Leading Theological Education
Leading Theological Education
In difficult times of external and internal pressures on seminaries and colleges, it is fundamentally important that they have good leaders.
The theory of leadership in theological education is not that difficult to set out; it is the practice that is so hard and complicated. But let us at least set out the theory. This is a personal view coming out of leadership in theological education in two continents and some primary and secondary research in the European situation.
There are five foundational relationships that the college or seminary leader, or better, leadership team, has to create, maintain and develop;
- with the vision
The clarity, appropriateness and endurance of a vision are fundamental for prosperity in any organisation, and so it is with us. The vision of a college can develop; it must match good theory and practice in theological education; it must be expressed relevantly in the contemporary situation. Developing, examining and expressing it anew however requires us to return to it and let it govern our practice.
- with the churches
A theological education institution is an extension of the churches and serves the churches in their ministry and mission. To serve requires us to be in a good relationship of trust with those we serve. Such trust is built on a common understanding of what teaching and training is all about and may need to be built partially by us listening genuinely to them and them knowing we are listening; partly by the college or seminary educating the churches and mission societies as to what they should ask of us; but always in humility and never losing close contact and mutual appreciation.
- with our students
Students generally come from a different generation and cultural frame from us as teachers and leaders, so again the task of listening and understanding is key if a gap is not to open up between them and the college leadership. Also important is setting before them often and well, the vision and ethos of the college, why it matters and how they should respond. In days where students are becoming consumers of education this is vital.
- with society
The “yes” of the churches and missions and the “yes” of the students is very important, but we are not islands un-touched by society, its ideas and requirements. Our colleges are little boats floating in the same sea as everyone else. The “yes” of society to us is also vital if we are to function. In particular, we cannot go back to the obscurantism of a rejection of the academic area but must develop a good relationship here also.
- with the staff
After all, who are the leaders leading but the staff? This relationship is based on a shared vision, on a knowledge of love and care as an attitude towards them and a blending of each one’s individual calling into the calling and vision of the college. Being human people, that is hard, being Christians, that is possible. But it is a large part of the work of a leader, patiently showing grace and good will, building trust, fighting fires and praying together. Leading people through relationship.
Global and local circumstances and movements outside the power of leaders to change, bear hard on any leadership situation today, it is a difficult job to steer the ship in choppy waters. Building and strengthening these five relationships is the goal. Working out how, with our own weaknesses and strengths, in our particular situation, is the messy leadership job we must do.