Reflecting on Working with Others

September 3, 2018

The past few years at Sioux Falls Seminary have been quite exciting.  We have seen God’s provision come through in powerful ways and are thankful for the opportunity to walk alongside an increasing number of students.  Some of God’s provisions include a 60% increase in enrollment, the opportunity to serve students around the world, and an 80% decrease in total student borrowing.

The list could go on, but the following quantitative data excites me the most.  Sioux Falls Seminary has developed over 30 partnerships, served 16 seminaries, and aided in the training and development of more than 300 faculty, staff, trustees, and administrators engaged in theological education.  In short, we have embraced our commitment to 1) stop worrying about our own little kingdom and start serving the kingdom and 2) create partnerships, programs, and relationships that, together, enable us to build a system of theological education.

While there is a collegial spirit in terms of sharing best practices in the world of higher education, there unfortunately seems to be an undercurrent of concern about competition (at least in my experiences anyway).  What breaks my heart is how much I hear the word “competition” used in conversations, even conversations between seminary administrators.  In one instance, an administrator once said that his school could not collaborate on a specific initiative because doing so would erode their “competitive advantage.”

Early on in my time at Sioux Falls Seminary, we created a set of institutional values and priorities.  One of these statements reads, “We serve in the kingdom, played out in the history of salvation centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Trusting in the triune God, we joyfully share with others in embodying the economy of God in the world today.”  In short, we take seriously the call in Philippians 2:

“So if our shared life in the king brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have a partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete!  Bring your thinking into line with one another.  Here’s how to do it.  Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior.  Look after each other’s best interests, not your own” (Philippians 2:1-4, translation by N.T. Wright in his Philippians for Everyone Commentary).

From the very beginning of our transition into a new way of engaging theological education, we made the commitment to do so in partnership with others because it is a theological necessity.  The very nature of the triune God is relational.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that God works in and through relationships.  We must do the same.  The importance of this cannot be overstated.  In the long run, a seminary or institution focused on growth at the expense of collaboration is doomed for failure in the economy of God.  God’s economy is one of abundance, shared experiences, and collaborative participation in mission of God.  When giving presentations, in order to put a fine point on this concept, I will often say, “Competition has no place in the kingdom of God.”

But how is this being lived out in practice?  Here are a few examples of what it looks like to embed this theology into the daily practice of an institution.

First, Sioux Falls Seminary has worked diligently to develop a system of theological education that functions as a platform for (rather than the source of) a participant’s journey of discipleship.  Instead of trying to build, control, or wall-off every aspect of one’s journey, we partner with churches, nonprofits, ministry training organizations, and other kingdom-minded ministries to create an integrated system of theological education in which all components enhance the others.

Yes, that means we might “lose” money that might have otherwise come our way.  Yes, that means that participants in this journey might be exposed to something outside of our traditional approach to a given theological discipline.  Yes, that means that other organizations might take advantage of this approach and seek to exploit it for their own benefit.  Yes, that is what we think it looks like to give away power and prestige.  Yes, giving away power and prestige is part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Second, we have done the hard work of aligning our entire way of “being” to reflect this embedded theology of partnership and collaboration.  This means that our organizational structures, systems of financial management, strategic directions, and processes for building new educational opportunities are attuned to the implications of being “sold out” to relationship development at the personal and institutional level.  For example, if relationships are our primary focus, then we must develop staffing and operational models that then afford people the time to focus on relationship development.  This means that we spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve technology and processes in order to streamline our day-to-day work.  It also means we try to eliminate tasks that do not add value to relationships.

I could go on and on, but I will stop here.  As you might guess, this topic is very important to me and is an important aspect of Sioux Falls Seminary and where we believe God is leading us in the future!  Please join us!

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