Why VSI Matters
For 30 years, a distinctive of ScholarLeaders has been our focus on promoting effective entrepreneurial and executive leadership, most often in schools of theology, in addition to theological and educational leadership. This focus has led to our largest new program, the Vital SustainAbility Initiative.
Through VSI, we collaborate with leading theological institutions in the Majority World to clarify their missions and create strategic plans for sustainability.
In the Majority World, direct costs for theological education exceed tuition; therefore, almost every student and academic program is a cash drain. Western conditions are more favorable, in part because students can afford higher tuition or at least qualify for student loans. Still, Western schools rely primarily on past generosity (endowments) and current donors. Such resources are limited in the Majority World, where schools are newer and less established, often in impoverished societies. Their financial viability, therefore, is constantly in jeopardy.
The financial problem is not solved by growth – it is exacerbated! Everything a school does must therefore be justified by its mission to the Church and society.
Strategic considerations include:
- What are the primary needs for theological leaders in this specific context?
- How might this school uniquely contribute to their formation?
- Which programs and students are essential to that contribution?
- What topics demand a theologically-informed voice?
- How might we best staff and organize this school to make these essential contributions?
- Is there an alternative model to traditional education that can deliver results more effectively and at lower cost?
- What resources are required and where might they be found?
- How can we ensure preservation of human, financial, and physical capital?
The challenge is to clearly define the mission of the school and then consider everything else – faculty leadership, student recruitment, facilities, financial resources, administration – in the light of that mission. With limited resources, institutional leaders must put a premium on strategic focus.
ScholarLeaders has invited 19 schools to work with us over the next few years. Carefully chosen from among hundreds of dedicated schools of theology, these 19 stand out for their size and stature, strong faculties, and effective executive leaders. They prepare teaching staff for other schools and have demonstrated the ability to reflect theologically in their contexts. Each is also noted for its generosity and eagerness to share what is learned with others. They hail from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. We work with each school and its leaders individually and on-site before sharing broadly what we learn. To the extent it is successful, VSI will lead to more sustainable theological institutions that attract, retain, encourage, and enable more and better-qualified leaders.
Theological education plays a key role within the Church: to educate and form pastors and teachers, and to lead theological reflection on unique issues confronting the Church and society. Theological schools in the Majority World are uniquely positioned to understand and respond to the needs of their distinctive contexts.
The Vital SustainAbility Initiative is shared with Overseas Council, a close ministry partner. In the past few years, we have learned a great deal from one another and have found that we share a perspective, yet bring very different skills and gifts. VSI is primarily funded by four generous foundations.