As a seminary, we need to be intentional about learning all we can about the “industry” of theological education. Too often educational organizations tend to define their environment and context according to how they want them to be as opposed to the way things really are. One of the steps we are taking to avoid falling into this trap is to make sure we have others outside of our context speaking into our environment to help us interpret what we see and hear.
As part of a recent President’s Council meeting, we had two guests share in separate meetings: Richard Jones, COO of Maritime Christian College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and Chris Meinzer, Senior Director of Administration and COO of the Association for Theological Schools. Richard provided insight into how a mindset informed by technological innovation can assist in theological education while Chris helped Winebrenner make better sense of our place within the larger context of theological education in the United States.
One point from each guest can help us think about reorganizing to better achieve our strategic priorities of Contextual Education, Collaborative Relationships, and Community of Learners.
Richard’s encouragement is to “love the problem, not the solution.” In other words, the problem we’re trying to solve may be constant, but the means we choose to solve that problem may change over time. There’s often a problem in the ways seminary education disrupts lives and ministry callings. How we solve that may evolve over time. There’s often a problem with the cost of education; again, the solution may change with demographic shifts and changing market forces.
Chris shared that new creative endeavors usually have a “shelf life” of two to three years before the returns flatline. For example, an increase in enrollment from a new program or new tuition pricing may provide a short-term (2-3 year) boost, but will dwindle over time. Of course, this evidence is based upon observations of past trends and approaches in theological education. A fundamental rethinking of the model of theological education may reset the necessity and rhythm of innovation.
At Winebrenner, we are working to develop an “operating system” that fundamentally reconfigures and reorganizes how we deliver theological education. This operating system is built upon:
- Low fixed costs for physical space and full-time personnel
- Creative curriculum that fits within the rhythm of life and ministry
- A recurrent monthly payment model that allows students to join any month
In order to accomplish this, we are developing a networked platform to deliver theological education (for more about platforms click here: From Pipelines to Platforms: Shifting the Metaphor). The development of this platform has the ability to shift the focus from the need for new innovations every two to three years to focusing on new collaborative partners.
The operating system and platform are both in the “research and development” phase with a few smaller tests underway to discern the specifics.
The upcoming posts will specifically explore how educational programs and course development can fit within this platform.
– by Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image by Michael Gaida, accessed via Pixabay on Adobe Spark