Leadership matters! This simple truth becomes increasingly insightful the more I study political institutions, businesses, colleges and universities, congregations, various nonprofit agencies and, yes, seminaries. As leaders go, so go our organizations. This is particularly true during times of rapid and complex change — like the present.
Within the church, this adage might read as follows: As seminaries go, so goes church leadership. Of course, clergy and lay leaders are not educated solely within our seminaries. Nevertheless, seminaries play a pivotal role in preparing leaders, and in setting the tone and character for ministry. Thus, seminaries matter. Their graduates directly affect almost every community, every neighborhood, and every congregation. This is an incredible legacy.
Seminary boards have a huge responsibility of holding these vital institutions in trust. As you have read in past issues of In Trust, there is a widespread understanding that today’s seminary boards carry out this responsibility while facing unprecedented challenges: The global recession has undermined the financial state of seminaries, and many seminaries are facing significant enrollment losses. But financial and enrollment pressures are only compounded when educational, programmatic, technological, and ecclesiological developments are also added to the mix. So boards face fundamental decisions, and a rapid pace of change, in an industry that is accustomed to a much more deliberative and inclusive process — an industry that traditionally has allowed the voices of many stakeholders to be heard and has changed course as slowly as an ocean liner.
During my first few months as incoming president of the In Trust Center for Theological Schools, I have talked to various board members about their greatest challenges. Every single person has wanted to do right on behalf of these wonderful institutions. All have expressed their willingness to lead change, even fundamental change if necessary. But almost everyone has confessed that, given the complexity of the educational and ecclesial environment, it’s hard to know the right direction to turn. Consequently, these board members worry that they may end up in the crosshairs of scrutiny whether they act slowly or quickly. If they don’t turn on a dime, their seminary may suffer huge consequences. But if they push for change too rapidly, major disruptions to campus culture and mistakes may result.
The new In Trust Center for Theological Schools was created to help theological schools face just such challenges, and to do so in unique ways. Our new Resource Consultants are assisting schools in both identifying their strategic issues and connecting them with the best resources to address them. And we continue to publish our award-winning magazine, In Trust. Our services are expanding because the needs are expanding. As more than one president has told me: “We can solve our problems if we can just receive the right help at the right time.” That’s the mission of the In Trust Center: to empower leadership because leadership matters.
It is the dynamic mission of the In Trust Center that has brought me to this new position as president. I have served the church in many capacities: as a coffee-house leader, pastor in Germany, missionary in Zaire, theologian, teacher, academic dean, and president. It is now my honor to lead the In Trust Center as it strives to be your trusted partner in empowering your institution.
As you read this issue of In Trust, I hope you are as inspired by its stories as I have been.