The In Trust Center for Theological Schools has just released a revised and expanded edition of its guide for theological school boards. The new edition of the Wise Stewards Guide includes an updated section on the changing context of theological education, plus links to articles that flesh out its principal topics. Finally, the guide includes case scenarios that boards can use as the basis for group discussions. For board leaders who want to usher their board through a more intensive board development process, the In Trust Center is also offering the Wise Stewards Guide — Facilitator’s Edition, which is available on request at email@example.com. This edition includes printable worksheets and additional guidance on structuring board learning exercises.
Governance is the foundation for any institution of higher education, and for years, the In Trust Center has shared the message that, while good governance alone does not make a school great, no school can be great without effective governance.
This simple statement is both a promise and a caution. The landscape of seminary governance is marked with both great and poor examples of board leadership. There are schools with a long tradition of strong board leadership, where the board is aware of the institution’s educational environment and culture and has proved to be adaptable while maintaining a clear sense of the school’s mission and its trajectory.
In these strong boards, committees usually take responsibility for the essential fiduciary matters, while meetings of the whole board serve as venues for the germination and discussion of new ideas. Such a board hires a wise, decisive, collaborative president, gives that person clear direction and support, and holds the president accountable for performance.
At the other end of the spectrum are boards that listen to reports year after year — reports that gloss over discouraging statistics and ignore the realities of programs that don’t attract enough students to pay the salaries of the professors who teach in them. These boards routinely approve budgets that “balance” only because of one-time grants, unexpected bequests, and endowment draws that are often significantly greater than 5 percent. These boards listen to presidents who offer good reasons for poor enrollment, but, lacking clarity about the school’s mission and goals, such boards fail to chart a clear pathway for a school to succeed. They usually don’t hold the president accountable for missing targets — perhaps because there were no targets in the first place.
And in the middle of the spectrum is a third category of boards: Those that hire talented presidents and let them work, cheering from the sideline. At first, such boards seem effective, because as long as the strong leader is in charge, things go well. But when challenges arrive, as they always do — the president retires or falls ill, denominational support declines, or enrollment flattens out after years of growth — it becomes apparent that the school’s success rested on the shoulders of one talented president, or a talented professional staff. The board itself was mostly rubber-stamping good ideas.
The Wise Stewards Guide was written to provide a basic outline of exemplary board governance. It addresses board members in various settings — governing boards of freestanding seminaries, advisory groups and committees that oversee college- and university-related theological schools, and boards assisting bishops, religious orders, or other denominational authorities.
All these board members share a distinct calling: They bear responsibility for institutions that have at their core the advancement of Christian ministry and theological scholarship. Such boards strive to be the kind of stewards whose wisdom and fidelity are greatly needed in demanding times. They are willing to embrace new opportunities and address threats head on.
The Wise Stewards Guide supplies a framework for reviewing the work of boards. Its six parts are reference points for understanding the scope and chief elements of wise governance, and it serves as a checklist for assessing both formal mandates and informal practices. In addition, the guide clarifies the relationships among people who collaborate with the board in governance — presidents, senior administrators, faculty, and other stakeholders as identified in institutional bylaws.
The Wise Stewards Guide — Facilitator’s Edition is designed for board education, with discussion questions provided after each of the six parts. The questions can be revised to fit any institution’s unique circumstances.
Governance leaders may find the guide useful for orienting new members or committee chairs, or for reviewing and repositioning the board’s work. It could also be used to prepare for accreditation reviews, helping to identify strengths and weaknesses the board should address — within itself, or in its work in shared governance with the faculty and administrators.
To download the revised Wise Stewards Guide, visit www.intrust.org/WiseStewardsGuide. To request the Facilitator’s Edition, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
An outline of the Wise Stewards Guide
Three key terms: president, governing board, theological school
The context of governance in theological education
A shifting religious landscape
An epidemic of student debt
The shift away from full-time faculty
The high cost of an expanded curriculum
Enhanced public scrutiny
A need for new educational models
Six essentials of wise governance
1. Respect for the past and the future
As a wise steward, the board balances respect for the way things have been with a robust anticipation for what yet can be.
2. Commitment to board development and growth
As a wise steward, the board takes responsibility for its own readiness to govern well.
3. Responsibility for effective institutional leadership
As a wise steward, the board assumes responsibility for hiring, caring for, and evaluating the president.
4. Vigilance for mission and economic vitality
As a wise steward, the board actively pursues the goal of mission fulfillment with economic vitality.
5. Commitment to shared governance
As a wise steward, the board establishes structures of leadership and governance that invite members of the campus community to contribute to the vitality of the institution.
6. Implementation of planning and assessment at all levels
As a wise steward, the board models an institutional culture of collaborative goal setting, continuous planning, and hard-nosed evaluation.
1. Case scenario for “Respect for the past and the future”
From the past, a new future for Hilltop Theological Seminary
2. Case scenario for “Commitment to board development and growth”
Board building at Praxis School of Theology
3. Case scenario for “Responsibility for effective institutional leadership”
The inexperienced president and over-protective chair at Rocky Ridge School of Theology
4. Case scenario for “Vigilance for mission and economic vitality”
Financial vitality by the books at Southside Theological Seminary
5. Case scenario for “Commitment to shared governance”
Restoring peace at St. Luke’s Seminary through shared governance
6. Case scenario for “Implementation of planning and assessment at all levels”
Aldersgate Theological Seminary and the runaway gift horse