What This Article Covers

  • Collaboration resources for seminary leaders and their faculty
  • What are funders saying about the importance of collaboration in higher ed
  • A brief look at the Biblical basis for Kingdom collaboration.
  • A case history of one seminary’s collaboration with churches
  • Key collaboration ideas to consider for your seminary
  • Key principles for effective collaboration


Collaboration Resources

The book, Well Connected, is a testimony to remarkable things God has done as His people linked hands and hearts to accelerate the Great Commission and make their ministries more effective.  In a sense it is a chronicle of what we have learned over the last 30 years working with hundreds of Christian ministries, helping them find ways to do together things they could never achieve alone.  The book has the theoretical. theological, and practical, ‘hands-on, how-to’ of partnership and collaboration.  It has become a global handbook for those catalytic and visionary Christian leaders who have a vision and realize these cannot accomplish the vision alone.  It is packed with over 160 Biblical references, more than 50 case histories of small and large collaborative initiatives, and practical, step by step action you can take to effectively engage others in your vision.  The book is readily available on amazon.com .

The book does not specifically focus on collaboration in higher education.  That’s why the purpose of this article is to explore specifically how collaboration or partnership can strengthen your school’s long-term financial sustainability.  But I emphasize how valuable and relevant senior leaders in Christian higher education have found the book.  You will find highly relevant examples, principles, and practical action steps that can affect your relationship with your Trustees, your church or denominational constituency, your faculty and staff, your relationship with the community, and with other Christian schools.  I urge you to get a copy and read it.

Then, I would encourage you to explore the in-depth collaboration resource web site, www.synergycommons.net.  There you will find countless articles, videos, and other resources that may both inspire and serve the potential of collaboration by your institution.


Drawing on nearly 30 years of experience developing mission partnerships and networks around the world, Phill Butler’s Well Connected builds a case for the vital importance of collaboration in the church and provides an instruction guide for building effective Kingdom networks and partnerships.

His book outlines the 3 main stages of partnershipcritical leadership roles, and 15 key principles for effective partnership development. He also highlights common pitfalls and challenges. This book is a hands-on resource for mission leaders looking to start or grow collaborative Kingdom networks or partnerships.

Well Connected is currently available in PDF format for free and is available in five languages:

Arabic | English | French|   Russian  |  Spanish.

An English-Language Summary of Well Connected is also available.

If you wish to own a bound copy of Phill’s book it is available at Amazon.


A Strategic Funder’s Perspective

Eighteen months ago I talked at length with a long time friend who headed one of the U.S. best-known Christian foundations.  He had a doctorate in Educational Administration and, while the foundation supports a variety of ministry initiatives, Christian higher education has always been a priority for them.  He said, “You may not know it but every year I and our foundation Trustees have been making an average of 5-10 on-site, campus visits to Christian colleges and seminaries.  We want to make our own assessment of the spirit, vision, and effectiveness of the schools — their leaders, their programs, and their outcomes.  We have settled on certain key indicators we look for when we do these campus visits.  And, while we have developed a number of conclusions that now guide our investment policy, I have to say that, above all else, we have concluded that the future belongs to those Christian schools have a vision for and really practice collaboration throughout what they do.”  He went on, “Those schools typically have a clear vision of who they are, their strengths — what they can and cannot do well; their sense of identity is strong; they have an outward vision rather than inward; their leadership is focused on the future rather than the past; they are open to change — not threatened by it;; they are marked by a spirit of optimism; and their programs are well integrated — have a clear focus built around their vision, purpose, and identity; and their programs are perceived as relevant by faculty, students, their communities, and their financial supporters.

As I listened to this man, I asked myself, “If I was a Christian college or seminary President, I wonder how my school would measure up on such a score card?

Effective collaboration can produce powerful benefits on the campus, in the school’s relationship with the community, the school’s relationship with other institutions, and the school’s relationship with key constituencies off campus.  And effectiveness in these relationships can spell the key difference between financial success and stability or declining strength and ability to meet the school’s vision.


