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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Key Activities

Over the past month I’ve been exploring the “business model canvas” as a way to better understand the unique components at work within Winebrenner Theological Seminary. I find Jeremiah 1:10 to serve as a fitting biblical text for this series:

“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

The business model canvas is a tool that allows us to break apart the various aspects of our seminary and, when appropriate, uproot and tear down those parts that are no longer the fullest expression of Winebrenner’s mission to equip leaders for service in God’s kingdom. However, through this exercise we can also replant those practices that are most effective and build a seminary to reflect our mission that is responsive to the current historical moment.

When exploring our key activities, a helpful question to ask is what do we actually do to create value within God’s kingdom? (you can click here to read the previous post on value propositions which will help you better understand the idea of “creating value”).

A very common answer to that question is “we teach students in the classroom.” While there is nothing wrong with this answer it is an extremely limited way of thinking about how we create value for our students. When viewing theological education as a task of discipleship we need to consider biblical models of training and equipping. The primary way Jesus equipped those who followed him was through personal interaction, not a formalized classroom. However, that doesn’t mean that we do away with classroom teaching. What it does mean is that we begin to view the classroom as only one context for creating value for students, which is the interaction between an instructor and student. The authors of Platform Revolution use the phrase “core interaction” to describe this type of relationship between instructor and student. Within a seminary context, these core interactions are what truly create value for a student.

When we isolate the interaction between instructor and student as a primary way value is created for students, we realize that this interaction can occur in multiple contexts beyond a traditional classroom. All of a sudden mentoring relationships, phone or Zoom conversations, hallway discussions, and email exchanges become ways in which an instructor can interact with a student. I’ll write this one more time – the core interaction and key activity of a seminary is not teaching classes.  The key activity is the core interaction between an instructor and student, regardless of the context. A 12-week course is only one context (albeit, a very valuable context) within which this interaction occurs.

In summary, one implication of viewing theological education as discipleship is that this core interaction between instructor and student is valued more highly than “teaching in a classroom.”

In addition to students, there are key activities related to other stakeholders such as partners and donors. For partners, a key activity may be working with denominational or local church leaders on creating a context for discipleship and theological education. Someone may label this as “consulting,” but it really is just another way of expressing our mission of equipping leaders for service in God’s kingdom (we can serve partners even when we don’t recruit them to a class or invite them to serve as a financial donor).

Many administrators would identify the key activity in donor relations as “the ask,” meaning the conversation in which a donor is challenged to give money to a seminary. However, this greatly limits the ways in which we create value in the lives of financial supporters. Providing spiritual and prayer support and offering a listening ear to the way God is at work in their lives are only two activities key to relationships with donors.

Applying the business model canvas (BMC) challenges many traditional understandings of theological education (to uproot and tear down) while simultaneously affirming an entrepreneurial spirit of new growth and direction (to build and to plant). Working through the BMC helps keep us focused on strategic priorities while we develop a new business model which will (likely) lead to a new enterprise-approach to theological education. As previously discussed, the emerging platform we’re developing is built upon low fixed costs, creative curriculum, and a recurrent payment approach to tuition (click here to read more about this operating system).

Our next post will further explore the key partnerships within the business model canvas.

– Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image from Pexels, accessed on Adobe Spark

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