By Jerry D. Campbell, Special Contributor…
Earlier this year, after 40 years in academic administration, I announced my plans to retire as president of Claremont School of Theology. Shortly after my announcement, the board of trustees assembled a search committee and a new job description was drafted. The hunt for a new seminary president is well underway.
It’s a pivotal time in the life of this institution—and in all of Methodist theological education—so finding the right person to lead this school will be critical.
But what sort of person should that be? Who is the ideal seminary president of the future?
It’s not a job for the faint of heart. When I arrived at Claremont in 2006, the school was on the brink of collapse. A number of concerns (and even more rumors) about our accreditation, financial stability and denominational identity were affecting our ability to recruit students, raise funds and move forward as an institution. But with the help of our remarkable faculty, staff, students and trustees—along with some terrific new partners—the next president will inherit a school that is beginning to thrive again.
In a short period of time, Claremont has taken major strides to reinvent itself as a theological school for the future. We’ve been responsive to our accrediting bodies, we’ve improved our recruitment and fundraising efforts, and we’ve streamlined our curriculum for contemporary ministerial education, including a significant step into online and hybrid course delivery.
But perhaps most notable is the school’s role in co-founding the new interreligious school, Claremont Lincoln University. We attribute much of the seminary’s recent advances in student recruitment—a steady increase over the last three years—to the opportunity for students to prepare for ministry and study theology in a religiously diverse environment. I’m especially pleased because many more United Methodists now understand that studying in such an environment helps Christian students deepen and better articulate their faith. Our students are simply better prepared for ministerial leadership in the diverse and often conflict-ridden world in which they find themselves today.
Unfortunately, this experience comes at great cost. Many seminarians now graduate with debt as high as $100,000, and starting salaries are often as low as $30,000 per year. You can do the math. It’s a real problem.
While we have raised significant funds for student scholarships, I dearly wish I could have raised the funds for an endowment large enough to ensure that all Claremont students could receive a tuition-free education. A debt-free beginning to a young person’s ministry would give them much more flexibility to try innovative forms of new ministry. And the church today definitely needs more innovation.
As you know, all mainline denominations, both liberal and conservative, are in decline, and their membership is graying. Clearly, the institutional church has become less relevant to Americans under 40. The trappings of old-time religion no longer work for them.
On the other hand, the rapidly expanding emergent church movement has spread far beyond its progressive Evangelical roots to be a place where Christian innovators of all stripes gather to rethink the future of faith and bring about vital communities of believers. This faith is often more about doing and being than creeds and orthodoxy, and these innovators accept and even welcome skeptics. The movement also recognizes the complexities of religious diversity, and even the wisdom that other traditions can offer an authentic Christian faith.
A number of our United Methodist students and graduates are intrigued by, attracted to, and are even leaders in the emerging movement. It requires different understandings of ministry, and the increasing probability of bi-vocational leadership. Needless to say, these new contexts will keep Claremont’s next president on his or her toes, and we need someone superb. What sort of characteristics does such a leader need? I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently and have come up with a modest wish list.
I’d like our new president to have:
• The spirituality and eloquence of John Wesley
• The creative and adaptive genius of Steve Jobs
• The pastoral skills and emergent vision of Brian McLaren
• The social media and pop culture acumen of Arianna Huffington
• The fundraising and lobbying savvy of Karl Rove
• The leadership and management skills of Peter Drucker
• The heart for the poor and oppressed of Mother Teresa
Also, a thick skin and dogged determination to do right by the school come in handy. Those were my two main qualifications, and they got me through.
So if you know anyone who would fit the bill, please encourage her or him to apply. We’re looking for the seminary president of the future, and we’re ready to hire!
Dr. Campbell is the sixth president of Claremont School of Theology. For more information on the presidential search, please visit www.cst.edu.