Leadership matters

Published: January 24, 2023

David Boshart
David Boshart (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)

By David Boshart, President, PhD

In all the places I have traveled around the world in the past year, the message is the same: Leadership matters, and AMBS is needed. In the summer of 2021, we began asking church leaders a focus question: “What is the most meaningful thing AMBS can do to support current and future leaders for the church?” The responses to that question are changing how we educate leaders. While our theological programs are very strong, we’ve come to understand that we need to give more attention to developing skills for practical administrative leadership and community engagement. 

As part of this work, we are asking an important and foundational question in a new way: “What makes leadership Anabaptist?” This leads to two more important questions: “How is Anabaptist leadership understood in the global Anabaptist context?” and “When we have a clear picture of the values that make leadership Anabaptist, how can we be sure that the education we are offering results in effective Anabaptist leadership for the challenges leaders are facing today and will face tomorrow?”

Group of students smiling at the camera
These guest students were among 14 who took an AMBS course in South Korea in September via a new partnership between AMBS and the Nehemiah Institute for Christian Studies in Seoul: Sanghwan Ko, Hansoo Kim, J. Lee, Dongeun Kim, Youngsoo Kang, Core Adjunct Faculty James Krabill, KyeHyun Kim, Sun Ju Moon (MDiv 2011), Hyojin Chang, JuneHo Han. (Credit: Hansoo Kim)

Church leaders around the world have invited AMBS to provide leadership education due to our historic scholarly tradition in service to the church and the Anabaptist witness of our many alumni. It’s both an honor and humbling to be asked to support the global Anabaptist community in strengthening the Anabaptist identity of leaders and congregations all around the world. 

Our global engagements continue to widen and deepen. For the first time in AMBS history, the majority of our students are from outside of the United States and Canada. Whether studying on campus or at a distance, all of our students widen and deepen our thinking about effective Anabaptist leadership in several ways:

  • Students from diverse communities offer case studies from places where the church is thriving and where it is struggling. These cases highlight what is required of leaders to meet the challenges of this time with resilience.
  • Sharing experiences from many diverse contexts in our classrooms adds complexity to our understanding of the challenging issues the church is facing in many places.  
  • Engaging with students from many contexts reminds us that they come with vastly different kinds of preparation for the leadership roles to which they are being called. Offering graduate-level, undergraduate-level, nondegree, short- and long-term, face-to-face and distance-friendly theological education options are all necessary means of educating leaders for the church today. 

AMBS is responding to what we are hearing from church leaders with new programs and projects: 

  • When I travel as President of AMBS, I am curating oral interviews with Anabaptist church leaders in Mennonite World Conference to understand what effective Anabaptist leadership looks like in a wide range of contexts.
  • The first cohort of students in our new Doctor of Ministry in Leadership program began studies in January. The new program will meet the goals of ministry leaders (1) who want to refresh their leadership skills after being in ministry for some time; (2) who attended non-Anabaptist seminaries and would like to study Anabaptist leadership; and/or (3) who have been in general ministry for some time and would like to develop a particular specialization. The program’s competency-based format aligns well with AMBS’s existing educational philosophy of “knowing, doing and being.” The curriculum also will invite students to think globally about what Anabaptist leadership means.
  • In support of our new DMin, each Teaching Faculty member has been invited to contribute to a three-year research and publishing project on the nature of Anabaptist leadership.
  • In 2023, we will develop a new applied leadership curriculum with a menu of flexible learning modules that will address practical administrative and organizational skills needed for the challenges the church is facing today. Luis Tapia Rubio (MDiv 2021) will direct this initiative with the guidance and support of an advisory panel of church, business, organizational and local leaders along with members of our Teaching Faculty. 

As you can see, we are listening to the church and attempting to respond to the most urgent and relevant needs that church leaders are naming. AMBS has been given a wonderful calling to educate followers of Jesus to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world. But this work is not for the faint of heart. As Jamie Pitts, one of our professors, told me recently, “What we are doing at AMBS is hard, terrifying … and it’s really fun!” I completely agree, and on further reflection I would add that it is all three of these things — hard, terrifying and fun — at the same time, all the time!

Hear about our Global Initiatives | Alumni Third Thursdays recording

At a recent Third Thursdays event, Janeen Bertsche Johnson, MDiv, Alumni Director, interviewed David Boshart, PhD, President; Henok Mekonin, MA, Global Leadership Collaborative Specialist; and Joe Sawatzky, PhD, Global Leadership Collaborative Project Specialist; about global initiatives at AMBS.

Third Thursdays are once-a-month online conversations with AMBS faculty and staff members in which a selected member of the AMBS learning community is interviewed for 35 minutes, followed by a short time of open conversation.

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