Nearly $1 million received to support intergenerational clergy leadership program

Media Contact: C. Mark Batten | battencm@nullwfu.edu | 336.758.3959

Wake Forest University has received a grant of $998,946 to help the School of Divinity establish an intergenerational and multi-contextual clergy cohort program. It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $70 million in grants through the Thriving in Ministry initiative.

The School of Divinity will partner with the Center for Congregational Health in the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s FaithHealth Division to create a pastoral community of 72 pastor participants to aid their well-being and pursuit of meaningful and purposeful ministry. Participants will be selected from four traditional contexts – solo pastors, heads of staff, associate pastors, intentional interim pastors – and two emerging contexts – church planters and bi-vocational pastors.

“Our University’s origins reach back to 1834 when Samuel Wait was convinced of the need for an educated clergy and founded a college now known as Wake Forest University. Wait’s original vision remains alive today as this vibrant partnership between the School of Divinity and FaithHealth will equip clergy to thrive, and subsequently impact both the churches they serve and their communities.” Nathan O. Hatch, President of Wake Forest University

Lilly Endowment-funded research about clergy wellbeing is informing the School of Divinity’s program. Based on a 2017 study on Flourishing in Ministry: Clergy, Ministry Life and Wellbeing completed by Matt Bloom of the University of Notre Dame, the new program will engage clergy cohorts in four building blocks of flourishing: everyday happiness, resilience, self-integrity, and thriving. The cohorts will take part in experiences that emphasize belongingness, friendship, peer learning, and a strengthened spiritual life. These four dimensions are critical to pastors who are often isolated and overwhelmed by the work of tending to the needs and challenges in congregations.

Throughout the program participants will leverage their gifts, talents, energies, professional identity, and understanding of vocation as they address the unique challenges they face in today’s ministry contexts said School of Divinity Interim Dean Jill Crainshaw.

“Our program will provide us with opportunities to support and accompany clergy, in varying contexts and career stages, as they deepen their professional formation and advance in their career process. Leveraging resources at the Center for Congregational Health, our approach will help participating clergy flourish.” Jill Crainshaw

A comprehensive mentoring model will create opportunities for shared wisdom among early, mid-, and late-career clergy on the life and work of ministry by way of:

  • exemplar-mentors to lead online peer group meetings around curricular themes in which they have particular expertise, e.g., leadership amidst relational conflict, spirituality for clergy well-being, and asset-based approaches to ministry leadership;
  • one-on-one coaching opportunities with clergy coaches who provide support for clergy as they negotiate ongoing professional and personal challenges; and
  • instruction from the Center for Congregational Health and School of Divinity faculty during three cohort gatherings.
“This program will invest directly and deeply in the thriving of the pastor participants. The well-being of pastors and congregations go hand in hand. Because pastors are privileged to attend to God wherever God may be in the human experience - from birth to death and everything in between - our program will positively impact pastors and their current and future congregations by helping pastors better understand the conditions of flourishing in ministry.” John E. Senior, Project Director and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Religious Leadership

The School of Divinity is one of 78 organizations located in 29 states that is taking part in the initiative. The organizations reflect diverse Christian traditions: mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States. This has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.


“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. These promising programs, including (name of your institution and project), will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

The School of Divinity will begin accepting applications for this new program in the summer of 2019 with meetings beginning February 2020. More information will be available at divinity.wfu.edu.

Interested participants can sign up to receive more information.

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Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & 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. The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state Indiana. Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.

photos by Carly Geis Photography