The Future of Seminary: Preparing Ministry Leaders After COVID-19

COVID-19 has completely shifted the current semester of seminary and will undoubtedly change the future of Christian higher education. To discuss these impacts, I interviewed Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), on what we've learned during the coronavirus pandemic about the future of seminary and preparing the next generation of ministry leaders. Here are a few of the highlights discussed as education leaders move toward the fall semester. 



Top 7 Themes On The Future of Seminary

1. The Economic Impact of COVID-19

  • COVID-19 has represented the nexus of crises that will suppress endowment institutions and the impact on institutional budgets. 

  • SBTS has addressed this by lowering tuition costs by thirty-percent during the pandemic and implementing a budget planning document while moving forward. This will keep leaders aligned on financial projections and changes as time progresses. 

2. Effective Ways for Leaders to Guide their Board of Directors

  • Present internal and external constituencies with pertinent information as often as possible. Examples include projecting the revenue for the next school year, sharing enrollment numbers, and communicating plans for future staffing.

  • Create a budget that is practical and measurable rather than one that is solely hopeful. It’s challenging to make predictions about the future during this crisis, however, leaders can approach budgeting by comparing current numbers to previous years to see where the decline is coming from. Track monetary changes closely to understand the trends taking place.

3. Managing the Narrative to Staff and Constituents

  • When communicating information that's unfavorable, it’s imperative to over-communicate. This will help to eliminate fear and build trust with your staff and constituents.

  • Take the time you have right now to be present and communicative with your community as much as possible. This doesn’t lessen the impact of unfavorable news but it will help manage the narrative thoughtfully. It also shows your commitment to engage and build community.

4. Fall Semester Predictions for Seminary and Higher Education

  • First and foremost, it’s imperative that leaders continue to do what is safe and what’s best for students and faculty. 

  • The future of seminary will inevitably have on-campus enrollment and activities, however, in-person engagement will look different in the fall. Figuring out the balance of providing a well-rounded in-person experience while keeping everyone safe is currently the primary focus of leaders in education.

  • Personal proximity for residential higher education is the biggest challenge leaders are facing for the fall semester. Keeping in mind that the business model crashes without robust on-campus enrollment, leaders are shifting what measures will be taken for this to happen in the fall.

  • Even if there aren't a high number of at-risk students on campus, many of the staff and faculty may be more susceptible to COVID-19. Additionally, kids who may not show symptoms could still be carriers and expose others when they travel to and from school. Institutions need to take all of this into consideration when making plans for upcoming semesters.

  • Higher education is in a difficult position of wanting and needing to communicate to parents that they can trust school leaders and expect to be on-campus in the fall, while also navigating the new day-to-day realities of COVID-19. 

5. Thoughtfully Caring for Parents 

  • It’s common for parents to question the amount of money they are paying for unforeseen changes in the type of instruction and experience their children are receiving. Leaders can provide clarity to parents by helping them understand the breakdown in tuition costs. This will also help to assure them that they are not paying for resources and amenities their children are not utilizing. 

  • Christian educators and leaders are in a unique position to steward the fidelity of their community of parents well by communicating what the other side of COVID-19 looks like. Though the full details of this are still unknown, leaders can lean on their beliefs in the gospel and the extreme need for this hope in the future through the education of the next generation.

6. Succession and The Future of Leadership

  • Looking to the future of Seminary and Higher Education, we can expect to see an increased demand for Christian leaders and new positions such as leaders with technological and communication expertise.

  • The next generation of leaders will need an understanding and ability to think digitally.

  • A possible permanent change after COVID-19 will be a shift an increased investment in technology and ongoing digital development. On-campus education and campuses will be revamped and repurposed for digital studies. 

  • There is a possibility that campus spaces will be redesigned for increased online/digital studies.

  • There is always a great need for a Chief Communications Officer in higher education. However, during a crisis, it’s important for communication to come directly from the school leader so their community knows they have a leader who is engaged and committed.

7. The Shift in Curriculum After COVID-19

  • It’s important to acknowledge and understand that as students move forward in their studies, they have a new perspective and world view that is framed by the COVID-19 global pandemic. This can change the overall culture of the environment on campus.

  • There will be a shift in evangelical teachings that will help students be more effective. Just as many students have  been taught about crisis through the lens of World War II and The Great Depression, literature, memories, and history from this event will guide the direction and teachings in Seminary moving forward.

  • Curriculum will aim to help students be agile during unforeseen future events. Again, the best way to teach students the skill of agility is to ground your teaching and resources in the wisdom and experience of other leaders in the past. The more students understand how leaders navigated a crisis like COVID-19, the better prepared they'll be to think in innovative ways in the future.

As fellow Christian leaders during this pandemic, Dr. Mohler and I hope to encourage you to lead by example during this time, using your confidence in God. While many things feel uncertain, we have resources that will help you prepare for the elements of success that are in your control. Check our our books here:

The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church by Dr. Albert Mohler Available June 2, 2020 at 

To help with succession planning, order your copy of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, Expanded and Updated

Copy of Reopening The Church (5)