Presented at the Development and Institutional Advancement (DIAP) Workshop, September 2003 by Daniel Aleshire, The Association of Theological Schools
The DIAP steering committee and my colleague, Bill Myers, asked me to talk about "the world of theological education and your work," and I want to honor their request by beginning where anyone who wants to contribute to the work of theological education needs to begin.
If the estimates can be trusted, there were about fifty million people in church in the United States this past weekend (approximately one-third of the 150 million Americans who claim religious affiliation). We are not sure how many places of worship there are in this country, but the estimates are something between 250,000 and 300,000 houses of worship, ranging from cathedrals to storefront churches. We are not sure how many of these houses of worship had sermons preached by seminary graduates this past weekend, but my hunch is that it would have been about 150,000. I don't know how good these 150,000 sermons were, but I imagine that the adjectives uttered as the day passed ranged from "awful" to "tolerable" to "good" to "moving" with maybe a few "informatives" and "entertainings" and probably more than a few "borings." There is considerably more to ministry and priesthood than preaching on Sunday; there are wonderful preachers who are lousy pastors, and wonderful pastors who are lifeless preachers. There is considerably more to ministry than pastoral work. Less than half of the students in ATS schools are preparing for pastoral work, but these houses of worship, and their pastoral leaders are the most visible images of North American religion. All the rest, however essential to the mission of the church and its engagement with the culture, constitute a less obvious public presence. When people think about religion, they think about these places of worship and the leaders who stand in front of worshipers to say something about a sacred text and the human experience.
"The world of theological education and your work," this topic, is ultimately about the relationship between the money you raise and the quality of worship on weekends and religious leadership throughout the week. Like pastoral work, there is a great deal more to your work than the relationship of the dollars you raise and worship on Sunday, but you misunderstand your work if this connection is not part of it. Theological schools, at least in the lingo of American higher education, are professional schools. Like medical schools, law schools, schools of social work, and schools of education, their task is to educate persons who can function in a specialized kind of work. Theological educators hope that graduates can serve wisely, winsomely, and well as pastors and in the variety of other leadership roles that religion requires. Your job is to help find the money so that these schools can do their work in such a way that religious life on the weekend and throughout the week will better meet the human hurt and hope that bring people to those houses of worship. With this perspective, I want to say four things about the "world of theological education and your work."
The first is that most of the money coming to most theological schools is from individuals.
This is not true of all schools, and there was a time that it was true of only a few schools. Forty years ago, most denominational seminaries derived most of their income from the denomination. The money came from individuals, of course, but the individuals gave their money to congregations, who forwarded significant amounts to denominations, who funded seminaries and other enterprises. For the most part, that is no longer the case. There has been a grand lack of intermediation in charitable giving to theological schools, and your job, for the most part, is to work with individual donors who will be responsible for funding an increasing percentage of the seminary's budget.
There are three, maybe four, kinds of individual donors in theological schools. There are persons of ordinary income who give to their churches, to United Way, and will give modest amounts to a seminary because they care about life in congregations and want pastors who will serve both faithfully and well. These people give the most important gift that any theological school needs: a constituency. Then, there are those individuals who have become moderately wealthy, and either don't know it or for reasons of piety, certainly don't live like it. They are a primary resource for deferred gifts. Then, there are the people who have become wealthy, are aware of their wealth, and constitute the first generation of major gift givers in their families. They give to honor parents and values that made it possible to do in their lifetimes what they never thought they would be able to do. Then, there are a few individuals in families like some of the ones that Charles Collier describes. They are from families of wealth. I was impressed with Charles Collier's book. I particularly liked his definition of wealth that includes the abilities necessary to acquire and manage money and not just the money itself. There may be a fifth group of givers and it comprises individuals who are moving from the first group to one of the other three, even as they are sending their $250 annual fund gift.
You could come up with different, and no doubt better, characterizations of the individual donors with whom you work, but increasingly, your work will be with individual donors.
Second, more money will be needed to do the job well.
The expense budgets of ATS schools doubled in the decade from 1991-2001. It is not completely clear to me why they doubled. We know that salaries didn't double, and we know that the number of full-time faculty did not increase in any substantial way. I think a mixture of things contributed: more income from endowment that allowed new programs, some increase in compensation, the expansion of information technology costs, the dramatic increase of healthcare expenses, and increased budgets for development, primarily in the expansion of staff and communication with constituents. What is completely clear is that more money is going to be required in the future. Theological education can be done poorly, which is always cheaper, or well, which will require increasing amounts of imagination, money, and talent.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, I think that ATS and theological schools need to do some major work on the case for theological education.
