At In Trust, we provide keys to institutional sustainability by covering the what, when, and how of governance and leadership through our magazine, our electronic communications, and our Governance Mentor service. Our members receive articles, tools, and mentoring that foster wise practice and keep them informed with benchmarks, trends, and news in the field.
At the same time, In Trust's purpose encompasses more than offering keys to institutional sustainability. It will not do for us to be preoccupied only with tax exemption, financial accountability, accreditation, or "best practices" for boards. Our mission is shaped by the why of governance and leadership. We believe that the people who lead theological institutions and who tend their traditions are stewards of Christ's Great Commission who follow God's leading as they live out this vocation.
This high standard both anchors our institutions and frees them. Since the Word made flesh manifests God's love for all humanity, we study the Word of God and prepare people for ministry. Theology in the truest sense shapes our worship and proclamation, nurtures pastoral charity, fuels morality, demands justice, illumines the arts, and informs interfaith cooperation and dialogue. It envelops us in a blazing vision of truth, beauty, and goodness. It frees us to give willingly and totally of ourselves for the well-being of the church and world.
The daunting challenges of our time require us to ask the great why. To do otherwise is to give in to the anxiety, exhaustion, and grief of living with real and anticipated shortfalls and deficiencies. No one enjoys governing or leading institutions that are dangerously weakened or failing. But our true challenges are less about fiscal resources and students than they are about the assaults on our spirit that undermine hope.
People who govern and lead theological institutions are hardly alone in the temptation to despair. As fellow believers, they face many of the same uncertainties that their graduates and supporters face in congregations and parishes, denominations and dioceses, camps and service organizations, and institutes, colleges, and universities. Nobody is immune, even in those places where things appear to be going well. Fear is rampant, sometimes hiding as denial.
Yet in faith, we recognize the freedom to respond. Hope begins when we abandon fear by facing harsh realities head on — harsh realities about mission, constituency, economics, and education. In hope we look beyond ourselves to those whom we serve, and in hope we ask what we are being called to do well, what we could do better, and what we should give up or let others do. More compact institutions, strategic partnerships, and noble deaths are all options for those who live in hope and not fear.
I believe we are being called to emulate the spirit of people who have struggled under far more dire circumstances, when religious freedom itself has been tenuous or denied and harassment and persecution have been the norm. Consider the underground seminary tended by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany during World War II, or the one attended by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in Poland under Communism.
Today our brothers and sisters in many countries are struggling to sustain theological institutions and seminarians in places like Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, and Vietnam. With hope, they live by faith and practice the courage and prudence needed to obey Christ's command. Their witness reminds us both of the Christian virtues we need and of the freedom we have to re-envision theological education in North America.
And why that matters.