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InDepth – Reimagining Theological Education

For Further Discussion

If you would like to talk further about any ideas shared through this InDepth blog, please email Winebrenner President, Dr. Brent C. Sleasman at brent.sleasman@winebrenner.edu.

Re-Introducing InDepth

In the coming weeks we’ll be updating our InDepth blog and revisiting how we share the stories.  Stay tuned…
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Creativity, Innovation & Re-Organization

I was recently in a meeting when someone used the term “entrepreneurial” to describe what they’ve seen taking place at Winebrenner over the past year or so. I received this as an incredible compliment and affirmation of the ways in which our faculty, staff, and administration have responded to the unique challenges of 2020 and...
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Creativity, Innovation & Accelerators

Like many organizations, Winebrenner Seminary is slowly emerging from some of the challenges and restrictions that were present over the past year. Others have written about how COVID-19 impacted their lives and/or ministries. As we reflect upon the past year, it’s worth examining how COVID-19 changed things. One of the most helpful ways that I’ve...
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Creativity, Innovation & Prototyping

Organizational leaders are challenged to proactively move the mission forward while simultaneously being responsive to changing circumstances.  This dual commitment requires an understanding of creativity and innovation, something that I’ve written about previously (you can access by clicking on any of the following): Creativity Precedes Innovation: An Introduction Creativity Precedes Innovation: From Chaos to Creativity Creativity...
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Theological Education as Discipleship, Part Three

In the midst of a recent planning meeting the conversation shifted to ways we tend to think about changes within organizations. Very often when we are confronted with change we assume that in order for something to be different we will have to remove and replace what was previously done (think about this as “substitutional...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Cost Structures

Over the past few months I’ve been working through the various building blocks of the “business model canvass.”  You can read the individual sections by clicking on any of the following: customer segments, value propositions, channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key activities, and key partnerships. The ninth, and final, building block of the...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Key Partnerships

We are shifting our focus of attention toward key partnerships in order to explore the level of organizational interdependency required to make a business model “work.”  The authors of Business Model Generation suggest that “it is illogical for a company to own all of the resources or perform every activity by itself.”  Various types of...
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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...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Key Resources

I was talking with another seminary president recently about Winebrenner’s 2018 decision to sell our building facility to The University of Findlay. While, on the surface, that decision may seem strictly financial, it has greatly enhanced our ability to carry out the entirety of our mission. In business terminology, we’ve been able to leverage the...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Revenue Streams

There’s no question that we are living through challenging times and no evidence that the future will be any simpler to navigate. It’s very common to encounter the words revenue and sustainability in the same paragraph or conversation.  In order for an organization’s mission to continue indefinitely into an uncertain future there must be financial...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Building a Digital Platform

Like many seminaries accredited by the Association for Theological Schools (ATS) Winebrenner Theological Seminary submitted a request to the Lilly Endowment for Phase One of the “Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative.” Winebrenner’s request is for the creation of a “digital platform” that will accompany our $300/month tuition recently approved by the Board of Trustees. Each organization...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Channels

In this post I’m continuing to work through the various aspects of the business model canvas (BMC) that I introduced several weeks ago. If you’re just joining the conversation you can read about the first two aspects by clicking here: Customer Segments & Value Proposition. Before exploring Channels I want to provide a few thoughts...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Value Propositions

It’s becoming more and more common to hear “we need to change our business model” when discussing theological education.  What, exactly, does that mean? One of the earliest references introducing the “business model canvas” to theological education was Robert Landrebe’s article “To create the future, selectively abandon the past” from a 2014 issue of In...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant: Introducing the Business Model Canvas

The phrase “to uproot and tear down” could be unsettling the first time someone reads it, especially when applied to one’s life within an organization. If you find yourself “un-settled” by my use of this verse (from Jeremiah 1:10) within this context that may actually be a good thing! It means that you are paying...
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To Uproot and Tear Down…To Build and to Plant (Jeremiah 1:10)

Every decision at a seminary is based upon certain assumptions about finances and economics. Every decision at a seminary has implications for finances and the larger economic context. This is not to say that our financial and economic models are the most important aspect of what we do; I affirm the mission of discipleship as...
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Shifting Benchmarks & Decision-Making: From External to Internal Markers, Part 3

As I conclude this brief series about internal metrics and establishing benchmarks, here are a few things I know about our emerging Dashboard: Our final version needs to directly connect to our unique mission and strategy This Dashboard 2.0 is an opportunity to keep everyone’s focus of attention on what’s most important to Winebrenner Seminary...
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Shifting Benchmarks: From External to Internal Markers, Part 2

This post continues exploring a shift from external to internal markers and benchmarks. For those who read our Shifting Tuition posts (you can access the first in the series by clicking here) you are aware that Winebrenner Seminary is making a shift toward a recurrent/subscription payment model. During our most recent Quarterly Planning meeting we...
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Shifting Benchmarks & Decision-Making: From External to Internal Markers

When envisioning the future of an organization, leaders often begin with some ideal or framework to guide decisions. These “mental models” (a term used by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline) are based upon certain assumptions about how the world works. For example, I was recently in a meeting of denominational leaders when the topic...
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Shifting Tuition: From Market to Mission-Based Tuition, Part III

