As we unveil In Trust Online and our new Good Faith Governance Seminars I am reminded of the impetus behind In Trust's founding in the late 1980s. Then as now we eagerly committed ourselves to serve the governing boards of graduate theological schools, and more particularly, to inform and educate members, especially lay members, of these boards with news and insights about governance, theological education, and ministry.
In most church bodies, clergy had long carried the joys—including the honor—and burdens of providing oversight for theological schools. Yet as the twentieth century marched toward its final years, seminaries had grown steadily more costly and intricate in their operations, and boards needed more and more talented and informed lay people to share in the responsibilities of governance.
In recent decades the savvy governing board has had to come to know and respond to an unfamiliar world. Rising and costly standards for accreditation and for ministry have forced significant reshaping of seminaries. Declining income at national headquarters has forced most denominations to shave their support of theological education. Canadians have the added burden of dramatic decreases in provincial funding. Everywhere, new schools and training programs have appeared, increasing the competition for students. Lay people have sought more involvement in programs they contribute to.
Now as In Trust charts these and other trends, boards need still more savvy. Financial vitality has always been a target for seminaries, but today's decreased yield on endowments, shifting patterns in gifts and allocations, and volatile enrollments leave no school secure in its pursuit. All partners in governance—boards, executives, faculty, and church bodies—face higher expectations in sustaining schools for the churches.
I am committed to In Trust's founding spirit and its practice of honoring the variety of voices, faith traditions and polities, governance arrangements, and organizational stages in North American theological schools. Because boards, by their nature, continually seek renewal as their membership and circumstances change, In Trust aims to provide a variety of resources in convenient venues.
We know that one size does not fit all. We aim to assist governing boards specifically by telling real stories that also teach by analogy, raising pertinent questions, proposing analytical frameworks, exploring in practice the meaning of accreditation standards, providing instruments for self-assessment, and relaying the best contemporary wisdom on governance wherever it emerges. We now do this in a public forum created by magazine, web site, and seminars where seminary leaders can join us in teaching the art of governance and in praying that our efforts will serve God's purposes.