centers is that students can commute to the 2-1/2 day classroom courses while living at home, instead of going to Colorado Springs and staying in a hotel. At this writing, no regional classes are scheduled as of yet; but I hope to announce 10-15 of them before the end of the year. My goal is to have WLI classes within commuting distance for 60 percent of pastors in the United States.

Affiliations. As I have mentioned, one of the salient characteristics of WLI is that we do not see ourselves in competition with other institutions serving the New Apostolic Reformation. Each apostolic network regards training ministers as one of its primary responsibilities, and a wide variety of schools has developed to meet differing needs. So far, WLI has officially affiliated with 13 schools, in each case arriving at agreements that open doors for us to add value to each other.

Possibilities for positive affiliation are almost endless. The apostolic leaders with whom WLI is now related include Bob Beckett, Greg Dickow, Naomi Dowdy, Bill Hamon, Lawrence Khong, David Cannistraci, Rice Broocks, Frank Damazio, Mel Mullen, Paul Laursen, Ernest Chan, Larry Kreider and Lawrence Kennedy.

Accreditation. It is interesting that these schools serving the New Apostolic Reformation are not seeking traditional academic accreditation. This is one of the major departures from the past in our new paradigm of ministry impartation.

This aversion to accreditation is not entirely attributed to default. A good bit of intentionality has entered the picture. Many apostolic leaders have concluded that the accredited institutions with which they are the most familiar are, by and large, old wineskins, either unwilling or unable to adapt to the new realities of the Holy Spirit.

I have found, however, that the leaders of these apostolic schools do have a deep desire for mutual accountability with peer institutions. In order to help meet that need, I founded the Apostolic Council for Educational Accountability in 1998. This is a dynamic creative alternative to accreditation.

It's only the beginning. Receiving a prophetic word about Wagner Leadership Institute and then seeing such a radical institution come into being has given me a funny feeling. I started WLI when I was 68, having logged more than 40 years of active ministry. As I look back, I have done many things through those four decades by the grace and through the power of God. But the concept of WLI as what I am calling a new paradigm for ministry impartation and the enormous potential it has for adding value to huge numbers of those called by God for ministry is awesome.

The funny feeling is that I now see all I have done in the past as merely my personal training ground for this new career, which began at age 68. The best is yet to come!

Peter Wagner is chancellor of Wagner Leadership Institute and president of Global Harvest Ministries, both located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Where to Turn for Ministry Training

Following are just a few of the schools and institutes available to those who desire training and impartation for ministry.

Antioch Christian Training School International (ACTS International)

Alan Langstaff, apostle

Dale Sisam, president

14100 Valley View Road

Eden Prairie, MN 55344

Tel: 612-937-6101


Christian International Ministry

Bill Hamon, apostle

Tim Hamon, dean

P.O. Box 9000

Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

Tel: 850-231-2600


D.C.F.I. House-to-House Church Planting and Leadership School

(Dove Christian Fellowship International)

Larry Kreider, apostle

Brian Sauder, director

1924 W. Main St.

Ephrata, PA 17522

Tel: 717-738-3751

Web site:


Portland Bible College

Frank Damazio, president

Ken Malmin, dean

Church Leadership Training Institute

9510 NE Freemont

Portland, OR 97220

Tel: 503-255-3540


The King's Seminary

Jack Hayford, president

Paul G. Chappell, executive vice president and chief academic officer

14800 Sherman Way

Van Nuys, CA 91405-2233

Tel: 818-779-8040

Web site:

Victory Bible Institute

Billy Joe Daugherty, apostle

Victory Christian Center

John Fenn, executive director

7700 S. Lewis

Tulsa, OK 74136-7700

Tel: 918-491-7603


Wagner Leadership Institute

C. Peter Wagner, chancellor

Jack D. Sytsema, dean

11005 State Hwy. 83 N.

Colorado Springs, CO 80921

Tel: 719-262-9922


For a complete list of schools, log on to the Ministries Today Web site at

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