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A post from Michael Jinkins, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Michael JinkinsElementary education for the new president

The first goal I set after becoming president of Louisville Seminary was to visit with every current board member and every faculty member, all of our staff, and as many current students as are available, as well as many past members of the board, alums, pastors, other church leaders, and friends of our school, within the first year of my presidency. I am eight weeks into the project, and we are well on our way.

We might call this "elementary education for the new president." I want to tell you a little about what I'm learning. But to do that, I need to frame this learning by telling you what I'm unlearning.

A couple of years ago, a faculty colleague in another seminary wrote an essay in which he starkly contrasted seminary board members to seminary faculty members. His argument was that board members are driven by fairly uniform "business" or "consumer" models that put profits and efficiency first and faith last, while seminary faculty members are motivated more by faith and the ideals of justice. I told him, at the time, that I thought his essay was inaccurate and simplistic and that it didn't reflect my own experience with board members as an academic dean. I found most board members to be persons of deep faith who speak from a different perspective than faculty, certainly, but who share similar hopes.

What I have discovered already in my listening tour leads me to go even further. The persons I have encountered around the country include physicians and attorneys, business leaders, pastors, teachers, and directors of nonprofit organizations that provide mentoring to inner-city children and a variety of social services for the neediest members of our society. I have met active church members so concerned about the hatred and intolerance in our culture that they have built interfaith networks on their own in their communities and have brought in some of the leading comparative religion scholars in the country to facilitate their groups. I have met board members and seminary friends who are placing their lives, their reputations, and their treasure on the line daily to address injustice and violence, not only in their communities but around the globe.

Sitting at breakfast with one couple, I was inspired by the imagination of a businessman who is concerned about the depletion of drinkable water in arid regions. Across the table from another couple over lunch, I was challenged to make sure the seminary's investment policy does not unintentionally finance injustice. At dinner with a group of friends of our seminary, I was moved by stories of a surgeon's attempts to put the lives of children back together after debilitating accidents.

In case after case, I have found seminary board members and friends who simply do not fit the so-called "corporate" stereotypes, people who quietly live the reign of God, who serve the common good and transform some corner of our world, though, frankly, none of them would use these lofty terms. They are just doing what they can where they are.

Ivory towerYou know, stereotyping and caricaturing has never really served anyone well. I've known very few faculty members in my experience who dwell in fabled "ivory towers."

Most faculty I've known in seminaries are dedicated teachers who work hard every day to help students learn what they need to know to lead congregations and preach, to work for justice in their communities, and to counsel persons in need.

And most faculty members I've known are as dedicated outside the classroom as they are in it -- in hundreds of different ways -- making a difference in the world, following the call of the Gospel, extending the neighborhood of Jesus Christ. Certainly, faculty members are well-schooled in critical reflection, and they can turn their critical facilities on all sorts of questions, but just as impressive are their extracurricular commitments.

We have faculty members who for years have faithfully and quietly taught Sunday school in their local congregations. Other faculty colleagues devote enormous amounts of energy and time engaging in mission trips and relief work, organizing teams for AIDS walks, and pouring their lives into ministries dedicated to serving those persons Jesus called, simply, "the least of these." And (surprise of surprises!), we even have faculty members who serve on the boards of other nonprofit organizations.

Perspectives are different depending on differences of vocation and social location, certainly, but our focus is shared. And we could go on observing the different perspectives of administrators, staff, students, and other friends of the Seminary, all of whom bring their commitments and interests to bear on our mission. Together we are dedicated to the education of the next generations of women and men for ministry in the name of God in this world God loves.

I can hardly wait for the next class in the education of this president to begin. In fact, I'm on my way to the airport now. Another learning opportunity awaits me this evening. I wonder what we'll learn next.


Reblogged with permission.

Read Michael Jinkins' blog here.


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