Beginning in the fall, Leland Center for Theological Studies will offer a master of arts degree in Christian leadership (MACL).
According to Leland’s president, Mark Olson, the new degree will focus on the particular leadership issues facing church staff and church planting positions. Olson was notified on Feb. 13 that the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting agency for seminaries in North America, had approved the degree for Leland.
The MACL degree, designed for those who feel called to church-related positions other than as senior pastor, may also be a good option for older students who are preparing for the pastorate. The master of divinity degree, sought traditionally by students pursuing the pastorate, requires 90 semester credit hours to complete while the MACL will require 52 hours.
The master of theological studies degree currently offered by Leland requires 60 hours. To put this in perspective, to earn a master of business administration degree from Virginia Tech requires 50 hours. “The core courses of theology and biblical studies are required for the MACL, but the biggest difference between it and the M.Div. is that biblical languages are not,” notes Olson.
According to Olson, the typical Leland student has been out of college for several years and has pursued a secular career before answering a call to ministry. “When I first came to Leland, I noticed that we had a retention problem. When Dean [Jeff] Willetts and I called students who had discontinued their studies, we heard from them that a 90-hour degree was difficult for our students to manage because of their work loads,” Olson offered. “One said ‘I have been in [the M.Div program] for three years and I’m a third of the way through. I just can’t hang in there for another six years.’”
Understanding their frustration, Willetts promises help. “The MACL will have the kind of flexibility that makes it possible for students who work full-time to pursue a theological education without giving up their job.”
But while the reduced requirements will make the MACL attractive for some, others will be drawn to the degree because of its emphasis on leadership. Leland administrators have tried to anticipate the theological base and skill-sets required by church planters and ministry leaders of the future and believe the new degree will be ideally suited. “The MACL degree will prepare students interested in leading the emerging church,” Willetts predicts.
Olson notes that Leland has joined a trend in offering an MA in leadership, citing Fuller Seminary in California and Gordon Conwell in Massachusetts as examples. “I would not say that we are cutting edge exactly, but we are certainly early adapters in offering this degree.”
Although the new degree will not be formally offered until the fall, Olson affirmed that administrators are eager to work with current students who have an interest in the MACL. Currently Leland has 59 students pursuing masters’ degrees and “at least 80” diploma students — laypersons or ministers lacking a college degree.