We believe that the long-term vitality of congregations depends on excellent pastoral leadership, and our grants seek to ensure that congregations in the full range of Christian traditions have a steady stream of wise, faithful, diverse and well-prepared leaders. By drawing upon research and insights from conversations with thoughtful religious leaders from many Christian communities, we strive to understand the rapidly evolving challenges facing pastoral leadership and Christian congregations and support promising strategies to address them. We pay attention to relevant demographic trends and the variety of dynamic contexts in which pastors work and seek to ensure that their preparation is both broad and tailored enough to meet the needs of the diverse communities they now serve and will likely serve in the future. We support key moments along the arc of a pastor’s ministry–from wrestling with their call to ministry to seeking practices that sustain their ministry over time.

We make grants in four areas:

  1. Cultivating new pastoral leaders for congregational ministry.
  2. Educating and preparing pastoral leaders for ministry.
  3. Helping launch new pastors into ministry.
  4. Supporting and sustaining excellence in pastoral leadership.

Cultivating a New Generation of Pastoral Leaders

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Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) is a leadership incubator that inspires young people from diverse backgrounds to make a difference in the world through leadership in Christian communities. Since its founding in 1954, FTE has supported young leaders and encouraged them to explore their passions, purposes and callings. FTE produces resources, hosts events, supports networks, and provides grants and fellowships to cultivate a new generation of pastors and leaders who will serve Christian communities in many settings. FTE also provides doctoral fellowships for students of color in the theological disciplines to prepare them to serve as theological educators in seminaries and at colleges and universities.LEARN MORE

Youth Theology Network brings together more than 100 programs that help high school students from a broad spectrum of Christian churches study theological and scriptural traditions and draw on them to understand contemporary challenges. These programs also encourage youth to explore how God is calling them to use their gifts to contribute to their communities, including through possible careers in professional ministry. Programs based in colleges, universities and seminaries identify, ignite and cultivate the gifts of future Christian leaders. The Forum for Theological Exploration hosts the Youth Theology Network.LEARN MORE

NetVUE, the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, is a nationwide network of more than 290 colleges and universities formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students. It seeks to examine the role of vocational exploration in a variety of institutional contexts and share knowledge, best practices and reflection on experiences across participating campuses. NetVUE, which grew out of the Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation at 88 church-related colleges and universities, is administered by the Council of Independent Colleges.LEARN MORE

Campus Ministry Theological Exploration of Vocation is a nationwide initiative to help campus ministries working to support the intellectual and spiritual exploration of vocation with public university students. Between 2012 and 2015, the Endowment awarded 104 grants to help college students examine questions about their faith and draw on the wisdom of their religious traditions as they make decisions about their values, lives and careers. The campus ministries reflect diverse Christian traditions, and their programs take a variety of approaches, including faith-sharing groups, mentoring, internships, and national and international travel experiences, among others. The Forum for Theological Exploration hosts a coordination program for the initiative.LEARN MORE

Interfaith America, previously known as Interfaith Youth Core,  seeks to inspire, equip and connect leaders and institutions to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity. With Lilly Endowment support, the organization works with colleges and universities across the Unites States to equip campus leaders with vision, knowledge and skills to engage religious diversity and lead interfaith acts of cooperation and service. The organization provides leadership development opportunities for students, resources for college educators and campuses, grants to campus leaders and training materials on interfaith engagement and cooperation. LEarn more

Educating and Preparing Pastoral Leaders for Ministry

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Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative helps theological schools strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for a wide variety of Christian congregations. The three phases of the initiative assist schools as they explore emerging challenges and opportunities, gain clarity about their mission, assess their educational strategies and financial operations, and design and implement projects that make their institutions more educationally effective, financially viable, and relevant to the rapidly evolving and diverse contexts in which their graduates will be serving. In Phase One, 234 theological schools received funding for planning and assessment. In Phase Two, 105 grants were made to schools to implement programs. In the competitive Phase Three, 16 grants were made to support large-scale collaborative programs. The Association of Theological Schools and the In Trust Center for Theological Schools host a coordination program for the initiative.LEARN MORE

Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers supported schools working to reduce educational debt for seminarians and increase their financial literacy. In 2012 and 2013, the Endowment awarded grants to 67 seminaries to strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the well-being of future pastoral leaders. The theological schools that participated in the initiative have increased the accessibility of theological education for diverse populations and helped graduates gain financial skills needed to lead congregations and other faith communities. The Association of Theological Schools provided the coordination program for grantees in this initiative.LEARN MORE

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) plays a critical role in providing training and support to theological school educators and administrators. With programs that enhance the skills and broaden the knowledge of faculty, presidents, deans and other administrators, ATS works to strengthen the ability of theological schools to prepare men and women for ministry in the rapidly changing landscape of Christian congregations in North America today.LEARN MORE

The Gift of Black Theological Education and Black Church Collaborative is an effort that supports historically Black theological schools as they work together to build organizational capacities tailored to their own theological traditions, contexts, locations, constituencies and sizes. This effort grew out of the Initiative to Strengthen Fundraising in Historic Black Theological Schools launched in 2014. Recognizing the relationship between institutional advancement and overall leadership and governance, many schools have also engaged in board development to strengthen their structures and practices. In Trust Center for Theological Schoolshelps support this collaborative endeavor.LEARN MORE

Association for Hispanic Theological Education (AETH) is a network of pastors, theological educators and other leaders who work together to promote and strengthen the quality of theological education for leaders of Hispanic Christian communities. AETH provides resources and workshops for pastoral leaders of Hispanic churches and supports a growing network of Hispanic Bible Institutes.LEARN MORE

