I had entered my seventh year as a seminary president. I had begun to feel comfortable with fulfilling my responsibilities and serving our faculty and staff. Things were running smoothly, and I had adapted to the seasonal patterns of the academic and administrative year. Maybe I had begun to figure this seminary thing out…
…then the pandemic hit. Like the commercial fishing boat, The Andrea Gail, every institution of higher learning found itself in the perfect storm of a global crisis. Schools closed dorms, emptied classrooms, and went “online” for the first time in their history.
While many residential schools worked aggressively to stay afloat when the storm hit, we began our next eight-week term without much extra effort. This had nothing to do with my leadership. I am indebted to our founding senior fellows for their vision of an online and local church delivery platform and to our faculty and staff who sailed into the storm with boldness, creativity, and resolve. Everyone has been blown off course by the storm, and we all continue to seek ways to survive its effect on who we are and what we do.
But now it is time to begin thinking about emerging from this crisis. Here’s what I want you to know: You can emerge from this crisis better than you were before.
How does your school emerge from this crisis better than you were before?
First, focus everyone’s attention on your mission. Mission is why you exist in the first place. I told my staff on a video conference staff meeting, “If you wonder what you should be doing at home, equip missional leaders.” No matter the circumstances, we exist to do one thing as a seminary: equip church leaders for God’s call on their lives through theological education. That happens in a myriad of ways, but it all contributes to one focus. Don’t be distracted by the “what if’s” and “we’ve never done that’s.” Focus everyone on your mission. It is your course direction no matter the seas.
Second, pursue innovation with those who have resisted change before. Like many seminaries, we teach courses in foreign countries. The prevailing culture in one of our teaching sites is face-to-face teaching. With global travel prohibited, our local host was forced to receive course content through a video conference platform. After the first class, the administrator was not only pleased with the connection and learning by the students, but he realized students from other countries who had not been able to attend classes at the residential teaching site could take the class. That breakthrough may not have come without the crisis created by a global pandemic. We can now add delivery of our courses via video conference to fewer and more costly face-to-face classes.
Third, focus on current priorities, not future problems. We had to make two significant decisions when we saw the storm would rage for some time: convocation and colloquy. We immediately brought together those who make those events happen to come up with solutions. For many reasons, we decided to postpone our convocation and graduation until November. We will deal with those details later. Colloquy, on the other hand, held the possibility of being fully online as scheduled. The director of our Doctoral Program Council and staff worked diligently with all involved to develop our first virtual Frank and Pauline Patterson Colloquy. We also came to the conclusion the topic and the opportunity to serve the Church were timely, so we opened it to all and will charge no fee. You can register here. The priority you work on will change as you emerge from this crisis, but if you address these as they arise, your future problems may be solved as you deal with your current priorities.
Fourth, adopt the Alcoholics Anonymous value found in Step Ten, “We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” All of theological education is scrambling on deck to secure the ship in this storm. But, best practices may not be best anymore. We don’t know what theological education will look like in the fall or next year, but B. H. Carroll Theological Institute must make progress in our mission. Progress to complete our God-given mission ranks above surviving or finding the new-best-thing in theological education. We will pursue excellence, yes; perfection, no. That goal is only for heaven.
We are all still in the choppy seas of this storm, but we can see a break in the clouds and the waves are not as high as they were. We will all emerge from this pandemic together; and I suspect we will emerge better than we were before.