Apr 212014 0 Responses

In Trust Magazine Series

Gary Hoag and I have completed our three-part series for In Trust magazine.  Links to the three articles are provided below.

In Trust invited Gary Hoag and me to write a series of articles for In Trust magazine. The series consisted of three articles written to “assist trustees and administrators in understanding the rapidly changing theological education environment.” They were published in the Autumn 2013, New Year 2014, and Spring 2014 issues of the magazine.

The first article was entitled, “More Schools, Fewer Students: What’s your seminary’s position in the changing market of theological education?” It is available here.

The second article was entitled “Charitable Giving and Your Seminary: As you reach out across multiple platforms, you increase participation and giving.” It is available here.

The third article i entitled “Practices that Foster Generosity.”  It is available here.

Additional resources are available here.

Feb 192014 Tagged with , , , , 0 Responses

What’s Changing?: Macrotrends in Communication

Change is inevitable, and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Based on research and personal experience, this presentation builds a picture of a culture of communication that is inherently multi-channel, social, connected, and mobile. It also covers recent research from the Next Generation of American Giving study.

Date first Presented: February 20, 2014
Event: 2014 ATS DIAP Conference

Prezi

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Feb 192014 Tagged with , , 0 Responses

2014 Advancement Peer Study

Once again, Gary Hoag and I teamed up to create a presentation for the 2014 Advancement Peer Study. The study was commissioned by Jay Mansur at Asbury Theological Seminary. Gary gathers the data and writes a report. Then, he and I collaborate on the creation of a presentation of the data. The collaboration process is a lot of fun and always brings out a few new interesting pieces of information. In this year’s study it was the “reach” section and the “note of caution.”

As in previous years, we created the presentation so that peer schools would have a tool which could be used to share the data to their various stakeholders. We gathered the group of schools at the 2014 ATS DIAP conference and that enabled us to learn even more from the peers in the room.

As always, I felt this experience was a great opportunity to not only serve my peers, but also to learn a great deal about what is working at various evangelical schools within ATS. We are all part of the system of theological education so it was great to share data and learn from each other.

Prezi

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Feb 182014 Tagged with , , , , 0 Responses

Macrotrends to Microsteps: Practical Tools for Integrated Communication

What do we do with all the information we see about changes in communication and marketing? In this interactive workshop which was co-led by Shanda Stricherz and me, we walked through a few concepts related to integrated communication campaigns. The last part was a hands on activity where we built a campaign plan.

Date first Presented: February 20, 2014
Event: 2014 ATS DIAP Conference

Prezi

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Feb 062014 0 Responses

A Few Possible Ways Forward?

I believe many, if not all, of the surface-level issues we see in theological education stem from one deep-rooted cause. We (myself included) often single out challenges like the fact that theological education is prohibitively expensive or that the curriculum is not connected to local contexts as much as it could be. Recently, many have pointed to post-christendom as the primary challenge facing seminaries because they believe seminaries were built to serve the church in a different era. Others will say that the shrinking the local church or the lack of completely online degrees within ATS is the issue (NOTE: some ATS schools now have such degrees). We could continue expanding this list, but if we dig a little deeper we will find one issue may rest below all of these very real challenges. Dis-integration may prove to be the single biggest issue in theological education, and overcoming it the greatest challenge we face as seminaries.

In a previous post, I commented on my desire to focus on the immense task of integrated innovation. I have since led a workshop at the CFOS Conference (hosted by ATS) on the topic, and I enjoyed the conversations! Integration is an important task and it covers everything we do as seminaries. I have heard some people refer to it as the need to overcome the fragmentation that exists within our schools.

Over time, I will address various components of integration and its connection to the surface level issues we so often discuss. This topic relates to organizational and staffing structures, curriculum design, course delivery, relationships between local ministries and seminaries, and our understanding of ministry. As I address these components, I hope to hear your thoughts so please share them! Let’s begin by looking at what I mean by “dis-integration.”

What is Dis-integration?

In this instance, it does not mean crumbling or fragmentation in the since that things are falling apart. Rather, it refers to a lack of integration or “un-integration” which is inherent in the way we tend to form and operate seminaries. It is evident in how we develop educational programs.

The Dis-integrated Degree Model

Ministry (regardless of the type) is a generalist endeavor; but we have a system of theological education focused on the consumption of highly specialized content. It seems our educational programs are often designed using mutually exclusive building blocks rather than using integrated approaches focused on outcomes.

A student is granted a degree or certificate if he or she adequately participates in a set of courses designed to cover a broad range of topics. A degree becomes a formula comprised of Old Testament, New Testament, Theology, Church History and Ethics courses which are supported by a cadre of individual courses focused on various aspects of ministry. A course on pastoral care, another on youth ministry, and another on preaching become additional blocks in the degree pyramid. Finally, students are asked to participate in a field ministry experience – again, often as a mutually exclusive building block. In some cases, the student doesn’t even receive credit for the field ministry program.

This model served us well for many years and it has many wonderful qualities. It may be time to revisit its underlying assumptions. Can one really study theology without considering scripture, the story of Christ’s church, his or her personal ministry context and the relationships involved therein? Can theological education make any assumptions about the level of spiritual formation taking place in local churches? While the building block model has been adjusted over the years with an effort to create “golden threads” that run throughout a degree, I believe we can do better.

