By Philip E. Thompson, reprinted from the Oikonomia Network.
Toward the end of the last Seminary Spotlight report from Sioux Falls Seminary, we shifted our focus a little. Having reported the deep integration of themes attendant on work and the economy in our curricular and co-curricular opportunities, and having shared the fruit being borne by our students in their varied contexts of service, we turned to present how our financial model signals the seminary’s institutional commitment to the cultivation of human flourishing. We seek not only to develop persons to be signs of God’s active redemption of the creation, but to have an institutional life, philosophy, commitments and practices that are also a sign of redemption. In this Spotlight, we share another aspect of our institutional embodiment of the convictions and commitments we share with the Oikonomia Network.
Among the emphases in the Oikonomia Network’s Student Outcome Goals are the cultivation of flourishing lives centered in Christ, not just in churches but in the wider world (Outcomes 1 and 5); and collaborative as well as individual pursuit of cultivation and stewardship (Outcomes 2 and 6). Precisely this sort of cultivation and collaboration is evident in Sioux Falls Seminary’s establishment and maintenance of partnerships.
Starting in 2015, Sioux Falls Seminary began making a concerted effort to build partnerships. Our Statement of Strategic Direction reads in part: “We work efficiently, develop people and empower fresh and collaborative expressions of theological education and integrated counseling.” This strategic vision leads us rather naturally to prize the development of partnerships. With funding provided by In Trust, President Greg Henson was invited to host a gathering of evangelical schools to discuss “large-scale non-geographically bound collaboration.” Several important developments emerged, and continue to grow and develop to this day, enabling the seminary to connect with and serve ever more diverse publics.
Sioux Falls Seminary emphasizes the development of strategic alliances through the Kairos Development Network, an innovative approach to collaboration wherein partners from around the world work together to develop servants for participation in the kingdom mission. Comprised of schools, churches, ministries and other kingdom-minded organizations, the network shares resources, ideas and insights to make Christ-centered development of people more affordable, accessible and relevant. As of July 2019 there were thirty-five ministry partners involved in the network.
More important than the particular partnerships, about which more will be shared in a future Seminary Spotlight, is the set of commitments that informs and empowers this broad cultivation of stewardship responsibility. In a blog post written in September 2018, President Henson noted that while there is a collegiality among institutions of higher education when it comes to sharing best practices, there is also an undercurrent of competition for students and resources with and by whom to engage these best practices. Just as the debt load seminary students are often asked to bear is troubling, so is the talk among seminary administrators of “competition” and “preservation of competitive advantage” – terms used in a way that suggests a zero-sum mentality in which one school’s gain is built upon another school’s loss.
This does not cohere with one of the stated institutional values of Sioux Falls Seminary: “We serve 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 other words, we are learning not to worry about our own little “kingdom,” and instead focus on the kingdom (Matthew 6:25-33). When the kingdom is fully come, there will be no place for zero-sum competition, for Christ will be all in all (I Corinthians 15:28). As we seek to live as a sign of the kingdom now, we do not “compete” to build “success” on the failure of other seminaries, churches, organizations or any fellow citizen of the kingdom of God. We are and seek to be, rather, co-workers in God’s service (I Corinthians 3:9). It is, we believe, what Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun mean by the “fitting” life, the life of mature flourishing while awaiting the completion of the vision in the consummation (For the Life of the World, p. 153-159).
Because our triune God is relational, we understand that God works in and through relationships. We, therefore, seek to configure our life, institutionally and individually, in correspondence to the Trinitarian pattern. Tending to this correspondence through the cultivation of partnerships is an aspect of stewardship. To state the matter bluntly, we believe that a seminary or institution that is focused on its own growth at the expense of collaboration is doomed to failure in the reckoning of the economy of God, worldly metrics notwithstanding. God’s economy is one of abundance, not scarcity; one to be shared, not hidden under a bushel basket; one in which we are to participate collaboratively. Thus with each of our ministry partners, there is integration and sharing that enhances both them and us.
We are not unaware of the possibilities that come with this commitment. Money that might have come to us may not, in fact, do so. Participants in the journey of discipleship may be exposed to something outside our approach to a given theological discipline. Other organizations may at some point seek to exploit the approach for their own benefit. Yet, we are called to give away power and prestige. It is part of what it means for us as a seminary to follow Christ’s way (Philippians 2:3-8).