Wednesday, March 02, 2016

"Intentional Relationships" - SPST Strategic Plan

The Saint Paul School of Theology Board of Trustees has approved a “Strategic Plan” to guide the seminary’s work in the future. I’m really excited about the potential for the school that so deeply formed me for ministry.

And it’s important to say that formation is still the heart of Saint Paul’s mission. Specifically, “to form people for transformational ministry” is in the stated purpose of the school. There’s a long, kind of rambly statement of purpose, mission, and vision that will be published, and it’s rather too long and rambly if you ask me. But if you can sort through all the words, forming people for ministry, equipping people to serve “in a rapidly changing world” is the central task.

One of the components of the plan involves becoming a “seminary of intentional relationships.” Saint Paul is becoming an expanding network of relationships that include collaborations with other higher education institutions, partnerships with local churches and other ministry sites, and special partnerships with United Methodist Annual Conferences and other denominational bodies. Each category of relationship has a particular definition.

Collaborations will, among other things, allow Saint Paul to enter into 3+3 programs with universities, so that a student can complete both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in six years.

Partnerships will, for example, allow Saint Paul to expand our “Fellows” program to place more students in active ministry sites, and continue to grow opportunities for practicum experiences and workshops.

Special partnerships will hopefully allow for closer cooperation with the United Methodist conferences in the heartland to prepare people for ministry in a variety of settings, including mentoring, coaching, and specialization certifications.

The second exciting component of the strategic plan is a commitment to diversifying the degree options at Saint Paul. We want to see concentrations and specializations for all kinds of ministry in all kinds of settings. The MDiv degree is no longer the only way to go, and Saint Paul is behind the curve in creating more opportunities to specialize.

How cool could it be? A specialization in pastoral care, in community organizing, in justice ministry, in church planting, in … what? It’s clear that we need to offer an array of options, suited not for ministry of twenty years ago, but for ministry twenty years from now.

And the last thing I’ll mention about the strategic plan is a commitment to offering online coursework. Bricks and mortar are no longer top priority for Saint Paul. A flexible network of relationships, accessed online, is the vision for the future.

Personally I do not think that seminary education will ever go completely online. I think the pendulum will swing back. But I think it won’t swing back all the way, and online coursework is here to stay. That’s why developing hybrid course options is so important. The future, I believe, is in courses that blend online work with face-to-face interactions.

To me, those are the three most exciting parts of Saint Paul’s new strategic plan. There’s a lot more, and there’s a lot of detail I left out of the three parts I mentioned, but I’m just sharing this to hit the highlights. I’m sure Saint Paul will be releasing the more detailed version pretty soon.

In the meantime, Saint Paul alums as well as United Methodists in the Midwest should understand that the seminary is in critical condition at the moment. We are in ICU, but hospice has not yet been contacted. It is going to take a combination of higher enrollment, close management of expenses, and expanding the donor base to get back on our feet again.

The strategic planning team was well aware of that reality as they envisioned the future for Saint Paul and crafted the framework of a plan to get us there. And I for one am encouraged by and grateful for their work. And though the work is not over yet, the pieces are in place to create a vibrant future for Saint Paul School of Theology!

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