I don't mean that we need to do a better job of communicating the case we have. The case that we have has been called into question, and the future of the schools rests in their becoming a more compelling case, not just articulating the old one better. In some ways, development officers are on the front lines of the case for theological education. You know what is convincing and what is not in ways that most faculty don't. Faculty have the luxury of theoretical discussions about what the case should ideally be. You have the responsibility to talk realistically about the case in conversations with donors.
I think new questions have emerged about the case for seminary education in every corner of the ATS world. Evangelicals look at successful new paradigm churches and note that their leaders did not learn what they needed to know in seminaries. Mainline Protestants are dealing with membership decline by creating ways for clergy to be credentialed alternatively in which they do not need a seminary education. Roman Catholics, while holding tenaciously to seminary for the ministerial priesthood, are not so inclined to think it is necessary for thousands of lay professionals who are being employed by parishes to do what priests and religious were doing forty years ago. In all three of these major contexts, there is a serious question about, and at times active disregard for, seminary education.
I think theological education over the next decade or two needs to make its case by engaging in the educational and institutional efforts that will demonstrate that theological education adds value, meets needs, and makes a difference in the lives of communities of faith. Theological schools cannot hold back the forces questioning the value of theological education, but they can educate their students in ways that ordinary people recognize the difference that a seminary education makes. The overall task for making the case will require strengthening the institutional capacities of schools-so they have the resources to provide education that can make a difference-and it will require schools to undertake some significant rethinking and reformulating of their task. You know about strengthening capacity, so let me turn attention to rethinking and reformulating the task.
I think seminaries need to reconfigure themselves more as front line, and less as rear guard, organizations. I hesitate to use any language that has military connotations. I have experienced wars in the world and wars in the church, and neither has been very endearing, but the image is useful. How far from the front line of congregational life and social need should theological education be located? In an era of privilege, seminaries could be far from the front. They could do their work as retreat-like intellectual centers of reflection, prayer, study, and conversation-several steps removed from the hustle and bustle of a busy world and growing congregations. However, as the world is more wounded and congregations more stressed, this distance is increasingly problematic.
I think"front line" means conducting theological education with a much closer relationship to congregational, parish, and community life. Most fundamentally, I think it involves doing serious and substantive intellectual work for communities of faith and fashioning intelligent educational practices that prepare people for the world that is-and is emerging. Another aspect of front line seminaries involves far more consideration about what it means to educate leaders. At its best, theological education is leadership education. Most of the M.Div. graduates of ATS schools will go into first jobs after seminary that entail a significant degree of leadership. We know that failures in early ministry careers are not typically related to defective knowledge of scripture or church history, but are most typically a function of relational problems or inadequate abilities as leaders. Leadership is good work, and when it is done well, it helps a community to accomplish the purposes and goals that only a company of persons working together can accomplish. I think theological education needs a more inclusive perspective about ministerial leadership, and the educational imagination and skill to educate effectively toward that perspective.
If schools provide the intellectual labor that those 250,000 houses of worship need, and educate students to become the graduates that those communities of faith need, then they will be making a compelling case. And, as you know, the more compelling case the schools make, the easier it is for you to communicate that case to donors.
Finally, the task that you have and will continue to have is to help donors connect the case of the school with the hurts and hopes that motivate them as givers.
You are probably painfully aware that you can't make the case with donors if the school isn't making the case by its commitments and actions, but it is possible that a school can make the case in the way I have been talking about it, and the case not be translated well into terms that engage individual donors. Some schools are still making the case-a good one-the way they did to their denominations. Making a good case to the wrong group won't help. An increasingly important aspect of your job is to cultivate the case in a compelling way to individual donors.
The purpose of this workshop is to give you information that you can apply readily to your work. This talk is not very useful for that purpose. I am not giving you a new skill or strategy. At best, this talk has value only to the extent that it provides perspective. I do think perspective is valuable; we do our work better if we have a vision about the context in which individual jobs are performed. But perspective is not a skill; it's a vantage point. September is the optimistic time of the academic year, and I would like to take you to a lookout, show you a breathtaking view, and tell you that a land of plenty is where you will do your work, but the lookout point is more of a "look" "out" point, if I am seeing things correctly. The sky is not falling, there is wonderful work being done, but the future of theological education is one in which the case will need to be made in new and vital ways by institutions, and funding for that case will need to come from individuals who are motivated by that case. What do you see out there?
1. Charles Collier, Wealth in Families (Cambridge, MA: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2002).