Sachs has a wide range of interests. He is founding director of the Richmond, Virginia-based Center for Interfaith Reconciliation, was previously a vice president of Episcopal Church Foundation, and is the author of four books, most recently Homosexuality and the Crisis of Anglicanism. But much of his time at Seabury will be focused on the issue of leadership.
Sachs attended the June 2011 leadership program offered at Seabury in conjunction with the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University and is working with interim dean and president Bob Bottoms to develop leadership programs for Seabury. Sachs' January 2012 course in Episcopal church history, polity and canon law is called, What Would You Have Done? Pivotal Moments in Episcopal History. Using the Socratic method, twice a day students will be presented with important church events and issues dating from 1740 to 2003. They will then discuss and debate how the understanding of faith and faith communities, and the leadership of the day, shaped the outcome.
Sachs said that a number of studies, including a Pulpit and Pew study done at Duke University, found that, consistently, the leading source of conflict in church congregations was ineffective leadership. Common problems are differences over the direction of the parish, between staff and lay leaders, between members of the staff, in understanding the mission of the parish and how that mission is expressed in parish activities, and differences in worship.
"Issues of sexuality and homosexuality are way down the list," said Sachs. "Congregations don't fight over Gene Robinson; they fight over homegrown issues. The principal theme that keeps cropping up is leadership.
"When leadership is effectively demonstrated, the identity of the congregation is clear. Then there is a capacity to address differences over human sexuality," Sachs continued. "If there is no consensus of leadership, then the issue of sexuality comes into a tinderbox; it is ready to explode."
Sachs' ability as a leader was recognized in March 2011 when he and Diana Butler Bass became the first recipients of Seabury's Chabraja Fellowships, which are awarded to innovative church leaders who will help Seabury reshape theological education to respond to the changing needs of the 21st century church.
His leadership roles have been many. Sachs serves as a consultant to Family Health International, one of the world’s largest providers of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services, and has conducted USAID-funded research on the treatment of this disease by religious groups in seven countries. Since 1973 he also has served as a full or part-time parish priest in Virginia, Chicago, and Connecticut.
Sachs received the PhD in History of Christianity at the University of Chicago after earning degrees from Baylor, Vanderbilt, and Yale. Prior to coming to Seabury, he has been a visiting faculty member at various institutions, most recently Yale Divinity School in 2006. He is one of the editors of the forthcoming Oxford History of Anglicanism.
Sachs said he sees Seabury playing a vital role in developing leaders within the church.
"In my judgment, Seabury is striving for a distinct contribution by giving a thorough consideration to what is meant by religious leadership," Sachs said. "They are looking to not simply train future clergy but to offer continuing education for a wide assortment of potential audiences, including clergy, the curious adult learner, and the longtime church person who wants to know what's the latest."
He said Seabury's summer 2011 leadership program with the Kellogg School was an example of the exciting possibilities ahead.
"That Kellogg program was an extremely happy and productive program," Sachs said. "The quality of the teaching was some of the finest I'm seen. I think where Seabury can make a contribution is both by taking some of the best in the business world's understanding of leadership and seeking to synthesize it with innovative approaches to religious leadership. That is an extraordinary and exciting opportunity to advance religious and spiritual leadership. This is an opportunity for a very creative synthesis that can lead to some very important practical programs. That's what is exciting to me."