Jan. 25, 2021
Contact: Judith Cebula
317.916.7327 |

Initiative Seeks to Strengthen

Theological Schools for the Future


INDIANAPOLIS – Lilly Endowment Inc. is launching the Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, an effort to help theological schools strengthen their ability to prepare pastoral leaders for Christian churches into the future.

Through the three-phase initiative, the Endowment is making available $87.5 million to help institutions accredited through the Association of  Theological Schools (ATS) in the United States and Canada to enhance their effectiveness and long-term sustainability by addressing key challenges and taking advantage of promising opportunities. Learn more about the initiative here.

“Theological schools have long played a central role for most denominations and church networks in preparing pastoral leaders who guide the ministries of Christian congregations,” said Christopher Coble, the Endowment’s vice president for religion.  “But today these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change. This initiative is intended to assist theological schools in designing new approaches or accelerating their current innovative efforts to adapt to changes in higher education and church life. We hope that this support will help them sustain their abilities to prepare pastoral leaders for  years to come.”

More specifically, the Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative will support theological schools as they:

  • explore emerging challenges and opportunities facing their schools as well as the Christian congregations they serve.
  • gain clarity about their missions in light of these challenges and opportunities and in relationship to the leadership needs of congregations.
  • assess the effectiveness of their educational strategies and financial operations for preparing and supporting a diverse array of pastors and congregational lay ministers.
  • design and implement plans to launch new and/or strengthen current projects to make their schools more educationally effective and financially viable for years to come.

The challenges facing theological schools vary widely. They range from how to prepare pastors who are ready to address the emerging leadership needs of congregations to how to respond to the changing demographics of Christianity in the United States and Canada; and from how to adapt educational strategies to make theological education more accessible to a broader range of students – including an increasing number of students from communities of color – to how to strengthen fundraising capacity so that theological education is more affordable for future pastoral leaders.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the pressures experienced by most theological schools,” Coble said. “The Endowment seeks to support theological schools as they design and implement plans to address the challenges that are most pressing for them and the congregations that they serve.”

Pathways for Tomorrow has three phases of grantmaking:

In Phase 1, the Endowment will make available $50,000 planning grants to 1) encourage reflection, research and consultation so that theological school leaders can better prioritize the challenges and opportunities they wish to pursue and 2) help them prepare implementation proposals for funding under Phase 2 of the initiative. Schools can apply for planning grants through March 15, 2021.

Through Phase 2, which is competitive, theological schools may apply for up to $1 million to implement plans that strengthen for the long term their educational and financial capacities to prepare and support pastors and congregational lay ministers.  Schools have until August 2, 2021, to submit proposals for Phase 2 funding. The Endowment expects to award up to 50 implementation grants in late 2021.

In Phase 3, the Endowment will fund compelling large-scale, collaborative projects in which theological schools work together to strengthen their educational and financial abilities to prepare and support pastors and lay ministers and that offer sustainable models or strategies that, if successful, could be adopted by other schools. Interested schools must submit concept papers outlining their plans by November 1, 2021. After reviewing concept papers, the Endowment will invite selected theological schools in December 2021 to prepare and submit full proposals for grants of up to $5 million to implement their large-scale, collaborative projects. The Endowment anticipates announcing Phase 3 grants in July 2022.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is a 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. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of American Christians, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.