Teaching Culture Shifts the HBS Way

Harvard Business School famously uses the case study method to teach future imagetitans of business.  They aren’t the only ones, of course.

As I’ve written in this blog before, I’ve noticed that:

  • Seminary professors often have little to no experience as parish pastors.  (Imagine teaching people to be doctors who were not practicing doctors themselves.)
  • Seminaries are not teaching students how to navigate our congregations from a 20th Century to a 21st Century culture.  See Wednesday’s post.  (Some classes might talk about the fact that church culture has changed since the 1950s but they don’t teach future pastors how to help churches make the shift from – for example – a church that does mission to a missional church.)

We, in the church, might look to our friends at Harvard Business School for ideas on how to teach Cultural Shifting.  In fact, the case study method would be helpful in many facets of training future pastors.  For example:

  • HBS has their Great Negotiator case studies. (e.g. George Mitchell negotiating peace in Northern Ireland.)  Seminaries could use case studies on negotiating the exit of a beloved church staff member who needs to go.  How would this go in a 20th Century Church Culture compared to how should it go now in a 21st Century Church Culture based on missional, disciple-making principles?
  • HBS uses case studies on entrepreneurship. (e.g. “Design Thinking & Innovation at Apple”)  Seminaries could use case studies on the how-to and how-not-to initiate entrepreneurial community projects.
  • HBS uses case studies on creating community.  (e.g.  “Threadless & The Business of Community“)  Seminaries could teach case studies involving Annual Chili Cook-offs and Ice Cream Socials.  What really creates authentic community and what simply fulfills our institutional needs/traditions?

Dealing with real church cases would help seminarians learn leadership strategies for their own adventures out in the parish, especially in the areas of Church Staffing, Stewardship & Budget Planning, Liturgical Revitalizing, Leadership Structuring, and more.  And maybe this kind of training could also be offered to those already in parish settings as a post-seminary continuing education opportunity.

We need training for Real Life Ministry.  Sharing our Real Life Situations helps train professional ministers for dealing with the shifts in church culture.

It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that these case studies would also call upon students to integrate what they are learning about theology, Bible study, history, and worship.  What do you think?

Image is from the Schwartz Art Collection of the Harvard Business School. Details here.

9 responses to “Teaching Culture Shifts the HBS Way

  1. I think it’s a great idea. 50 years ago, seminarians had an intern year, where they were expected to integrate their learning – but it went the way of the dodo, and nothing has really replaced it. I’m a firm believer in case studies – until seminaries catch on, is there any way our seminarians under oversight could be asked to work on them as part of denominational prep??


  2. Right on Jan. This kind of teaching-in-place would change the purpse of seminaries at the core; something many have resisted for fear of losing the academic focus. This suggestion is a way forward that integretes both theology/biblical studies, etc. with practice in a fresh way.


  3. Something like that would be a good idea, Jan. As someone who made his way through a Methodist seminary which mandated a two-year internship, I can affirm that it was immensely valuable. I’m always a bit baffled when I encounter colleagues whose seminary experiences didn’t involve actually doing the thing you entered seminary to do. If you’re interested, a link to that model is here: http://www.wesleyseminary.edu/fieldeducation/practiceinministrymission


  4. I think you are selling seminary professors short. Many of my Columbia professors did have parish experience. And whether they did or not, they prepared me to use my knowledge in the real world.
    What we all seemed to miss was the speed of change. Maybe case studies would help with that. Maybe not.


  5. Does this have to be done at a seminary? Do Synods or presbyteries have resources to build case study sharing infrastructure?


  6. I wonder if a conference could be created to address some of these needs. The biggest one for me is media–because its something both the pastor AND the congregation needs to know, and oft times the pastor has to be the one to teach the congregation about it. http://katyandtheword.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/katys-seminary-class/


  7. MidwesternSemProf

    I’m a seminary prof in the Midwest. Recently I attended a leadership institute at Harvard and saw the brilliance of the case method in action. I decided to incorporate that pedagogy in my Pastoral Theology class. The students raved about case study discussion and regularly complained when the end of the hour was up. Anybody know of any books or conferences that address this issue?


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