Boards and the future that has arrived Imagine many "tracks" for theological education — all accredited, each with its own gold standard for excellence, and each matched to the needs of particular ministries and students. Those are the images that Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, sketched with bold strokes in his address to the 2010 Biennial Meeting of the association's member schools.
"The future has arrived," Aleshire intoned. And then he illustrated several ways to step beyond paradigms that have been onstraining theological education at a time when Christianity, education, and culture are rapidly changing. The time has come to respond more openly to the luxuriant growth of different species of theological education, he said, while at the same time defining new standards of accountability to ensure quality and durability among these species.
Aleshire noted that the first response to changing circumstances is to do even better what theological schools have already been doing well — providing graduate professional education adapted to changing realities. More than ever, he said, students need to be prepared for ministry among people who have no religious preference and among people of many faiths. Moreover, students need access to sources of wisdom that only pastors and church professionals can bring, because congregational life is changing and seminaries cannot by themselves convey that wisdom.
A second response is to develop standards for other forms of theological education — forms matched to an even broader range of ministry settings, both full- and part-time, for leaders based in congregations and outside of them, whether in ministry or still preparing for it. In particular, he mentioned bachelor's and associate-degree theological education, denominational educational programs for "alternatively credentialed" clergy, on-the-job education for parish and congregational staff, and lay education for persons aiming to enrich their faith.
A third response is for seminaries to tap into new educational resources, including models of teaching and learning that may still be unfamiliar to those schooled in research universities. More resources will also come with granting recognition for educational integrity to other providers of theological education, including field and contextual education, Bible institutes, and church-based learning. Of course theological schools have a way to go in embracing the full range of educational opportunities that digital libraries and effective online teaching make possible. (We've reprinted this section of Aleshire's remarks in this issue of In Trust.)
At In Trust, we embrace this expansive vision of theological education. We know that many board members already recognize that a bigger vision is essential for more vibrant ministry. We welcome its depiction by Aleshire, the standard bearer of graduate theological education in North America, who invited the membership of the Association of Theological Schools to build a larger tent.
In Trust has been preparing for the future that has arrived. This past year we incorporated as the Association of Boards in Theological Education, enlarging our own tent to welcome more types of schools and programs providing theological education. We look forward to working in partnership with the ATS and other organizations that serve these institutions.
The board room is the venue for new options to be studied, launched, and monitored. Many board members, philanthropists, donors, and parishioners are impatient for changes in educational forms and economic models and expect accreditation standards to catch up. As a membership organization, committed to empowering theological schools and their governance leaders, In Trust stands ready to assist. May this new academic year open opportunities for us all to envision institutions fit for a future that has already arrived.