Collaboration Is Rooted In Scripture

The good news is that God’s people working together is not something borrowed from business or other ‘secular’ sources.  In Genesis, the book of Job, Daniel, Ephesians, and many other places we learn that God dwell’s in harmony, in community outside of time.  So, it is not surprising that at creation He said, “Let us make man in our image.”  In Genesis 2-3 relationships were destroyed — with God, with my own personhood, with each other, with the created order, and with eternity.  Jesus came to restore those relationships in His great, finished work on the cross.  Not theoretical or ecumenical unity but real, practical love for each other demonstrated before the world in a readiness to work together.

In the the story recounted for us in John 17, Jesus could have prayed for anything: that His people would be holy, that they would be diligent in their witness, that they would be generous — even sacrificial.  But He didn’t.  He prayed for one thing; that His followers would be one SO THAT the world would believe that He had come from the Father.  Jesus Himself made this striking link between His people working together in tangible, visible unity and whether the world would believe!  What remarkable motivation!  It is certainly true that effective collaboration can have a profound effect on the life, vitality, and sustainability of our seminary, but it is good to know that working together is His idea and that there are lasting, eternal consequences — wider, significant benefits to be reaped for Kingdom advance.  And, passages like Psalm 133 make it clear that as God’s people work together there are huge blessings — release of the power of the Holy Spirit and refreshment of His people.

The book Well Connected has three very clear, practical chapters that cover the Biblical basis for Kingdom collaboration; the motivation, and benefits associated with God’s people working together. .(1)


Effective Collaboration Can Affect The Entire Life of the Institution

Consider these key sectors of your institution’s daily life — and its future.

  • Relationship with faculty and staff
  • Relationship with Trustees
  • Student recruitment, graduation percentages, and placement
  • Faculty recruitment and retention
  • Operational costs
  • Creativity of programs offered
  • Ability to make relevant change
  • Perceived value by funders and your key constituencies.


The 200 Year Drift In Higher Education — Integration to Isolation

150-200 years ago, “The Academy” as it was typically known was a collection of teachers who had distinguished themselves through performance in specific fields and through academic rigor.  But one characteristic was almost always present; every faculty member knew where their discipline or special “fit in” — or, how their specialized field related to others at The Academy.  It was a mark of true education and intellectual maturity that faculty not only appreciated how the various specialties related to each other but could engage students and other faculty alike in provocative discussion, even debate, as to the impact or relevance of their field on that of others.

The earliest model of the academy in which professors were (still) active practitioners, really scholar-practitioners, with active feet in the topic areas. Subsequent “drift” has distanced Higher Ed from the field level.  Reconnecting well, embedding the academy in the field, sets the stage for collaboration with churches, other ministries, and wider society in general.  It was a holistic view of life and education and a view of the world that they expected their students to carry away from The Academy.  Simply put, the definition of an “educated man” (or woman) was very different from today

Over the years specialization, professionalization, and departmentalization in The Academy changed dramatically.  The typical path for pursuit of higher degrees became more and more individualistic — a longer, lonelier path.  Academic pursuits and daily life slowly move farther and farther apart. (2)  While the profile of your institution is unique, the general trend in higher education has been a drift from integration to isolation.  Where there is academic leadership and vision, some are making strenuous efforts to reorient their educational philosophy and practice toward a more integrated approach.  But is always a challenge and takes very specific commitment and intentionality.  And this fundamental culture of isolation has a way of affecting everything we do: Faculty, Staff, and Trustee roles in the institution; our view of students and how they participate in the life, program, and policies of the institution; our view of relationships with the community and with specialized constituencies such as funders, churches, alumni and their families.


Church-Institutional Collaboration: A Case Study

I recently asked the President of a well-know Seminary in Europe what was the greatest single challenge facing his school.  You can imagine my surprise when he did not say money, student recruitment, or faculty retention.  Instead, he answered, “Effective placement of our graduates.”  Knowing the institution had grown out of its history with the local church in the region, I asked him, “To what extent are pastors or denominational regularly on the campus — teaching classes, acting as guest speakers, giving input to your curriculum, interacting with your student and faculty, etc.?”  I was even more surprised when he said, “Almost never.”  Despite his response I went on to ask, “What kind of a regular program do you have to place your students in local church or other ministry opportunities on a part-time or internship basis while they are at your school?”  Now, not so surprising, he said, “We really don’t have a regular program like that even though we’ve been talking about it for a number of years.”

