Duke University Chapel

The North American temperament seems ambivalent about institutions. On the one hand, we decry big bureaucracies, giant multinational corporations, and sometimes even our denominations, while celebrating local food, the corner hardware store, and the neighborhood.

On the other hand, we recognize that huge multinational corporations and government bureaucracies provide the essential services that help us survive. They deliver our electricity, food, and health care, and they maintain our infrastructure.

Even our theological schools, as small as they may be, are institutions that provide valuable services. A single tutor can train one or even ten students, but it takes a faculty to make a school. And a school includes not only teachers but also some essential administrators, a governing board, and a financial plan to support them. The good that a theological school can do -- preparing ministers and lay leaders for the church and scholars for the academy -- is far greater than what a dozen freelance tutors can accomplish when they are working solo.  

Over at Faith & Leadership, Gregory Jones reminds us how important institutions are, and how they can become lifeless when they're not cared for. He writes:

Modern Americans too often celebrate community without attending to the critically important roles that vibrant institutions play in enabling a community's practices to flourish. Too often we take vibrant institutions for granted, forgetting they are crucial for creating spaces that shape and pattern human life and address fundamental human needs and yearnings. Because we have ignored the crucial difference that vibrant institutions make in our lives and in the ecology of our wider social existence, we too often have allowed vibrant institutions to become lifeless bureaucracies.

There are too few voices out there that celebrate the important role that institutions like theological schools play in North American church life. During these hard times, when everyone is cutting budgets and some people in the church are questioning how important formal theological education is, it's great to hear someone articulate the value of theological schools.

Jones is a divinity school dean, so we shouldn't be surprised that he's a cheerleader for institutions. But I don't hold that against him. On the contrary, if our deans, presidents, and board members cannot explain why our own institutions are important, who will? 

Read Gregory Jones's entire blog post here.