News & Insights

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.

To be sure, data is indispensable to good planning. We need to know trends and metrics on enrollment, endowments, annual giving, revenues, and expenses — and, just as well, the forces operating in the wider world of theological education, the church, and culture. Necessary as this data is, it is not sufficient for developing a sound plan for a school’s future. We also need imagination if we are to see what the data means and to create from it a true, realistic, compelling vision for the future of the school and how we can get from here to there.

An evocative account of the imagination we need is provided by V. A. Howard in Learning by All Means: Lessons from the Arts. Imagination, he writes, is “the meeting place of past and present experience, of memory and anticipation … from which may emerge new directions for future efforts.” He goes on to say that this imagining “stands in marked contrast to two extremes: drudgery, on the one hand, or means without dreams; and fantasy, on the other, or dreams without means. My purpose overall is to show how means and dreams get connected.” 

This is also our purpose in strategic planning. We must avoid sinking into organizational drudgery, in which our dreams are lost in the limitations of our resources — limitations we know all too well (see data). At the same time, we cannot lose ourselves in fantasy, imagining things we have no means of achieving. Dreaming, creating a vison for our future, and connecting those dreams to reality is the goal of the strategic planning we do in our schools. 

Leaders of theological schools have a particular responsibility for orchestrating the institutional stakeholders — board, faculty, administration, and others — in this imaginative work. In addition to gathering the requisite data, we would be well served to think about how we might activate the imagination of participants in the planning process. We need everyone’s creative thinking to see beyond the present, to imagine a faithful vision for our future and how we might marshal the means to achieve it. Perhaps our planning retreats need time with art and music as well as data. Visio Divina anyone?

To read more from Bill Cahoy on stategic planning: "Strategic planning = spiritual discernment." 

Top Topics

Roles & Responsibilities



Board Essentials

Upcoming Events

The In Trust Center hosts learning community spaces throughout the year. Check out our upcoming events below.

Closing the Trust Gap


The current and very troubling condition of trust is a clarion call to action. But despite the dismal data showing pervasive organizational distrust, every organization can assess their current level of trust, learn and adopt a proven trust building framework, and then develop a meaningful and long-lasting plan of action. This webinar details the knowledge and practical next steps to strengthen workplace culture as a result of closing the trust gap.

In Trust Center Resource Grants


An In Trust Center Resource Grant offers member schools a chance to explore innovation at their institutions through a matching grant opportunity of up to $15,000. Listen to this 30-minute information session, including Q&A, as we provide details on eligibility requirements, funding priorities, application process. Previous grantees are eligible to apply as long as they are not within our current funding cycle.

Conflict + Crisis: Navigating the Shoals, Part 2 – A Deeper Dive


Presenter Donna Alexander, President & CEO of Advoxum Global Strategies, offers best practices for navigating conflict and crisis. She examines the crucial elements of defining conflict and crisis, identifying, and prioritizing affected stakeholders, utilizing effective communication strategies, and ultimately, executing a plan of action. Click here to view.

Can’t Find What You’re Looking For?

In Trust Center provides Resource Consulting to our members at no charge. Contact us today and let us guide you to the most helpful resources for your situation.

Contact Us