Breaking new ground at the corner table (1)

Many vital relationships are necessary to guide an institution, but none more important than the one between the president and the chair of the board. What are the ingredients that forge a generative partnership? In the case of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, it helps that we're both early risers and lovers of coffee, that we prefer email to phone conversations, that we're book junkies, and that we're equally theologically curious. And most of all, like all seminary presidents and board chairs, we're devoted to excellence in ministry preparation.

It is also very helpful that Philip Love, our chair, lives right in town, so we regularly anchor a corner table at our favorite coffee shop. We are energized by these caffeinated face-to-face work sessions, which usually begin with the business of the school and end with key theological ideas we are exploring. It is a joy to share in what Rebecca Chop calls the "saving work" of theological education, and we are grateful for what is transpiring on our watch.

A strong board chair is the hope of every seminary president. Not only must the chair be deeply committed to the mission of the school, but he or she must be willing to invest in a wide array of responsibilities — bylaws revision, presiding at full board meetings, attendance at executive committee meetings, performance reviews, and strategic planning are some of the obvious ones. We've found that our chair does much more: He interacts with accrediting bodies, architects, special task forces, the Association of Theological Schools, In Trust, the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education, and prospective board members. He also takes part in ceremonial roles at commencement, groundbreakings, and the dedication of facilities, and he provides hospitality in his home. He even committed significant time in helping construct our self-study!

All of these relationships strengthen his comprehension of our challenges and opportunities. Fortunately, there is some fun amid all the meetings and reports.

When I was a newly minted president, even before Phil Love became chair of the board, I looked to him for coaching when I needed to hire executive staff. Because he has significant experience as a CEO, he understands focused leadership and receptive listening. Despite his formidable intellect, he avoids dominating our discourse but wisely suggests alternatives to what I might propose. He also offers nimble ideas to help our school move forward in sustainable ways.

Joint leadership requires us to learn to be fully present with each other as we engage and interrogate ideas. Early in our relationship, I am not sure I listened as well as I should have. I was overly concerned to convince that I was keenly focused on fundraising, and I tended to tick off my laundry list of visits, pledges, major gifts, and prospects to prove that I was on the ball. Now I enter into these times of agenda setting and reflection with warm assurance that together we will find a constructive way forward.

Working with our board chair has been a chief joy of my position as president. Personal chemistry is beneficial, but mutual support and effective collaboration are even more important. Central Baptist Theological Seminary has executed radical decisions in recent years — declaring and lifting financial exigency, moving the seminary to a new location, renewing our mission, and constructing new facilities — because of the support and engagement of our board chair with the administrative leadership team of the seminary. Many cups of coffee later, we are moving into a hopeful future, with a board chair and president shoulder to shoulder.

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Article from: Autumn 2011

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