Winebrenner Theological Seminary exists to equip leaders for service in God’s kingdom. We are prioritizing collaborative relationships, contextual education, and creating communities of learners in an effort to fulfill our mission during 2018-2023. This short series focused on Shifting Tuition explores how a recurrent, or subscription, approach to tuition pricing is a mission-based strategy that...
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Shifting Tuition: From Market to Mission-Based Pricing, Part 2

All decisions and initiatives at Winebrenner Theological Seminary emerge from our unique mission and strategic priorities. Tuition pricing is no different. In last week’s post I outlined the first two phases of our shift from what I would term market-based tuition to a mission-based approach (you can read that post by clicking here). The following...
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Shifting Tuition: From Market to Mission-Based Pricing

If you ask 10 seminary leaders to describe the process they used to arrive at their current tuition pricing structure you will receive at least 10 different answers.  Unfortunately, if you catch someone in an honest moment, you may even receive a few who respond “I don’t really know.” One of the common refrains you’ll...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: In Conclusion…

The InDepth blog is written for two primary audiences. First, there are those internal to Winebrenner Seminary who can read this and step back and reflect upon where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are heading as an organization. This “internal” audience includes Board members, faculty, administration, students, alumni, and members of the...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Reorganizing for Stewardship of our Resources

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...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Stewarding our Resources

At Winebrenner, COVID-19 has certainly served as an accelerator. Many ideas we’ve talked about in the past are moving ahead more rapidly than they would have without COVID-19. At the same time, Winebrenner’s foundational relationships have not decreased or taken a back seat as a result of COVID-19. Our relationships with our donors are a...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Reimagining Enrollment Management

Over the past few months this series has described multiple ways in which theological education could be more effectively delivered to those who are sensing God’s call. A challenge with a systemic problem is that while the “problem” may look similar across various schools the solutions and responses will be unique due to specific mission...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner:  A Path Toward Financial Sustainability

The “operating system” that I’ve been developing over the past few posts exists within the larger context of a theological education system that includes certain assumptions about the economics of higher education. Jumping to the conclusion, the current economic assumptions that many seminaries are built upon is unsustainable over the long-term (this belief has been...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Re-organizing for Educational Programs & Course Development

When thinking about various aspects of theological education we can generalize and identify many of the inherited structures, designs, and delivery methods, as “traditional” approaches. To illustrate, every few years many program and schools evaluate the overall academic program and determine something like “tuition is too high” so they may either hold tuition prices or...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Educational Programs & Course Development

Recently, I was invited into a meeting about curricular redesign when I suggested that our philosophy of education may actually be more important than the way we deliver our education. I followed this statement by suggesting that we consider more flexibility and customizability for students. The response and challenge to what I proposed in that...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Reorganizing for Strategic Planning

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...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Strategic Planning

Over the past few posts we’ve explored how our mission guides our overall purpose and approach to how we carry out our day to day activities.  There are so many ways in which we can go about “equipping leaders for service in God’s kingdom” that it’s helpful to prioritize some activities over others.  Those priorities...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Reorganizing for Mission

Our language reveals much about how we think about lives and ministries. For example, over the past few months I have been retraining myself to use the term “organization” as opposed to “institution” to describe Winebrenner Seminary. Organization shares a root with words like organism and organic–words that evoke images of dynamic change and development....
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: Mission

Winebrenner Theological Seminary sits at the intersection of theological higher education and the Church. We have both a commitment to quality educational practice as well as the discipleship ministry of the church. My belief is that our unique mission allows us to provide a fresh expression of a theological seminary in 2020 and beyond. Winebrenner’s...
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God’s Kingdom, Our Winebrenner: We Repent

Throughout the New Testament, many times when Jesus talks about the kingdom he first says to repent. As Matthew 4:17 tells us “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Within Christian circles today there are renewed conversations about the kingdom but not nearly as many...
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Collaboration: Models & Next Steps

As I mentioned in my previous post, I serve on a Board for a university in Haiti. As part of my role on that Board, I was tasked with researching collaborative models between different seminaries and universities. The following provides a summary of what I found most helpful for collaborative partners. First, it is possible...
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Collaboration: Questions to Consider

Over the past year or so I’ve had a variety of conversations with those who are actively engaged in collaboration, others who are seeking collaboration, and some who are just curious about how seminaries and other organizations can work together for kingdom purposes. In addition to my role as President at Winebrenner I also serve...
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Collaboration: Shared Services

In June, Winebrenner Seminary’s president, Dr. Brent Sleasman, led a webinar for the In Trust Center for Theological Schools, exploring some of the challenges for seminaries that identify as “free-standing.” Like many seminaries, Winebrenner has identified “Collaborative Relationships” as a strategic priority. The session (link below) invites conversation about an alternative to merging with or...
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Surprised, Not Unprepared: Moving Courses Online

Winebrenner Theological Seminary offered its first online course in the early 2000’s (interestingly, in the summer of 2004, I taught a hybrid online/in person course at Winebrenner which was the second online course offering). In the summer of 2018, Winebrenner received permission to offer the Master of Arts of Practical Theology (MAPT) fully online. As...
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