A friend finds out that you serve on the board of a theological school. He is surprised, pleased, and curious. Questions follow immediately, and in rapid fire. “So what are your responsibilities as a board member of a theological school?” he inquires. “And how does your board work there differ — if at all — from the other boards on which you serve?”

You need an elevator speech. You know your friend doesn't want a lengthy explanation, so your response should be concise but faithful to what you actually do on the board of directors. (And like any elevator speech, a lot depends on how many floors you’re got to work with!)

Here’s one approach to answering this question that I used a couple of weeks ago with some acquaintances whose only knowledge of boards is corporate and university boards — and know nothing about theological education.

“I have three primary duties as a director of a theological school: the duty of care, the duty of loyalty, and the duty of discernment.  The biggest difference between this board work and other board work — especially the work with corporate boards or secular universities — is discernment. We pray before, during, and after meetings for direction and blessing.”

How does that sound as an elevator speech for your board work? How would you summarize what you do? It’s always good to have that elevator speech ready. You never know when you might use it.

For a wonderful article explaining the duties of care and loyalty, see “A Lesson from Corporate Boardrooms: Practice Good Governance or Face External Forces” by T. Grant Callery in Trusteeship (September/October, 2013, p. 24). Callery defines care as: A reasonable, diligent, and informed manner of performing one's duties. He defines loyalty as: Actions in good faith and in the best interests of the school as a whole, with confidentiality and absent personal interests and agendas.

More difficult is discussing how a board of directors discerns the movement of the Spirit for their school at this time and place. Good governance in a theological school, like Christian discipleship, demands faithfulness to God. How a board “manages” discernment is what might make this experience special, and unlike many other board experiences brought to the meeting.


Image credit: Matt Forster