Readers, please accept this invitation to communicate with “Soundings,” either to react to articles in this issue of In Trust or to comment on other issues of concern to leaders in theological education. Feel free to be provocative, but do limit your letters to a maximum of 350 words. All letters are subject to editing. Our e-mail address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Mind the Signs
In one sense, it is not as though the issues of the state of seminary-church relations presented in Kenneth Briggs’s recent In Trust article (“The Churches Drift Away: Where are the Denomination-School Ties of Yesteryear?” New Year 2002) are news. After all, the issues he addresses are apparent to most of us in theological education. What may be news to many of us is the degree to which the trend of separation between seminaries and their sponsoring denominations has such dire consequences “down the road.”
For those of us who still enjoy relatively close seminary-church relations but who are already witnessing the beginnings of what others are now lamenting, hearing the accounts of those for whom the seminary-church relationship has largely deteriorated has the effect of sounding the alarm. The good news, if you can call it that, is that we are not alone.
Apparently, the tendency for seminaries and sponsoring denominations to drift away from each other is rather typical and perhaps even endemic to the nature of what it means to be a seminary in America as we enter the twenty-first century. Some solace that is! But at least we have the hope of learning from one another along the way.
There were a couple of inherent dilemmas that caught my attention as I read the article.
First, the notion that seminary-church separation tends to occur. It seems to me there are likely to be multiple reasons for this separation, including the tendency for organizations to take on a life of their own in which they adapt to their organizational network of reference. For example, membership in academic guilds and published research may be more important internally to a seminary community than to its sponsoring denomination. It is not that these should be de-emphasized, it is only that they create another orbit of influence on the seminary that is not seen to be as important to much of the church.
Second, denominational financial support tends to decline. If denominational support declines, not only does covering the budget become a juggling act making “entrepreneurs of presidents,” but the church-seminary relationship inevitably becomes more distant. Part of the challenge may be that denominational support as a percentage of the total budget is likely to decline regardless of the confidence the denomination has in the seminary. These are real dilemmas.
On the more hopeful side of things, we are encouraged from the results of the study to do all we can to “re-integrate our seminaries into the life of the church.” Further, the results of the study indicate that the church needs and wants a stronger role of theology in the preparation of pastors. Perhaps in following these signposts, those of us who are on “the road already traveled” will have the good fortune of arriving at a different destination.
Kansas City, Missouri
Ron Benefiel is president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.
Moses Led the Way
Dan Aleshire’s counsel (“Top Job? Make Friends, Raise Money,” New Year 2002) is a timely reminder to keep “the main thing the main thing.” For the past thirteen years I’ve worked closely with a president who has accepted his responsibility joyfully despite the extraordinary demands on his time. First a teacher, he is most comfortable in the classroom or behind a pulpit. He has, however, employed his gifts in establishing meaningful, pastoral relationships of integrity with our key donors.
It strikes me that in the first capital campaign in human history, God commissioned Moses to “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering” (Exodus 25:2). What he didn’t say was, “Moses, pray for people to give” (which isn’t to say that prayer is unnecessary or undesirable). He called Moses to be his voice, inviting the people of God to participate in his work.
Does God need us to carry out his work? Does he need our donors? The answer, of course, is no. He does, however, choose to work through us. He is, as Philip Yancey writes, “the great delegator” (Church: Why Bother?, Zondervan Publishing, 1998). Yancey quotes C.S. Lewis explaining that God “seems to do nothing of himself which he can possibly delegate to his creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what he could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.”
While God was building a tabernacle through Moses, he was also building a people—a people who would be his own and through whom his redemptive plan would one day unfold. Our task of raising money for our ministries is a high calling. We are doing more than just raising money; we’re raising people whose commitment to the things of God is expressed tangibly through the decisions made with their resources. I once debated whether to go into fund raising or enter the ministry.
I’ve discovered you really can have it both ways. Thank you, Dan, for your helpful reminder.
Thomas D. Skinner
Thomas D. Skinner, CFRE, is executive vice president for advancement at Biblical Theological Seminary.
Owing to an editing error, In Trust incorrectly reported in its New Year 2000 issue that the Lilly endowment had funded Bishop Dennis Anderson’s study of the relationships between four theological schools and their parent denominations (“The Churches Drift Away,” by Kenneth A. Briggs.) A portion of the project was funded by Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, as part of Anderson’s sabbatical preceding his retirement from Trinity’s presidency; additional funding for expenses was provided by Lutheran Brotherhood.