Matt Forster's Articles

No experience required?

If you have worked on a candidate search, you know the routine. First: a list is made of everything the new hire will have to do. In an ideal world, this newbie shows up on day one with HR paperwork complete, knowing where to hang her coat and whom to avoid in the employee break room, and of course, which reports are due when and how to complete them.

A short series on trends and issues in theological education

A series of articles on theological education from recently caught our attention. Here’s a quick summary.

Faculty development, with feeling

If you look hard enough, there seems to be research available about every aspect of higher education — most of it concerned with determining what contributes to successful educational outcomes. Inside Higher Ed recently posted an article about some research being done around the emotional lives of professors and how their emotional response to the demands on their time and energies contribute, ultimately, to their ability to teach.

Disruption can drive change that leads to sustainability

A recent issue of Trusteeship magazine features an article by Peter Smith titled “How Should Boards Respond to Disruption.” The article was written primarily for boards of universities and colleges, but it goes right to the heart of what it will take to lead a seminary through the next 30 or 40 years.

Maneuvering through crises and disruption

When an issue of Trusteeship magazine has the theme of “Institutions in Crisis,” you know you’re in for some great articles on board governance. Handling crises — whether postponing them, mitigating their effects, or managing the fallout — is a big part of leading an institution. And there are all sorts of events and circumstances that may qualify as a crisis.

Attracting better fish?

Adam Grant of the Wharton School of Business recently wrote an interesting article published in the New York Times that considers the best way to position yourself for career success. 

Still questioning the effectiveness of online education?

One of the questions that admissions officers regularly field from potential students is, “Do you have an online program?” And it’s not just younger, presumably more tech-savvy students who are asking the question either — nor is it just students who live in other cities or on other continents. At the non-residential seminary where I work, most students live locally. But the idea of fighting traffic after work to take classes a couple nights a week is a hard sell. So they ask: “Do you have an online program?”

Student enrollment by the numbers

If you are a leader in theological education, you are already familiar with overall trends in seminary enrollment. Usually, reports about enrollment are gloomy, with a half-hearted silver lining that suggests, “Well, at least we’re not the only ones struggling.”

Steps for effective board recruitment

How do you go about finding new board members? It’s not as easy as asking friends if they want to serve.

The ministry of fundraising

I once heard it said that board members find fundraising to be the least appetizing of their responsibilities. Few people are comfortable asking another for money, but without fundraising, few of our theological schools would survive.

Strategy is still the issue

Back in 2012, Christa Klein, then president of In Trust, spoke with Robert Cooley, “the guru of governance,” on the question of strategy and the rapidly changing landscape of theological education. Their conversation remains relevant today.

Visualizing governance systems

The dashboard of a car can tell you a lot — fuel level, speed, air temperature, tire pressure. The one thing it can’t tell you is where you’re going. For that we need another metaphor. Randall Basinger at Messiah College has just the thing: GPS, or governance positioning system.

The cost of free speech

Freedom of speech is a big deal on university campuses these days. A recent spate of decisions by university administrators to permit (or forbid) various speakers to make speeches on campus has generated newsworthy controversy. Invariably, free-speech advocates argue that a university is a place for learning, critical thinking, and critical listening. Silencing an offensive viewpoint.

Must you let people know that you're closing?

Every institution runs on confidence. Startups need investors to believe that their money won't be wasted. Banks need customers who trust that their savings won't be lost. Schools need students who are confident that the school will be around long enough for them to graduate. And the donors to these schools need to feel confident that their contributions are not being tossed into a black hole.

Undermining your president

In the final scene of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004), a drilling machine bursts through the street and a mole-like man steps forward to address the screaming masses: “Behold, the Underminer! I'm always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me! I hereby declare war on peace and happiness! Soon, all will tremble before me!"


Mastering the graceful exit

P. T. Barnum is credited with the saying, “Always leave them wanting more.” It’s good advice. When Douglass Lewis was asked why he was retiring as president of Wesley Theological Seminary, he replied with a similar idea. It was something his mother used to say: "You ought to leave the party while you're having a good time."


A community-based leadership “creed”

Boyung Lee is the first Korean American woman dean at an ATS school. She cites the work of a group called Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) as pivotal to her development as a leader. Here she shares her 13-point "Leadership Creed," an embodiment of the lessons she's learned in PANAAWTM.  

When it comes to development, the personal touch might just be the Midas touch

What can board members, who have a big role to play in development, do to make fundraising more productive and, dare we hope, less onerous?

Accreditation: What board members need to know

Some board members may think that accreditation is for the administrative office, but boards play an important role.

When do you declare a state of emergency?

What is "financial exigency"? This is one of those phrases a board would rather avoid, even when declaring financial exigency is the responsible next step for a school in trouble. 

Fundraising is too important to leave to the amateurs

With less financial support for theological education from churches and denominations, theological schools have come to increase fundraising to balance the budget. School presidents and board members are expected to play a big role in raising funds for their institutions.

Do you need a search firm to find your next president? Maybe not

What’s your process for hiring a new president? Many boards these days rely on consultants or executive search firms to identify candidates, vet their qualifications, gauge their interest, and make recommendations.

Anonymous donors: What’s a board to do?

For seminaries and theological institutions, how a school fulfills its mission is as important as its financial health. As such, issues of transparency and accountability should be considered when deciding whether to accept an anonymous donation.

Five core functions of effective presidents

The business section of the bookstore abounds with titles that promise new approaches to better leadership and management. For leaders in graduate-level theological institutions, however, there are only a handful of organizations dedicated to your particular niche. 

Developing and maintaining effective dashboards


A dashboard is a display of key indicators that help institutions steer their activities towards their declared strategic outcomes. The imagery, of course, is obvious to anyone who drives a car. Just like the dashboard on your 1981 Ford Fairmont, it’s critical that indicators be visible and the data easy for a user to assimilate. This typically necessitates graphic displays such as graphs, pie charts, or something more creative.

The In Trust has presented a webinar on how to use dashboard effectively. Here's a summary of it, along with a few helpful hints to get you started.


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