Hispanic Summer Program is a two-week intensive summer course for Latinx seminarians throughout the United States that immerses them in the study of Latinx theology, worship, community building practices and networking. Approximately 1,800 seminaries have participated in the program since 1989.LEARN MORE

Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) is a consortium of 24 universities that work collaboratively to support Latinx doctoral students in the theological disciplines and prepare them to become faculty members at theological schools and in university religious studies departments. The Endowment grants support HTI’s fellowship program for advanced doctoral students and assist HTI in strengthening its mentoring network.LEARN MORE

Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) is a leadership incubator that inspires young people from diverse backgrounds to make a difference in the world through leadership in Christian communities. FTE provide fellowships, professional development opportunities and mentoring for doctoral students of color in the theological disciplines.LEARN MORE 

Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion is based at Wabash College and supports teachers of religion and theology in higher education through meetings and workshops, grants, consultants, a journal and other resources to make accessible the scholarship of teaching and learning. The Center addresses issues such as teaching in different institutional contexts and working with students from diverse religious communities.LEARN MORE

Louisville Institute at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary brings together pastors and scholars so that the work of each may inform and strengthen the other. The Institute provides grants to pastors to explore and write about Christian faith and the practice of ministry. The Institute supports fellowship programs for doctoral students and post-doctoral graduates in the theological disciplines to prepare them to serve as faculty in theological education. In addition, the Institute awards grants to researchers to examine challenges facing diverse Christian communities, sabbatical grants to faculty to advance scholarship on pressing issues, and grants to help early career scholars of color complete their first book.LEARN MORE 

Launching New Pastors

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Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, since 2009, has provided seven cohorts of Indiana pastors serving congregations from a variety of traditions with a deeper understanding of various trends, issues, initiatives and public policies relating to life in Indiana communities that affect the lives of the members of their congregations. Goals of the program are to enhance the excellence in ministry of a cohort of talented young pastors in Indiana, to raise the professional and social status of ministry appropriately by expanding their circles of contacts and influence, and to provide them with Christian resources that will help prepare them for major leadership roles in the future.LEARN MORE

Early Career Pastoral Leadership Development Programs were inspired by the success of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. Between 2012 and 2014, the Endowment awarded grants to 17 organizations to help pastors explore the roles that their churches can play in helping their communities flourish. These programs gather groups of early career pastors with five to 10 years of ministerial experience regularly for two years and engage them in conversation with civic leaders and policy-makers about major challenges facing their communities and the members of their congregations who live in them. Wabash College hosts a coordination program for the initiative.LEARN MORE

Sustaining Excellence in Pastoral Leadership

Related Grants

Clergy Renewal Programs seek to strengthen congregations by helping their pastors to take time away from day-to-day ministry to rejuvenate their spiritual lives and thereby reinforce their commitments to ministry. Lilly Endowment launched the Indiana Clergy Renewal Program in 1999 with a program for congregations and their pastors in Indiana. The initiative expanded in 2000 to include the National Clergy Renewal Program for congregations and clergy across the United States. In 2021, eligibility requirements for the National Clergy Renewal Program were modified to make the program accessible to congregations and pastors serving a broader variety of Christian churches. Since their inception, more than 3,950 congregations have received grants to enable their clergy to undertake renewal programs. Both programs are administered through a grant to Christian Theological Seminary. LEARN MORE

Thriving in Ministry Initiative was launched in 2017 and now encompasses 129 Endowment grants awarded to religious organizations supporting pastors serving congregations in a wide variety of Christian communities. These organizations are creating new and/or enhancing current programs that help clergy thrive in their roles as pastoral leaders and thus enhance the vitality of the congregations that they serve. The Endowment encouraged organizations to focus especially on efforts designed for younger clergy and pastors who are in the midst of significant professional and personal transitions to help them build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as exemplars and role models and who can guide them through key leadership challenges during these transitional moments. Leadership Education at Duke Divinity based at Duke University hosts a coordination program for the initiative.LEARN MORE

Compelling Preaching Initiative seeks to cultivate practices among aspiring and active preachers that can help them proclaim the gospel to a variety of audiences in more engaging and effective ways. The initiative launched in 2022 with an invitational round of grants to 33 theological schools, denominations, universities and other non-profit organizations, and it is expanding in 2023 through a national competition, which will support compelling preaching programs at approximately 60 additional organizations.  This effort grew out of the Initiative to Strengthen the Quality of Preaching which awarded 19 grants to theological schools in 2012 and 2014. The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship based at Calvin University hosts a coordination program for the new initiative.LEARN MORE 

National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders is an initiative through which the Endowment has made grants to 51 religious organizations to support efforts to reduce or alleviate some of the key financial pressures that impair the abilities of pastors to lead congregations effectively. The organizations also guide pastors through wide-ranging educational programs to improve financial literacy and management skills. Common activities include: providing incentives to pastors and their spouses to participate in educational events related to personal finance, offering low- to no-cost professional financial planning and counseling, providing matching contributions for pastors (and congregations) to enroll in retirement savings programs, helping pastors create emergency funds, developing programs to help young pastors pay down or eliminate educational debt, and creating new scholarship funds so that seminarians borrow less while in school. LEARN MORE

Religious Workforce Project is a national research study led by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary. The study explores changes in staffing patterns in congregations and shifts in how Christian denominations deploy ordained and non-ordained professionals to support and lead congregations and other ministries. LEARN MORE