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Partnerships and the Body of Christ

July 11, 2016

The concept of partnership is nothing new.  Back in 1920, New York Theological Seminary worked with New York University to create a joint PhD program in spiritual counseling.  In fact, working together to create academic programs in partnership with others is quite common across theological education.  Sioux Falls Seminary has several of these academic program partnerships.

Today, I’d like to expand our definition of partnership and perhaps even our understanding for why it matters.  Not only are partnerships a good way to develop academic programs, but they can also dramatically enhance the entire system of theological education.  Here at Sioux Falls Seminary we are committed to developing a strong system of theological education that reaches beyond the doors of our building at 2100 S. Summit Avenue, and, more importantly, involves more people and organizations working together.

Over the past few months, we have been using Ephesians 4:12 and the surrounding verses to guide our conversations in the articles posted on our website.  Today is no different.  Partnerships matter because it is through community that we are able to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” This is a not a task that should be done alone.  The body of Christ must work together if it is to develop servants who will participate in the kingdom mission.

But why, you may ask, are partnerships such an integral part of theological education?  In answer to that question, I might refer to the page on our website where we talk about partnerships.  The opening paragraph of that page reads: “For too long, theological education has been separated into various sections of the church.  Seminaries, churches, ministry organizations, clinical training processes, and more have been operating separately from one another.  At Sioux Falls Seminary, we believe theological education should be a system in which multiple partners participate in the holistic development of individuals.”  The holistic development of servants requires Sioux Falls Seminary to recognize that it is but one part of a broader system.

The key, however, is that partnerships need to extend beyond program development.  I might add that even programmatic partnerships should be approached differently across theological education.  The guiding force should be “How might our strengths work with a partner’s strengths to more fully develop a servant of Christ?”  I fear most conversations about partnerships begin with the question, “How might we expand our reach by working with a partner who has access to a market of students we don’t yet serve?”

As Sioux Falls Seminary works to develop servants who will participate in God’s Kingdom mission, we do so with the belief that three different types of partnerships can be very beneficial.  They are: 1) program, 2) process, and 3) promotional.  In each case, we are trying to match our strengths with the strengths of another partner so that in the end both sides of the partnership are enhanced.

Program partnerships are usually focused on some aspect of academic programming.  This means that students might be able to focus their studies in a certain area by working with one of our partners.  In each case, it is strengths-based partnerships that form the foundation of the program.  In a sense, these partnerships help to make theological education more accessible and relevant because the program is more closely aligned with the student’s goals.

Process partnerships have to do with making theological education more affordable because we are able to share operational or process-oriented work with a partner organization.  For example, our online course platform is shared with Taylor Seminary, our sister-seminary in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  By decreasing the duplication of costs, each seminary is able to make theological education more affordable.

Promotional partnerships are focused on telling the story of theological education and helping the broader public see the value of such work.  By working with others to share this story, Sioux Falls Seminary’s passion for remaining faithful to God’s word and the transformational essence of theological education can be amplified.

Put simply, the future of theological education requires a commitment to developing kingdom-minded partnerships wherein the focus is on combining strengths to more fully develop servants of Jesus Christ who participate in the kingdom mission.  Given God’s call to be a community set apart for the work of the kingdom, perhaps we should stop asking, “why partnerships?” and instead ask, “Why don’t we have more partnerships?”

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