Last April, the Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Mark Dalbey as the school’s next president. The appointment became effective May 1.
Recently, byFaith spoke with Dalbey about his priorities and how he progressed from being a search committee member to CTS’s new president.
Developing Leaders for the Future
While serving as the seminary’s interim president, Dalbey traveled the country, talking with donors and alumni. “One of the prevailing themes I heard,” he said, “is that we need pastors who know how to be effective leaders in the church. Of course, they have to be good preachers. They have to teach well and counsel well and shepherd the flock and engage the culture and lead their families and grow closer to God.” In addition to all that, Dalbey believes they must be ready to pastor troubled people. Church members today bring all sorts of issues into the church, Dalbey says — personal problems, family problems, a whole variety of life issues. Often they try to deal with these things the same way they’d deal with a business problem — they attempt to leverage their power and influence.
Dalbey hopes CTS graduates will be ready to lead in the midst of such problems. If they aren’t, he says, there’s a high likelihood of burnout and the possibility that these men will leave the ministry much too soon. Our pastors need to engage calmly and collaboratively, Dalbey says. They must be servant leaders, but they should also be strong leaders: “We need pastors who know how to navigate this sort of family system, who won’t shrink from exercising appropriate leadership, even as they build relational capital.”
According to Dalbey, that philosophy matches what the seminary has been doing in its Center for Ministry Leadership. It also blends nicely with his beliefs about what it means to be a church leader.
Preparing Congregations for Monday – Saturday
As CTS president, Dalbey also wants graduates ready to equip and train leaders for their kingdom callings outside the church. Pastors need a vision for the congregation, he says, “and for what they do between Sundays. Our pastors need to preach and teach and act with the belief that the layman’s call is no less important than the pastor’s.” A pastor’s calling is unique, he explains, but it’s not better. It’s a calling that equips people in all kinds of kingdom vocations: “As Mother Goose puts it: ‘Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers’ — they all have a kingdom calling, as do doctors, lawyers, homemakers, and teachers.”
Not only does Dalbey believe this is biblical, he also sees it as firmly within our Reformed heritage. And yet, he says, we tend to persist in this view of a hierarchy of callings — this sacred/secular dichotomy. “Of all people, you’d think that we, Reformed Presbyterians, would have put that view aside, but it lingers on,” he says. “So that’s part of my passion. If we don’t make gains in preparing pastors to preach, teach, lead, and equip with that kind of vision — a vision that touches the lives of people where God has planted them — then I’ll feel as though we’ve failed in something we’re called to do.”
For Dalbey, this is not only a theological issue; it’s about staying connected to the vision of many in the rising generation of leaders. “I understand that we have a range of views about the kingdom and some disagreement about the two-kingdoms and about how much we can expect to transform the culture,” he says. But, Dalbey continues, Jesus preached the Gospel of the kingdom, and He established the church as His agent to advance that kingdom until He returns to bring all things to their final consummation.
When He comes again, Dalbey believes, we should be found faithfully advancing the kingdom. “I’m not saying that’s not happening in the PCA, but it seems to me that it still requires a bit of an ethos shift that relates to the hopes of the coming generation. It’s an expectation they have,” he says, “and CTS and the PCA should meet it.”
From Noncandidate to President
When the CTS board began its search for a new president, Dalbey wasn’t a candidate and didn’t want to be one. He had been dean of students for 10 years, a voting member of the faculty for eight, and vice president of academics and faculty development for the past four.
“Even though I have a D.Min. and not a Ph.D., I’m on the faculty and have served as VP of Academics,” Dalbey explained. “I pastor the faculty and encourage them and help develop the instructional vision of the school. So in April of last year, when the executive committee asked me if I would serve as interim president, I said yes. But when they also asked if I wanted to be a candidate for president, I said no.”
Dalbey didn’t think he could be a good interim president and a candidate at the same time. “The things that need to be done as interim shouldn’t be overshadowed by that,” he said, “and frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted it. I had lots of student experience, lots of faculty experience, more and more budget responsibility, more direct reports and knowledge of the operational side, but I had never done donor relations, and that’s about 40 percent of the job. So I told the board, ‘When you get to the end of the process, if you don’t have a clear candidate, let’s talk then. I’ll know more, you’ll know more, and in the meantime, I’ll be interim.’”
During the next few months, Dalbey visited with donors. He listened to them, heard their thoughts and concerns, and gained the perspective of people who knew and loved the seminary. Before long, Dalbey says, “I found that I loved the donor work.” As he brought back reports “from the field,” he found that faculty, staff, and students were encouraged to learn that there were people all over the country who love the seminary and enthusiastically support it. “There’s a real ebb and flow and mutuality there,” Dalbey says. “I came out of this time thinking: I really enjoy this part of the job.”
“If we don’t make gains in preparing pastors to preach, teach, lead, and equip with that kind of vision — a vision that touches the lives of people where God has planted them — then I’ll feel as though we’ve failed in something we’re called to do.”
Dalbey was constantly asked if he was a candidate and was forever answering no. Meanwhile, the search committee was in the midst of phoning its “long” list of prospective candidates to gauge their interest in the job. Several agreed to an exploratory phone call. Of those, a few were invited for an interview; one was invited for a second interview.
Skip forward to January 2013. Dalbey and his wife, Beth, were in Phoenix at the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents. “While we’re there I got a call from the search committee saying, ‘We would like to draft you into the process as a second finalist.’ At that point, I said OK.”
By that time, Dalbey says, “I had the student side, the faculty side, the budget side — and now I had the donor side. The seminary was moving forward on a number of new initiatives, people were encouraging me, and so I thought ‘OK, we’ll go into the process. We’ll see where God leads.’” Dalbey says he would have been at peace with any decision the committee made. God had given him a heart to serve the other candidate and says he could easily support his selection and stand behind it.
“This wasn’t something I aspired to,” Dalbey says. “It was something that I became open to as I lived out the interim president role. The board and the search committee had the opportunity to observe that, and this is where God has brought us. It was an unexpected journey I am now very thankful to be on as we seek to steward well the students God sends us and prepare them to serve our God now and on into the future.”