From category archives: In Trust Blog

Strategic Planning

How to lead out of a crisis

Leading out of a crisis

As most institutional leaders have been dealing with immediate challenges — moving classes online and the complexities of transitioning staff, faculty, and students into new spaces — the focus has been on leading during a crisis. But how do you lead during a crisis and simultaneously lead out of one? A new post from the Harvard Business Review offers some guidelines and cautions.


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Abandon your past to create your future

Robert S. Landrebe, who has just retired as senior vice president at Asbury Theological Seminary, offered advice for finding clarity in your school’s future in the Spring 2014 issue of In Trust. In his article titled “To create the future, selectively abandon the past,” Landrebe offers blunt but empathic advice to schools facing shrinking enrollment (in other words, most schools): “Let me describe theological education as an ‘industry.’ We are part of an industry that has a vital mission that serves the church. But, over the last decade, our student market has been in decline. During this decade we haven’t adjusted our expenses in response to a shrinking market. Rather, expenses have risen even faster than the consumer price index." 

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Preparing your students to work without pay

Increasing numbers of churches are turning to part-time, low-paid, or unpaid ministers. What does this mean for seminaries?

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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.

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Your top strategic issues

When your board meets, how much time do you spend focusing on strategic issues facing your school? If the answer is less than half of the meeting time, then your board is like many others. 

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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.

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Overwhelmed by the idea of strategic planning? Start here

Strategic planning can be expensive and daunting for boards and executive leadership teams. It can be a great idea to bring in a consultant to lead and guide the process, but for schools struggling with tight budgets, the cost can be prohibitive. So why not handle the strategic planning process internally? The problem might be that you don't know where to start, or what model to follow. 

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Planning and imagination — or how to connect dreams and means


Effective strategic planning requires an active imagination — not because such effectiveness is hard to imagine but because we need to activate our imagination to plan effectively.

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Strategic planning = spiritual discernment

Leaders of theological schools routinely navigate the nuances of Torah law; Trinitarian controversies; the oeuvre of Rahner, Barth, and Marion; not to mention the subtleties of shared governance. Yet we can still be intimidated by the occult mysteries of strategic planning — not just planning, mind you, but strategic planning.

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Caring for our leaders

How can you care for your school’s president or dean? You may think of things like benefits, salary, onboarding, and board support. But you're probably not thinking of yearly evaluation, contracts, or succession planning.

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Strategic framework resource available from BoardSource

Does your school have a strategic plan? Or have you chosen a less formal planning strategy? BoardSource has recently released an infographic that explains the differences between strategic plans and strategic frameworks -- and why boards are increasingly moving towards the more flexible framework model.

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The “whys” and “hows” of strategic planning

Robert S. Landrebe wonders: “Is strategic planning a waste of time?” And then he answers with a resounding “no.” The Association of Theological Schools and other accrediting bodies require strategic planning, but they're only required because they're essential. Good strategic planning practices “ensure that all parts of a complex institution are aligned and moving ahead.”

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Wesley Theological Seminary’s fundraising response to a threatened future


Two months into his role as president, G. Douglass Lewis received the news that Wesley Theological Seminary was in debt. So, with the help of his development consultant and the Wesley staff, Lewis set forth a strategic plan for a program that would address their lack of fundraising ability.

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The long arm of history: Understanding the past helps decision-making today


When I was in seminary, I remember a professor telling a class that when new pastors arrive at a church, they are directly affected by the last 30 years of that church’s history. If the pastor of 20 years ago ran off with the organist, the current pastor needs to know about it. The congregation certainly knows about it. If there was a church split at some point, the whole town probably knows about it. In light of this, our professor strongly recommended getting as complete a history as possible early in the interview process. Pastors need to know up front what can be changed, what can be worked around, and whether they have the skills to manage that ministry. Institutions of theological education are no different. . . .

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Who is your most strategic partner?

First, throw out the “M-word.” Mergers scare people, so most schools are approaching partnerships in terms of new models of collaboration. A merger gives people the perception that there are winners and losers, but collaborations open up space for creativity and exploration: “If we were to imagine a future together, what might that look like?” 

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The Strategic Information Report: What you need to know


Because the SIR has been completely revamped, the Association of Theological Schools has provided an overview article that explains how presidents and board members can use it. “Why the Strategic Information Report is an essential tool in every school’s toolbox,” by Chris Meinzer, explores ways to use the SIR as a tool in assessing their institution's overall health.


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Summer issue preview: Do seminaries train pastors for the church?

The upcoming issue of In Trust, due to be mailed July 8, includes an article from Sioux Falls Seminary president Greg Henson about the Entering Student Questionnaire (ESQ) and Graduating Student Questionnaire (GSQ).

In the article, Henson provides an introduction to these two tools, which capture data provided to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) by more than 5,600 incoming students and 6,300 departing graduates. 

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Resources for your board: Strategic planning

Strategic planning: it’s something that you know you need to do, but how do you get started?

We've gathered a few articles to help you think about strategic planning, well, strategically. These articles could be fodder for a fruitful discussion with your board and leadership team.

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What are the habits of highly effective boards?

Boards are striving more than ever toward a higher level of performance. The demands of the challenging environment surrounding most theological schools require it. So what might “board excellence” look like?

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The role of edgy questions in strategic planning

If strategic planning is on the horizon for your organization, you'll want to take a look at the latest issue of Great Boards where contributing editor Barry Bader lists 10 edgy questions that can help clarify a board's thinking about the future. The article is written for governance leaders within hospitals and health care systems, but it's not much of a stretch to apply Bader's advice in your setting. Don't be put off by Bader's choice of the adjective "edgy" in the article's title. As he explains, "Edgy questions aren't disloyal, they reflect the ultimate loyalty -- that commitment to the mission and mutual trust are so strong that leaders can challenge themselves and never accept the status quo as the only alternative." You'll want to click on over to Great Boards for the full text. In the meantime, here are the questions, without Bader's commentary. Now for the questions As a first step toward clarifying the board's vision and testing the organization's progress, ask: "How will we know when w ...

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Strategic planning essentials for people with no time to waste

In Trust webinar on strategic planning

How do you allocate scarce resources to achieve your mission? How can you develop competencies to meet new market opportunities? How do you plan based on strategic assessments and insights and not just wishful thinking?

On February 22, In Trust Governance Mentors Robert Landrebe and Randy Thomann will tackle these tough questions and more during a webinar on "Three Strategic Planning Essentials for People with No Time to Waste."

This webinar is designed especially for presidents and board leaders, who can take part either together (gathered around a single computer) or separately (each participant online at home). The presenters are Robert Landrebe and Randy Thomann, both of whom have served as executive vice presidents of large institutions.

For more information, visit