Discipleship: More Conversations, Fewer Policies

Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring various aspects of discipleship. You can read more about some foundational concepts by clicking on the following links:

Organizational Culture: Discipleship

Discipleship: The Rhythm of Invitation and Challenge

Discipleship: Activating our Gifts

We live in a digital age in which conversations about outsourcing and automation are a regular part of our daily discussions (full disclosure – we also have these conversations at Winebrenner…you can read more by clicking here). However, in order to follow through on our commitment to view theological education as discipleship, we must prioritize the experience between two human beings. Previously, I’ve used the phrase “core interaction” to describe these human to human experiences, for example how students interact with faculty (you can read more these core interactions by clicking here).

Some time ago I was talking to a leader at another seminary about some changes we were working through at Winebrenner. He used a phrase that really resonated with me as he shared his school’s approach their own situation. When I asked how they were managing their transition he said “through more conversations and fewer policies.” A risk in an organization of any size is to attempt to manage people and anticipated problems by designing policies. But, instead of providing clarity and service, we end up providing needless layers of bureaucracy that others (in our case, students) have to navigate.

Let me illustrate. A question that I return to frequently is What problem exists in the lives of Winebrenner students that Winebrenner solves?  Another way to ask this is what value is Winebrenner contributing to our students? Some answers to this include

  • contributing to ministry knowledge
  • assisting in clarifying a student’s calling
  • providing training and equipping for various professional fields
  • providing a pathway to a degree
  • enhancing a student’s personal formation.

[you can read more about the above items by clicking here.]

Each of these are by-products of interactions between two human beings. Not one of these are accomplished through a policy (perhaps “providing a pathway to a degree” is a bit more policy driven since it depends upon approved curriculum]. Yes, in order to create space for these items to occur there need to be expectations (read as policies) related to finances and participation in the educational process.

I am becoming more and more convinced that some of the greatest obstacles we’re encountering as we seek to rethink and recreate theological education are the inherited traditions and structures of “higher education.” As we reimagine theological education it becomes vital to separate out the inherited understanding of “classes” and “classwork” to recognize that discipleship is a higher priority than the grades one earns in a course.

Conversations take time and are often messy. As we continue on our journey to follow Jesus, we will continue to seek new ways to carry out our unique mission.

  • Dr. Brent C. Sleasman, President