7 Questions with Brent Sleasman
Name: Brent C. Sleasman
Current title: President
Current organisation: Winebrenner Theological Seminary (Findlay, OH)
I am originally from southwest Pennsylvania and hold a PhD in Rhetoric from Duquesne University, an MDiv from Winebrenner Theological Seminary, and a BA from the University of Findlay. Prior to becoming President of Winebrenner Theological Seminary in 2015, I served as a tenured Associate Professor and Basic Course Director in the School of Communication & the Arts at Gannon University (Erie, PA).
1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?
Winebrenner Seminary sits at the intersection of higher education and the life of the Church. Even before COVID-19 there were great challenges for both higher education and the Church; this is even more so now! Staying faithful to our mission in the midst of external forces is a great challenge. There are so many items beyond our control that impact the way we carry out our mission.
However, our mission remains our focus regardless of what is happening in the world around us. A related challenge is to make sure that I am balanced in my personal life (spiritually, with my family, etc.) so that I can lead Winebrenner from a position of rest and support. It would be nearly impossible to be a positive leader of a Christian seminary without a solid support system.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My typical day starts with morning exercise and reading news headlines, primarily related to higher education and US sports. Next I spend time reading, primarily history, philosophy, theology or an occasional novel. By this time our kids are up and out of bed and, when possible, we eat breakfast together.
During COVID-19, I am working from home. Mornings are often times of catching up on email, meetings (Zoom, phone, or in person) and checking in with staff (I have five staff members who report directly to me). In the afternoon I spend time planning for upcoming events or meetings. Beyond working with our Board, managing my direct reports, and overseeing the organization, I am also the primary point of contact for our largest financial supporters. Often, during the day, I am in conversation with them either to thank for a recent gift, share about a need, or connect by phone to keep them updated and engaged with our mission.
Fortunately, during this time there are many days in which we can eat three meals a day as a family. Following our evening meal, we spend time as a family walking, playing games, or talking. After our youngest go to bed we often watch an episode of a television show with our oldest daughter. Then, my wife and I end the evening reading. I begin my evening reading routine with scripture and then pick up whatever book I’m working through at the time.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Proverbs 13:20 reminds us if we want to become wise we should walk with the wise. I’ve spent considerable time thinking through who I spend time with. My wisdom is directly tied to those who influence and speak into my life. I am surprised by many experiences but I feel prepared because I have a reservoir of insights gained from those with whom I’m in steady contact.
4. What one book has had the most profound impact on your Christian school leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
There are many. Choosing one...Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business has been very helpful in helping me recognize how much time is wasted in not getting things done.
Every Monday our Executive Team meets via Zoom for a weekly Check-in meeting that includes working through each of three strategic priorities within our current Strategic Plan, along with general administrative items. We have a monthly President’s Council meeting in which we focus on tactical questions and plans. Finally, we have a quarterly off-site strategic planning meeting. Reading this book brought clarity to the purpose and schedule of each of these meetings. We are much more productive now than before moving to this flow of meetings.
5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?
We have six full-time faculty. When our most recent faculty member retired we followed a policy in our Handbook that allowed one of our administrators to shift to a full-time faculty role. Previously, we have created a job ad and advertised widely. Of our other two most recent hires, one was an existing adjunct instructor who became full-time and the other responded to our ad after having no previous relationship with our school.
Once we hire a faculty member, we do what we can to pay them equitably and provide support (as possible) for continuing education and personal development. This contributes to their desire to remain on our staff.
6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
I find honesty and trust as two key components. I try to model honesty with our staff and students. We’ve navigated many challenges and I’ve done my best to provide information as appropriate and answer any questions I receive. This breeds trust among staff and students. There will always be those who question decisions, but I do believe we have a positive culture. When our students believe that we are trustworthy and honest with them, they are more likely to share their concerns and needs.
7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a Christian school leader so far?
Overall, I am inspired by how our staff and faculty can align themselves with the mission of our organization. We’ve made many significant and difficult decisions in order to make sure we will be financially sustainable into the future. This has helped us recognize the wider stewardship principles at work in our organization.
One particular example of this is an event we hosted in October 2019 exploring alternative pathways to seminary education (Pathways to Graduate Theological Education). We are working to lower our overall costs so that the price for students is significantly reduced. There are many stories of students and their personal impact in ministries. But our collective efforts to creatively rethink the role of a seminary and the alternative pathways is one that has particular meaning for me. There is a crippling trickle down effect of student loan debt (The “Domino Effect” of Student Debt) and we are attempting to remove obstacles so that formalized discipleship training becomes available to more students.