The other day I was in an online forum for seminary leaders hosted by the In Trust Center for Theological Schools. During that conversation someone made the great point that while so much course work at seminaries explore God’s creativity and abundance, our operational models and activities often are built upon the assumption that there is a scarcity of resources. We make decisions as if money is scarce or that we are in competition for students (read this for a challenge to that assumption).
Our organizational environments are built. Our cultures are built. But we act as if our organizational culture is given in the same way that we are given air to breathe. Organizational environments are built, not given. As we build our organizational cultures we need to reorganize our environments to reflect a better understanding of God’s generosity and prioritize our service as stewards of the actual resources God has given us as opposed to acting from fear or jealousy about what we don’t have.
Throughout this series exploring God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner I’ve been suggesting that our current systems of education and finances are broken and unsustainable. (For further background, you can read about the systemic economic structure of our theological systems here.) One specific example related to financial stewardship further illustrates this brokenness: student loans.
Our systems of theological education exist within larger economic structures that often reduce human beings to function like corporations where we all begin competing with one another. For example, I have been in conversations in which employees desire to offer a more affordable education for students but are worried about the impact of lower costs to such a point that an employee may not be able to paid a fair wage. In God’s economy, employees and students are not in competition for financial resources! We are on mission together and need to envision, create, and build new financial models and systems of theological education in which we are working collaboratively and not competitively.
Too many seminaries require students to rely upon student loans in order to pay the costs of the school, including salaries and benefits. An employee of a seminary should never require a student to accumulate debt in order to receive compensation. As stewards of God’s resources, we need to engage in conversations about affordability within the larger context of tuition as it relates to the changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), how much debt students have when beginning formal academic studies, primary reasons for students entering (and exiting) seminary, and how much does student debt increase during seminary.
An integrated approach to stewardship and finances is needed – cost reduction, revenue generation, curriculum (re)development, and a focus on spending less to educate more students needs to be priorities within these conversations. At Winebrenner we’re working on the following as a way to steward our resources (read more detail here):
- 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
As we move into the future we’ll continue to dig into the details and implications of prioritizing these three elements within our “operating system.”
– Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image by Annie Spratt, Unsplash and Adobe Spark