Seminaries are trouble. Any president or member of a theological school governing board knows that. Governance is more than a matter of making certain that the books are balanced despite a narrow margin, or that disaster is again averted in aging facilities.
Those who govern live in the tension of criss-crossing interests, representing combinations of church and other ex officio authorities, faculty, students, staff, administrators, benefactors on an advisory board, and the surrounding community. Not infrequently, colliding interests create their own weather patterns like occluded stationary fronts that can blast a school with continuous bad weather. Add forecasting and storm watching to the board's job description!
If you've served your school for several years, you will be tempted to be cynical. You know enough to recognize that hard won solutions unravel in time to expose what you now are able to recognize as deep structural fault lines. Politics and diplomacy, not just fancy maneuvering in fund accounting or investment management, are a never-ending way of life. And when diplomacy falters, the threat of war or, maybe worse, abandonment looms.
The risks in governing theological schools are high because the stakes are high. What is taught and learned, prayed and sung, practiced and preached matters. Interests run deep and thick for those who love the Triune God and immerse themselves in the history and disciplines of Christian life. More than civility is at stake. Christians struggle to express the truth through their institutions. Truth with charity, God willing, since God's knowing always exceeds our own.
So why stay? Why continue to serve in the face of a never-ending round of problems? That's my favorite question for board members. I've been asking it for years and it usually elicits wan smiles. Board members always know what I'm talking about.
And they usually answer similarly: "It's good company." "God has blessed me richly and it's the least I can do." "My family connections with the school make me care about its future." "I've wanted to give back what was given to me by my pastor so that others will know good ministry." They don't disavow that theological schools are trouble.
This issue of In Trust features boards or board members determined to deal with trouble. At Luther Seminary, it was structural: how to overcome the limitations of a board of directors elected by the church, especially for fund-raising, and then how to coordinate the work of this board with a foundation board. In the cases of board members at Hood, Gettysburg, and Newman and St. Joseph's, it was the call for individual leadership. In all, board members stepped in to serve with commitment and self giving.