This very brief story powerfully demonstrates how money; continuing, economic sustainability and the practice of effective collaboration are so closely tied together.  Briefly, this small case history illustrates several vital issues:

  • The school leadership did not demonstrate that they place high value on the experience and contribution that the pastors and denominational leaders could provide — either in classroom content, shaping institutional vision and values, or shaping the school’s policies.
  • It communicates that, from the school’s perspective, the participation and counsel of the pastors’ and denominational leaders was not needed, certainly not essential, and — in effect — communicated that their involvement was actually irrelevant to what the school needed — either day to day or long term.
  • And, the school’s isolation from one of its primary constituencies showed one primary reason why, when graduates were produced, they were not perceived as vital or highly relevant to church effectiveness and future plans.

Now, even though you may not know the region, what kind of financial support would you imagine the school is getting from the churches in the area?  Why?  Would you imagine the churches consider the institution to be highly relevant, almost indispensible, making a real contribution to their local church ministry — therefore, deserving of their financial support?


Consider These Six Ideas Affecting Your School’s Credibility & Funding

  • Perceived value of your institution’s programs are regularly judged by your students, faculty, Trustees, the community, other institutions, and the church and her related ministries.
  • Value placed on your institution’s program or service is influenced by many things — among them the quality of curriculum. your academic standards, spiritual vision, quality of the faculty, etc. But, possibly most vital is how they perceive your institution’s relevance to real life.  Are your programs producing graduates that demonstrate spiritual maturity, understanding, and skills – clearly relevant to real life, work, and ministry?
  • Perceived relevance of educational programs is directly linked to the extent to which your institution is actively, directly engaged with its own core constituencies, the community, and the life of the church.
  • Being engaged is always marked by intentional collaboration — actively listening to, interacting with, and serving your primary constituencies.
  • Engagement with and demonstrated value to your primary constituencies is, ultimately, what makes the difference in how your institution is perceived.
  • And, how your institution is perceived directly affects the level and sustainability of your funding.

Effective collaboration is central to your leadership’s ability to cast the vision and actually empower your institution to a vital, engaged, highly relevant and highly valued future.  Isolation from any constituency ultimately means atrophy of the relationship — possibly even death.  Real life is rooted in engagement and active, on-going collaboration.

Consider Jesus.  He lived with, walked among, and responded to people where they were; in cafes, by the seashore, in the markets, in their homes and, yes, from time to time in the synagogues and temple.  He called on his audience, his immediate constituency, to judge him not by His word but, if they believed nothing else, by His works. (3)  At least four times between John 5 and John 12 Jesus indicates that his audiences should examine His works — not just His words.  If the Second Person of the Trinity is willing to be judged by His works, how much more must we not just operate our seminaries based on traditions, dated vision, or old paradigms.  We, too, must be ready to be judged every single day by the effectiveness, the relevance of our programs.


Key Collaboration Ideas To Consider For Your Institution

On The Campus: A spirit of collaboration that genuinely affects an institution always starts with leadership.  As a leader, you need to believe in, preach ‘the gospel’ of collaboration, and actually practice it yourself by supporting ideas, people, and policies that specifically favor collaboration vs. isolation.  Most schools in this room have tried some type of collaboration — on campus, in the community, or with other schools.  Some have gone well or at least had reasonable success.  Other failed or simply didn’t last.  Only the vision and modeling of the leadership will make durable change possible.  Specifically here are some ideas you can consider:

  • Is collaboration a key part of your mission statement (how you do what you do) and your stated spiritual and educational values?
  • Do the Trustees believe in collaboration and, along with your leadership affirm the idea, ‘preach it’ themselves, and hold you and the institution accountable to those values.
  • Do the various departments at your school meet regularly to discuss plans, policy, and programs and is there a means for them to participate in shaping the school’s vision, strategy, and practical educational policies?
  • Does faculty regularly work together to develop cross-disciplinary courses and field experience?
  • Are there regular opportunities for administration, faculty, staff, and students to meet and work together to give input to the school’s strategies, services, curriculum, and related programs?

