Grants will help theological schools prepare pastors for the future

Lilly Endowment Inc. has approved 84 grants to theological schools across the United States and Canada to help them prioritize and respond to their most pressing challenges as they work to prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

The grants, which total more than $82 million, represent the second phase of the Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. Ranging from $500,000 to $1 million, the grants are supporting efforts at 74 U.S. theological schools located in 28 states and 10 Canadian theological schools located in seven provinces. All of the schools are accredited by the Association for Theological Schools (ATS).

“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher L. Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Today, these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change.  Through the Pathways initiative, theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them. We believe that their efforts are critical to ensuring that Christian congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”

Pathways for Tomorrow is a three-phase initiative that the Endowment launched in January 2021. The initiative reflects the Endowment’s longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations by strengthening the leadership capacities of pastors and congregational lay leaders.

Together, the theological schools receiving grants represent the diversity of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada. The schools are affiliated with evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, the Black church, and historic peace church traditions (e.g. Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers). Many of these schools will use grant funds to increase their support of students and pastors from Black, Latino, Korean American, Chinese American, and recent immigrant Christian communities.

The grants are supporting the development and implementation of a variety of strategies proposed by the theological schools to help them:

  • Make educational programs more accessible and affordable for aspiring and current pastors.
  • Recruit and educate more students and pastors from communities of color to increase diversity in their programs and to respond to the changing demographics of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Improve opportunities for seminarians to hone their skills in congregations so they are better prepared for the realities of ministry.
  • Strengthen connections with the congregations they support.
  • Incorporate hybrid and online course offerings to extend the reach of their programs.
  • Enhance long-term financial viability by improving fundraising efforts and making institutional administration more efficient.

The Endowment is also making grants to ATS and to the In Trust Center for Theological Schools to coordinate the Pathways initiative during the next five years. The organizations will work together to provide the schools with resources, research and a learning community to encourage innovation and collaboration.

Through the initiative’s first phase, the Endowment invited all 263 schools accredited by ATS to apply for planning grants of up to $50,000 to help them explore challenges and opportunities they wished to pursue. A total of 234 schools received the grants.

In a competitive third and final phase of the Pathways initiative, the Endowment will fund compelling large-scale, collaborative projects in which theological schools work together to strengthen their capacities to prepare and support pastors and lay ministers and that offer sustainable models or strategies that, if successful, could be adopted by other schools. The Endowment anticipates announcing these grants in July 2022.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr., and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location. In keeping with the founder’s wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community developmenteducation and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate, and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.