A New Kind of Collaboration

January 27, 2020

Collaboration is, and always has been, an important aspect of theological education. Over the years, it has taken several different forms, and each generation is tasked with developing new and effective models of collaboration that serve students, the church, and all the various stakeholders within a system of theological education.

In 2015, Sioux Falls Seminary began reimagining what it might look like to build partnerships. Today, the school’s Statement of Strategic Direction reads:

We work efficiently, develop people, and empower fresh and collaborative expressions of theological education and integrated counseling. In order to provide systems of theological education and integrated counseling, we must have best-in-class operational efficiency and effectiveness. With that as our foundation, we are positioned to meet people where they are and move them through affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful journeys of personal development to where God is calling them to be. By maintaining high levels of efficiency and effectiveness in this work, we create margin for investing in strategic alliances that shape the future of integrated counseling and theological education, thereby empowering disruptive innovation across the industry.

With words and phrases like systems, efficiency, strategic alliances, and disruptive innovation across the industry, it is easy to see how partnerships play a role in the work of the seminary. Our call to “empower fresh and collaborative expressions of theological education and integrated counseling” requires us to be constantly developing partnerships that can “shape the future” and empower “disruptive innovation.”

In order to invite others into this conversation, Sioux Falls Seminary secured funding from In Trust. These funds allowed me to facilitate a gathering of several evangelical schools at which we discussed “large-scale non-geographically bound collaboration.” Out of that meeting have come several important developments, and more connections are being made every day.

Behind all of it is the biblical principle of collaboration that we see in 1 Corinthians 3:9. We are mere “co-workers in God’s service.” The focus is not on Sioux Falls Seminary, what we own, or who we are. The focus is on working with others to make known the Kingdom of God.

We believe the seminary’s process for developing partnerships is to be rooted in trust and stewardship not control and ownership. That is to say that we do not have a formal or bureaucratic process or policy for developing partnerships. Our values and the strategic direction of the seminary drive our work.

In fact, we do not go out and seek partners in a “we have to grow” sort of way. Rather, we see who the Spirit moves to our door. Next, we talk with them to hear their heart for God’s work and Kingdom to see if it aligns with who we are and what God has called us to do and be. If that goes well, we begin talking about details for the partnership.

We also have a framework for partnerships that has been in place for a while. It describes three different kinds of partnerships (program, process, and promotion).  Because of this framework, we can move quite quickly with partners.

Given that introduction, let’s take a look at notable partnerships:

• Cascade School of Theology
• Emmanuel Academies
• Gospel Depth
• Every Nation
• Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary
• Avance
• Transforming Center
• VantagePoint3
• Augustana
• Canadian Baptist Seminary
• North American Baptist International Office – Through Blue Ocean and Ethos,
• Symporus
• La Alianza Cristiana y Misionera en Colombia

One exciting development over the past few years has been the concept of an “integrated partnership.” An integrated partnership goes beyond the traditional types of collaboration and moves more deeply into the phrase “large-scale non-geographically bound” collaboration. Through an integrated partnership, we can share staff, expenses, faculty, and more in a much more efficient and effective manner.

Integrated partnerships bring about collaborative participation in disruptive innovation. By thinking differently about how organizations work together, we can create systems of theological education that honor local contexts, embrace the heritage of schools and faith communities, and provide unique opportunities for students to engage in a journey of discipleship.

Today, we have two such partnerships. We will look at each of these over the next two weeks.

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