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July 1976 · Vol. 5 No. 3 · pp. 27–29 

Training for Leadership: The Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary

George G. Konrad

The enlarged Seminary constituency, internal growth, as well as the increasing call by our churches for more trained leaders, indicate the need for self-assessment and goal projections. A recently completed self-study and the establishment of a Master Planning Committee have aided the Seminary in identifying several areas of concern.


The training for church leadership has been an enduring concern of our churches. This is adequately demonstrated in the development of private high schools, Bible institutes, a Bible college, two liberal arts colleges, and now a seminary. The motivation for these educational ventures was not to develop a professional, theological elite, but rather to train individuals for Christian ministry in obedience to Christ’s commission to proclaim the Gospel at home and abroad.

But why a Mennonite Brethren seminary? Although Mennonite Brethren churches share many theological beliefs with “mainstream evangelical Protestantism,” we also possess a view of the church, an understanding of the Christian life as discipleship, and a perspective of the Scriptures which are sufficiently distinct that we must seek to perpetuate them. During the first century of our existence our cultural homegeneity assured the preservation of our Anabaptist distinctives. That sociological unity, however, has increasingly dissipated and we can no longer look to ethnic solidarity to preserve and perpetuate our faith.

Our name, “Mennonite,” reflects our general Anabaptist heritage and commitment. This legacy is God’s gift and must continue to inform us and remain part of our self-understanding. It identifies us with the protestant movements of the sixteenth century and also sets us apart from them. The term “Brethren” speaks of our uniqueness within the general Mennonite constituency. We recognize that our history also includes specific ethical, evangelical, and pietistic streams that have influenced us. Some of these characteristics are identified in the catalogue references to experiential faith, a disciplined church, and evangelism and missions.

Although our past informs us, we are now faced with another crucial task. Educators are well aware of the challenge of translating theoretical goals {28} into practical educational models. What does the Anabaptist view of the church, the Scriptures, and discipleship mean for the teaching program and methodology of the Seminary? As we espouse Christian community at the local church level and discipleship as a response of obedience to the Lordship of Christ, can we do less than provide genuine Christian community and authentic Christian life-styles on the Seminary Campus? What are the program structures, course offerings, field education experiences, relationships between faculty and students, and teaching methodologies that best reflect our spiritual orientation and commitment? It is not enough to model our program on that of other seminaries or universities. We seek a basic consonance between our beliefs and the total seminary experience.


The Seminary must also be oriented to the society of which it is a part—it must be culture-related. As a graduate school it responds to the general educational level of the congregations which are its constituency. Additionally, it wrestles with the issues facing our contemporary world in which the graduates will minister. These issues at different times may include war and peace, abortion, the use of power, charismatic gifts, the liberation of the oppressed, etc. The Seminary is mandated to be at the growing edge of social concerns with theological awareness.

The theological response to social issues finds its basic point of reference and orientation in the Bible, the Word of God. This is our ultimate authority for faith and life. This means that we must be serious and responsible students of the Scriptures to find God’s answers for contemporary questions. We are a “biblical” seminary.

But to be biblical means even more than finding answers to social issues in the Bible or engaging in theological debates. At the heart of it there comes a call to personal obedience to our Lord through the Word.


The Seminary student, while subjected to academic disciplines and demands, constantly faces the challenge to follow Christ. A primary aim of this training is to promote spiritual growth and maturity under the Lordship of Christ.

The Seminary is experiencing student growth, both in the spiritual life of the individual student and in numbers. Beginning with 24 students in 1955, it enrolled over 90 in 1975. During that period Mennonite Brethren students increased from 22 to 37. In addition there were 52 non-Mennonite Brethren students in 1975. Canadian students have consistently participated in the program with five (23% of M.B.s) in 1955 and 10 (27%) in 1975. For two years (1968, 1969) there were more Mennonite Brethren in the program from Canada than from the United States.

While the student body is growing we also are aware that substantial numbers of churches are without pastors. A growing number of congregations have found it necessary to call pastors from non-Mennonite Brethren denominations. We are, therefore, faced with the challenge of providing training for an even larger number of persons to meet the needs of our constituency. {29}

The increasing number of students from non-Mennonite Brethren churches also bears scrutiny. For many years pastors in our churches have benefited from training received in other seminaries. Now, as the only graduate seminary in the San Joaquin Valley, we have the unusual opportunity to serve other denominations. Non-Mennonite Brethren students witness to the uniqueness of the Seminary community and the significance of their training.

An increasing student body, however, makes additional financial demands on our constituency. Each student is heavily subsidized. Are we willing to continue in this direction? The benefits are obvious, both for the internal life of the school and for the churches whom students will serve. Perhaps other ways will need to be established to compensate for these additional fiscal demands.


The Seminary belongs to the churches and exists to train local church leadership. This continues to be its major emphasis. There is no reason for our existence apart from the need of churches at home and abroad. We also recognize that with our enlarged constituency, more effort will need to be made to keep our churches informed of their school in Fresno. Geographical separation can become a barrier to emotional identity and spiritual support.

New challenges relating to local church needs are also facing the Seminary. One of these arises out of the increasing deterioration of the family and the pastoral demands for growing involvement in marriage and family counseling. Whereas preaching remains central to the pastoral role, much time is spent in working with couples and families in seeking resolutions to marital and family conflict. Serious consideration is being given by the Seminary to provide more substantial training in this area.

The Seminary is committed to work for the churches. Our intent is to train individuals to minister in the local church commensurate with existing needs. But the “call to ministry” cannot primarily be extended by the Seminary. This responsibility must be assumed by the churches. God’s call to minister can take place most effectively within the context of the local church community in response to the preaching of the Word.


The Seminary has many reasons to be grateful to God and to the constituency. But we have not “arrived.” We are committed to continue to grow in our self-understanding, in the definition and achievement of our objectives, and in ministering to the needs of our churches.

Dr. George Konrad is Dean of the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

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