Sherwood Lingenfelter is an adjunct faculty member at Alliance Theological Seminary. The following interview was conducted at the Rockland County campus of Alliance Theological Seminary while student cohorts were gathered to take classes for the Doctor of Ministry degree.
What is your role at Alliance Theological Seminary?
I’ve been coming since 2011 to teach in the Doctor of Ministry program, and the course that I teach is the second one in the program series on leadership skills. The goal of the program is to help men and women study their own leadership crises and learn from their own crises how to be more effective. So, in a real sense, it’s opening the encyclopedia of leadership failure and looking in to see what you can learn from it.
Are there any trends that you have noticed in what your students struggle with most when they examine themselves as leaders?
Well, the people that come into the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary are very diverse, and they even come from different levels of ministry. And because we ask them to bring a crisis story with them, and they’re required to do that, we’re really helping them to look into their own life story and into their own crises. So, from my perspective, everybody has a crisis, but that doesn’t mean their ministry is in crisis. It means that there was a time when there was a crisis. So as we look at that, I could say there are some trends. One of the things that we find is that, in crisis, most people use power to try to get out of it. And sometimes they use that power in a way that could be considered exploitative. And, at most, fifty percent—fifty-two percent fall into that pattern. Others are so troubled and so discouraged in times of crisis that they withdraw. Sometimes they withdraw temporarily from the ministry; sometimes they quit completely.
We’ve found that maybe about thirty percent fall in that category—they’re suffering some kind of withdrawal. And then the last pattern would be that they’ve gone through the crisis, they’ve stayed in there, but the issues haven’t been resolved, and they’re still suffering. And so their suffering continues. And what we’re trying to do in the course is to help them to understand how the crisis is an opportunity to reflect, to look, to learn, and to change that pattern from any one of those ends to learning how, in Christ, to deal both with authority and with risk and vulnerability, because authority and vulnerability always go together. If you think of it simply in our Lord’s life, he said, “All authority is given to me in heaven and earth.” And then he said, “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciples.” And so the cross was his vulnerability. He went to the cross. He suffered death. He went through that on our behalf. And so we have authority, but we also have risk, and it’s when we bring them together and use them in a meaningful way that we can come out of things flourishing as Christ has flourished for us.
I know you have experience with other seminaries—other programs. What would you say is unique to Alliance Theological Seminary or sets it apart?
Well, one of the things you have at the Alliance Theological Seminary is you have a really deep commitment to the spiritual formation of leaders. That doesn’t mean that other seminaries don’t do that, but in this program, we begin with every person coming into it. Men and women alike go through a process whereby they focus on and see what are the areas in their lives where they’ve suffered in the past, where they have been tempted and sometimes really abused and wounded, and then we help them become healed before they go on. And then, in the course that they take with Marlena and me, they’re looking at their crises in their ministries and how those wounds have maybe played out in those crises and how that might have led them to do things that they regret today. And then we look for healing there. How can we be healed? How can we go back into ministry in a way that’s restorative and hopeful and looking forward to all that we can be in Christ? Then the next step is to look at the great opportunities that are out there. And Warren Bird and others—Chuck—in the program help them to begin to see the great opportunities they have for a significant impact in ministry.
What are some of the things you most enjoy about teaching at Alliance Theological Seminary?
I’ve always enjoyed the students, and I enjoy my colleagues. Martin Sanders is a wonderful person to work with. Kevin Kriesel is a beautiful support member of the team. They always make me feel welcome. They make sure that I’m well cared for, and they care for the students. They love the students. And so it’s a place where the faculty team is great and the students have been a real blessing to us.
Building on that, in speaking to people who are considering participating in the Doctor of Ministry program at Alliance Theological Seminary, what are some of the things you’d want them to know? What would you tell them to expect?
Well, this is a program that’s really for people who have been in ministry, who have probably suffered in ministry, but who have ambitions to keep on growing and become all that God wants them to be in Christ. And this program really understands that is a key issue and wants to help them keep on building, focus on Christ, focus on being all that they can be in Christ, and focus on moving ahead and seeing the things that God is doing in the world today and how they can be a part of that.