Imagine coming across this headline today:

Students must prove competency in key skills for 21st-century hospitals

Most of us would be shocked to read that med schools had not kept up with the times. But the Christian Century ran a similar headline this fall -- only it was about seminaries that are just now updating their curricula to meet the demands of the 21st century. Just imagine if other professional schools -- in medicine, engineering, or business -- were similarly slow in adapting.

Of course, many theological schools are taking seriously the task of catching up and training students for ministry as it is known and needed today. The Christian Century article focuses largely on Andover Newton Theological School, which is requiring competency in areas like "high tech communications and interfaith collaboration." Another example is The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary, which is studying "how religious leaders become technologically savvy about technology." On the West Coast, George Fox Evangelical Seminary is offering a a D.Min. in emerging culture (with one concentration in "semiotics and future studies.") And other schools are also getting up to date, motivated by either vision or necessity.

What's the role of a governing board in leaning into the future? Board members who are outsiders to theological education may feel uncomfortable addressing academic affairs or questioning the chief academic officer's report. But sometimes it's the voices from outside the academy that are needed to help a school think creatively about its role and its future. 

On the other hand, board members who have a deep understanding of theological education, perhaps as a graduate of the institution, are those who can honestly answer "why we do things the way we do them." These board members are valuable, since they offer continuity and guard the institutional memory.

Good governance requires boards to be futuristic while also respecting the past. It requires boards to think hard -- and maybe swallow hard -- and do things that are sometimes uncomfortable. But what's the alternative? Doing nothing, following old patterns of leadership, governance, and education, and ensuring that a school is prepared for the 20th century, which is already gone.


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