This blog post is scheduled for August 31st – Ken Schenck’s last official day as Dean of Wesley Seminary at IWU. It has been my privilege to work beside him for nearly six years. We are opposites in many ways, yet I’ve learned so much from him.
I thought I’d share a few of those lessons – not to elevate Ken, because that would be the last thing he would want. But because I believe God is honored when we recognize how He is at work in those we serve with…much of what God wants to teach us comes out of team relationships.
- The area of greatest fulfillment may not equal the arena of greatest fruitfulness
The principal architects of the unique learning model of Wesley Seminary were Ken, Russ Gunsalus and Keith Drury. After the academic design was initially envisioned, legend has it that Keith challenged Ken to serve as Academic Dean in the Seminary’s formative first five years even though Ken’s first love and greatest strength would not be administration. Keith planted this seed in that conversation with Ken – perhaps Ken would look back one day and realize his greatest contribution was his time of service as Wesley Seminary’s Academic Dean. And, typical of Ken’s willingness to go the extra mile, Ken ended up serving an extra year beyond the five.
Ken’s first love is teaching and writing (and maybe posting on social media, but that’s a discussion for another time). Yet he was willing to serve in a role that wasn’t his first love. Our greatest contribution may not perfectly align with our greatest contentment and satisfaction – yet God may use it in significant ways for His glory.
When I was involved in planting Kentwood Community Church, one of the early endeavors that providing lasting strength to the Church was a course, provided in a small group context, called B.E.A.M. – Believers Enabled As Ministers. It was our customized way of helping people to discover their personality strengths and spiritual gifts. It led to a significant percentage of our congregation knowing and focusing on service in areas that fit their wiring. Yet we discussed regularly the reality that a portion of their service may not be in their “sweet spot” – and yet the Church would benefit from it. Our contribution must not be held captive to personal contentment.
Now I tried to pay attention to what I called Ken’s “sigh meter” – his sighs that would emerge when responsibilities with low fulfillment factors began to pile up. Others of us on the team tried to serve in a way that kept Ken in his sweet spot the majority of the time. But not all of our service is within our strengths. Some of Ken’s most significant work may well have had more than a few sighs sprinkled in.
- Find the right mixture of flexibility and creativity
Wesley Seminary has a wonderfully unique learning model of integration of Bible, theology and church history with the major practical areas of ministry, delivered through team teaching. Traditionally, Seminary learning has tended toward the silo structure – courses in Bible separate from courses in theology separate from courses in church history, and all these not connected to the practice of ministry. The burden to figure out how it all fit together was left to the students.
Ken worked with the Seminary faculty to take responsibility for the integration – to team together professors in the different disciplines with those having experience and expertise in practical ministry. You can likely imagine this elevated the level of complexity from our Academic Dean and faculty. Highly creative, yet particularly challenging – quite frankly, many Seminaries wouldn’t even attempt it.
While this approach has had to be modified, Ken has worked with the faculty to maintain a framework for flexibility. There is constant pressure to reduce the complexity, but with the unintended consequence of leaving the students unprepared to integrate what they’re learning – and to lose the unique genius of informed reflection on ministry practice. This may leave our students vulnerable to either irrelevance or pragmatism. Ken has skillfully partnered with our faculty to reduce unnecessary complexity while preserving the creativity and its resulting benefits.
- Discern the relationship between your strengths and the organization’s season
When Wesley Seminary started, the curriculum was just being created by Ken and the few faculty part of the Seminary in those initial days. One of Ken’s greatest strengths is curricular design – and then a lack of defensiveness as it was initially tested and critiqued by our faculty and students (we affectionately refer to these initial students as our gracious guinea pigs). That is just the strength the Seminary needed in that initial season.
At the same time, in those early days, faculty collaboration was informal – usually taking place in the hallway outside one of their doors. Ken discerned that the next season would benefit from an Academic Dean that would provide collegial leadership to a faculty becoming more substantial in number and growing each year – and helped us to invite Dave Smith to be out next Dean (I look forward to learning from Dave as well), who is known for his strength in developing collaborative teams.
- Excellence without arrogance is a joy to be around
Ken is brilliant – I call him “scary smart.” He does better with half a dozen languages than I do with just English. Before I came to work in the University setting, I was warned about the “academic arrogance” generally prevalent in higher education.
What a privilege to partner with a person who exhibits profound humility in the context of great capability. Constantly learning and improving, not a false humility that fails to offer one’s best, but a focus on personal growth while ensuring the glory goes to God. It could have been intimidating to work with him…instead it has been invigorating.
So what are you learning from those you work with? What qualities in them do you desire to more fully incorporate into your life and leadership?
Ken, on your last day as Academic Dean, I want to say “well done”…and am delighted that my “well done” probably means very little to you, since you live for a “well done, good and faithful servant” that has everlasting significance.