Getting the on-campus community thinking and working together is a critical and major step toward an institution’s engagement and effective collaboration.

In The Community — The “Outside World”:  Research in cooperation with Overseas Council International with 129 seminaries on distance education and collaboration indicated that  64% of the leadership seminaries , indicated that their schools never collaborate with groups in their local community — or at least not very often. (4)

First, what is your own leadership view of the Gospel and the role of the seminary?

  • Do you and others in the seminary really believe that the nature and outcomes of your seminary need to be relevant to the community and its life as well as the church and it’s grass roots ministries — a real marketplace Gospel?
  • Have you considered actual joint projects — strategic alliances with churches, ministries, or community agencies which would bring new relevance, diversity of learning opportunities, and infuse a spirit of innovation into your programs.
  • Are community leaders of business, government, social service agencies, or churches or denominational regularly invited to the campus?
  • Are these leaders ever consulted on seminary priorities and programs, ever used as resources when planning, or asked to lecture, give talks, or share about the challenges of their workplace and responsibilities? Is there an active program to facilitate students interacting with these leaders?
  • Do you have a seminary department that is regularly in touch with key sectors of the community, including churches and other Christian ministries regarding their needs, opportunities for student volunteer service, apprenticeships, other ways students can relate their academic experience to the real world?
  • In your immediate area, your larger area, churches your students come from, pray for their ministry effectiveness, pray for your students placed in those churches? Prayer moves our hearts to be open, receptive, even yearning and prioritizing that which we pray for, which is in this case is integration and partnership with those we seek to serve, not isolation.


Other Key Constituencies:  Consider other seminaries and Christian colleges/universities, your alumni, the parents of your students or alumni, and — your funders.  Do we engage, consult with, listen to, and value the input of and actively work with these vitally important sectors?

A few examples:

  • With other institutions have you considered sharing faculty; establishing joint programs that allow cross registration, cut cost, and give your students access to otherwise unavailable curriculum?
  • Have you considered joint ministry, research, or program development with other schools — expanding each school’s capacity and opening up new sectors — doing things together you could never do alone?
  • With alumni have you ever seen them as a continuing asset — potentially the school’s best advocates to the rest of the world. Are they something other than a possible source of income?  Can they possibly play a valuable regular role in giving input —  helping shape the seminary’s future based on their own experience and belief in the school’s mission?
  • Have you had the courage or vision to invite your funders to actually be a part of the seminary life? Providing input to the plans and policies, helping you evaluate the school’s effectiveness.  Do you imagine your funders have anything to say to your students that might have value?


Some Essentials — Best Practices For Effective Collaboration

Collaboration for collaboration’s sake is a dead end.  It is not a fad, new technique, or trendy idea to try.  It takes long-term vision by the leadership along with their commitment, and constant attention  Here are some specifics

  1. Effective collaboration is about a powerful, commonly owned vision.
  2. Effective collaboration has limited, achievable objectives.
  3. Effective collaboration is built on trusting relationships.
  4. Effective collaboration needs a committed facilitator.
  5. Effective collaboration is a process not an event.
  6. Effective collaboration acknowledges & meets expectations of key constituencies
  7. Effective collaboration focuses on what the participants have in common.


Above all remember that effective collaboration is a spiritual battle.  Satan will go to any length to destroy relationships in the Body of Christ.  Pro-active, constant prayer by a committed is vital.


(1) Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope Through Kingdom Collaboration.  World Vision Press/Authentic Media, 2005.  Available through amazon.com.

(2) Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration: A Guide For Campus Leaders, Adrianna J. Kezar and Jaime Lester, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2009  (pp 21-34).

(3) John 5:1-44, 10:22-25, 10:37, 11:45-48, 12:37-43.

(4) Research by Overseas Council International, 129 Institutions, October 2010.