UBC Sauder – Bruce Weisner

New Tools, Ancient Practice

By Lorena Dexter Chaichian

In 2017, UBC Sauder Executive Education and the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) partnered to create a program in Leadership Excellence. This unique collaboration between a business school and a theological school means those called to pursue ministry can now gain the business skills they need to effectively build their congregations.

More than two million Canadians are employed in the charitable and faith-based sectors but business development training is not often given enough focus. Thanks to this visionary partnership with UBC Sauder, VST students are emerging with the skills they need to lead, to tackle problems, and to apply the business acumen they require to meet the challenges ahead. The program consists of four mandatory courses: Strategic Decision Making, Financial Statement Analysis for the Non-Accountant, Coaching and Mentoring, and Leadership Excellence for Administrative Professionals or the Art and Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

Master of Divinity (MDiv) student Frances Kitson says she’s benefitted from her executive education and she appreciates the wider perspective it has given her. “There’s much to be learned from the business world. It was so refreshing to mingle with people from other walks of life and I’ve gained useful tools I can apply to my church career.”

VST graduate Andrea Perret believes her new business skills have enriched her capacity to lead and inspire her fellow Christians. “I am able to apply my knowledge from the program not only in my ministry, but also in my personal life. I now have an elevator pitch that I can use to articulate on what it is I am called to do. It has truly enriched my ability to practice professional and vocational evangelism.”

Robert DeSandoli, congregational minister and graduate, says he’s now better prepared to step into a leadership role in ministry. “Before this program, I really had no idea how to properly read a financial statement. Now I’m confident in my analysis of how to identify key information. The course on coaching and mentoring helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses, and it also deepened my self-perception in these areas. These are valuable lessons I will take forward in my ministerial career.”

VST faculty members welcome the additional resources from UBC Sauder. “This has enriched my approach to teaching,” says Ross Lockhart. “Some elements of the program and its impacts were wonderfully unexpected. The experience also helped me in “ways of knowing” based primarily on the excellent interpersonal interactions with course participants from a wide range of professional backgrounds. Having such a diverse learning body helped shape and change my way of engaging with the material.” Lockhart adds he was pleased his students had the opportunity to connect with those outside of their usual sphere. “We aim for our grads to be thoughtful, engaged, and generous Christian leaders in the world and we encourage them to interact with a cross section of people. This program enables theology students to connect with the broader community and business world. That, to me, is testament to the expansive and inclusive nature of the courses.”

Former VST faculty member Brenda Fawkes says the classes serve to break down multiple barriers. “I’ve learned that those who work in other disciplines are less intimidating than I imagined. I can now picture myself pursuing more courses or even a degree in business administration as it supports effective and accountable leadership that goes beyond any one sector.”

UBC Sauder Executive Education Associate Dean Bruce Wiesner notes that custom programming like the Certificate in Leadership Excellence underscores the value of a business education – even when on a path to a higher calling. “It’s heartening to realize that we’re equipping VST students with the best tools and training they require to fulfill their life’s purpose.”

Vancouver School of Theology Principal Richard Topping believes that “collaboration is always the way forward: in business, in community and in ministry, for the common good. This partnership is a great example of how we’re aiming to inspire Christian leaders who are rigorous in all they do.”

Lorena Dexter Chaichian is the Associate Director of Communications and Media Relations at UBC Sauder School of Business. She’s also a freelance writer with credits that include the Tyee, WestEnder, Toronto Star, Georgia Straight, Vancouver Sun, Utne Reader, and CBC Radio.