A Few Possible Ways Forward

I do not claim to have all the answers or a secret model of theological education that will solve all our “integration” problems when it comes to designing and delivering academic programs. If I did, I would share those answers with as many people as possible in an effort to build the kingdom (versus building my own kingdom). However, I believe I have a few questions as well as a few ideas that might help us think more integratively. Be sure to let me know what you think.

Continuous and Concurrent Ministry Context

It seems that one way forward would be for students to be engaged in a ministry context from the moment they begin their program through to the end rather than relegating field ministry to one specific part of the program. Some schools are doing this, but often the method simply requires the student to be engaged in ministry. This means the ministry context is not truly integrated into the degree and I think we need to do more. The context of ministry is an important teacher and it needs to be more fully integrated. Some schools are beginning to do this well. The question is not “should students be involved in a continuous and concurrent ministry context,” but rather “how can we fully account for and integrate the continuous and concurrent ministry contexts of our students?” It is important for me to note that I use the phrase “local ministry context” to refer to the broad range of reasons students enroll in seminary.

Integrated Courses

Is it possible to design courses that integrate multiple “disciplines” rather than creating degrees using mutually exclusive building blocks? Over the years, many schools have created courses that are “team-taught” in that various professors cover different portions of the course. Some of those courses are more integrated than others. A friend of mine once said, “I don’t think its possible to talk about church history without also talking about theology and vice versa.” If that is the case (and I tend to agree), then why does nearly every institution divide them into mutually exclusive courses? It seems that an integrated system of theological education would build on the natural synergies that exist between the study and practice of ministry as well as those that exist between and across disciplines.

Incarnational Educational Paradigm

Much has been made of the missional church movement, and I resonate with the themes of that movement. What would an educational paradigm look like if it took seriously the incarnational and spirit-guided nature of Jesus’ mission? Would it ask students to continually disengage from their local contexts? I believe it may bring theological study and ministry training into the rhythm of one’s life rather than asking a student to wholly disrupt his or her life in order to engage in education. I am not saying theological study should be easy or fail to be rigorous. Instead, hear me ask the question, “Is there a way to deliver theological education in a way that it encourages a life of incarnational ministry which is guided by the Spirit? Students entering seminary have jobs, families, church or ministry activities, and hobbies which bring joy. We ask them to add an additional 40 to 60 hours per week of school if they want to be fulltime students. Is that a sustainable rhythm of life that allows for “working from rest” and being present in one’s local ministry context? I don’t believe it is, but I do believe an incarnational model of theological education would bring us closer to where we need to be.

Your thoughts?

I know I have asked a lot of questions and opened the doors to many different conversations. My goal is to continue a conversation that has been started by many others. As I begin my new role at Sioux Falls Seminary, I have been blessed by the conversations I have had thus far. There is a strong hunger for new models of theological education. I believe we can create something new if we continue to ask the right questions.

What are your answers to some of these questions? What does an integrated system of theological education look like to you?

Nov 152013 Tagged with , , , 0 Responses

How 80% = 41%

If your school retains 80% of its Master of Divinity students from one academic year to the next, that means your graduation rate may somewhere around 41% – which isn’t a great graduation rate. At the ATS CFOS Conference this week, we learned that according to ATS estimations the average MDiv student in an ATS school takes about 5 years to complete the degree (not surprising). We also learned that the estimated average retention rate was 80% (percentage of students retained from one year to the next). When those two numbers are put together, we can create the estimated graduation rate of 41%. Think about it, if 100 students enroll in your school in the fall and then you retain 80% of them each year (which means you lose 20% each year), 41 will still be standing at graduation. See image below.

Here is some more information that might be helpful. Over the past decade, the number of new students in MDiv programs at seminaries across ATS has outpaced the number of graduates. The number of new students has been anywhere between 120% and 135% of graduates. However, total enrollment at ATS schools has been declining each year since 2004. So, if we are enrolling more students than we are graduating and enrollment is declining, that can only mean we are failing to retain a LARGE number of students. This is supported by the estimated graduation rate I calculated above.

Student retention is a huge issue. I believe it is a good example of a symptom of “dis-integration,” the topic of my last blog post.

When we create new programs or courses within theological education, we tend to do so without thinking about the broader system required to truly support a sustainable model of theological education. When creating new programs, we must also be thinking about the financial models for those programs, the student retention models, the support systems, and much more.

Retention is connected to program formats, tuition structures, advising systems, mentoring systems, staffing structures, program requirements, faculty interaction, course location, marketing strategies, fundraising initiatives, and enrollment management philosophies. We see schools developing new degree programs because they believe the MDiv is no longer the “gold standard” degree. While that may or may not be true (always depends on who you talk to), I want to make sure we consider the fact that we must be thinking about the entire model, not simply the degree. If we don’t, the retention and graduation issues we see now may simply be repeated.

Do you know the retention rate at your school? How do you define retention? How would retention impact your enrollment? Do you know the cost to recruit a student versus the cost to retain a student? If your retention rate is 80%, how might you move it to 90%? Is there a way to shorten your time to completion without requiring the “traditional” form of full-time education?

Share your thoughts! I would love to hear them.

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