Back in 2012, Christa Klein, then president of In Trust, spoke with Robert Cooley, “the guru of governance,” on the question of strategy and the rapidly changing landscape of theological education. 

To start, Cooley shared his experience as a new president at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the early 1980s. At the time, the evangelical world, of which his school was a flagship institution, was buffeted by controversies about the nature of scripture. At Gordon-Conwell, Cooley brought the faculty, board, and administration together to determine the school’s position. Guided by the mission of the seminary, the determinations they made not only established the culture of the school but served as a practical lesson in shared governance.

Commitment to mission should still guide theological schools, Cooley told Christa Klein seven years ago, and it certainly remains true today. He saw that in recent years, some instituitons had become untethered from their traditional cores, which Cooley said was the faculty, the library, and the classroom. And many schools had weaker ties to denominational partners, which meant less money but more freedom.

As seminaries adjust to meet these needs by expanding their reach — online, with satellite campuses, and by other means — the faculty-library-classroom heart of the school is pulled in many directions. That’s where Cooley’s admonishment to look at strategy remains so sapproprate. Leadership can quickly become unmanageable without a guiding plan. And the strategy can’t be a knee-jerk thing. It’s got to be mission-based and planning focused.

Another change Cooley saw on the horizon was the changing of ordination requirements. Even in 2012, denominations were starting to look more at a candidate’s “competency and capacity” than at their course selection and credit hours, and that even more true today. It’s a significant transition for education. As Cooley said, “That’s going to eliminate our degree nomenclatures.”

Read the whole conversation online: “The issue now is strategy, not governance.”