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Concept 5. Informal, Non-formal, and Formal Training

There are three broad ways in which leaders are trained. Each has advantages and disadvantages. All can profitably be used in the development of leadership for the church.


Informal training is the way children learn as they grow up. They learn by watching and imitating those around them. Such leadership training is usually closely related to situations people go through in everyday life and is rarely planned or intentional. Often it happens spontaneously. Informal training always accompanies formal and nonformal education whether people are aware of it or not! This is how people learn their mother language, traditions and values of society, etc.

In informal training future leaders observe the way those presently in leadership handle situations and often unconsciously pick this up. While society does not think of informal training as real training, it provides all the training many leaders at lower levels have received.

Focus: ministerial skills, attitudes, character development, etc. This is not a good way to communicate knowledge except as it impacts skills.

Place: It can happen anywhere, but it is usually closely connected with real life situations as opposed to a classroom. The teacher and the learner may spend a lot of time together and interact on a personal level, as Jesus did with the Twelve.

Delivery: This is an individualized activity. Those being taught may interact individually with the teacher. Because this usually happens in real life situations, the focus is on how to do things or react in a given situation.

Teacher: Anyone who has something they have mastered.

Learner: Anyone can be a learner. The learner is in control and can learn if he/she wants to. There is usually no way that the teacher can “force” the learner to learn.


This form of instruction takes place in seminars, workshops, conferences, and similar meetings. Like formal education, nonformal education is deliberately planned, intentional, staffed, and funded in some way. Unlike formal education there are no grades. It is often accepted in society as suitable for limited and specialized training.

Focus: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Place: It can happen anywhere, but the teacher chooses the place and the time. Learners must travel to the location.

Delivery: This is usually a group activity and the group may be large or small. The teacher is in charge and sets the materials to be communicated and the methods to be used. These methods can be varied and may include activities other than lectures.

Teacher: Anyone who has something they have mastered and is prepared to share this with others.

Learner: Anyone. They must choose to attend the sessions, however.


This describes the learning that takes place at schools, Bible colleges and seminaries. For the last several hundred years in the West, this has been the primary method recognized by society as the major means of training specialists and professionals, including church leaders.

Focus: The primary focus is on transfer of knowledge from the teacher to the learner. It is also useful in mastering certain critical thinking skills. It also may be necessary to go on to more complex levels of formal education. Success is usually measured by a final exam. While teachers often hope to pass on attitudes and skills, there is usually no way to measure if this has really happened. In many cases, the learners will not be putting what they have learned into practice for many years.

Place: This form of training almost always takes place at a centralized institution. The learners must travel to the teacher.

Delivery: This is a group activity. the teacher is in charge and sets both the material to be learned and how it will be learned. The normal method of communicating the material is the lecture, with students taking notes. Mastery of the material is usually proven by passing a test at the end of the course.

Teacher: Usually limited to those who have proven mastery of the material and are therefore qualified in some way.

Learner: Often limited to those who have met certain standards. The learner is NOT in charge.


Clinton, J. Robert. Leadership Training Models. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Publishers, 1984.