The Reality of Leading Wisely: A Lesson for Church Ministry Leaders

  • Natalie Corbin
  • Aug 28, 2009

As Editor and Chief of the Leadership Media Group and Vice President of Christianity Today International, Denver Seminary alumnus and current board member Marshall Shelley (M.Div., '82) brings a voice of wisdom to church ministry leaders through a diverse branch of media outlets. Shelley knows that church ministry leaders must lead wisely, but do so with realistic eyes that have perspective on the past, a tangible grasp on the present, and vision for the future. Shelley states, “Leading wisely is to be able to accurately define reality. That means, describing where we are currently in history and in our culture and where we are physically and spiritually. To be able to put into words the needs we are facing and the obstacles we are likely to run into, and also to recognize where we should be heading.”

Leadership Media Group assists church ministry leaders in this endeavor, offering tools and direction through Leadership Journal,,, and other websites. Shelley dissects wise leadership as the ability to “understand reality, to see the bigger and longer picture, not just to be able to see with our eyes, but to recognize the invisible realities around us as well. That’s, again, what I think leading wisely is: it is simply to see reality accurately.”

No stranger to the challenges of leadership in church ministry, Shelley recognizes that trust, understanding and mystery are all parts of facing the obstacles of realistic wise leadership in the church. “To be able to trust that God is redeeming whatever situation we face, that too is part of reality. To be able to understand historically from where we’ve come and how the culture has changed, that too is part of our reality. And to recognize that God is up to things that we probably can’t fully grasp right now, but we will be able to down the road. Denver Seminary really helped me to get a longer perspective on the challenges we face as church ministry leaders.” Shelley stresses that “our authority and credibility comes from God’s Word. Understanding how God has communicated in the past, how He’s communicated through Scriptures, and how He continues to guide us through the Scriptures is really at the core of what it means to be a leader.”

Theological vision is a part of reality that must be encountered; however it is an aspect of reality that is often overlooked.  Shelley’s time at Denver Seminary prepared him to engage and view reality with theological vision. “Denver Seminary has really been a help to me, particularly when I was there as a student and even in the years since then with my ongoing relationship with the school, faculty and staff members there… I think Denver Seminary has done a good job of helping me see things theologically, which is not the way most people see things, but it’s a part of reality—being able to see how God is involved in daily life.” Shelley credits professors, roommates, peers and fellow students with equipping him for leadership. Wrestling with issues of Christian life, “and just being able to discuss, ponder and wonder together about these things was a very educational experience.”

As clearly as Marshall Shelley articulates the meaning of wise leadership he also exemplifies it in his life. He leaves no room for doubt about who is leading him, the importance of Christian fellowship and community, and the need for realistic perspective within the leaders of today’s churches.