Thursday, December 6, 2012 9:29 AM
Wesley Theological Seminary has received two grants from the Lilly Endowment Inc., one to research, review, create and strengthen initiatives aimed at improving the economic vitality of their ministry, and the other to help churches increase their presence in their surrounding communities.
The Endowment’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers grant will enable Wesley to examine financial and educational strategies to improve the economic well-being of future pastors. Research will focus on three entering years of United Methodist students who are under 30 years of age because this demographic has high levels of student debt and the least experience and resources to face the financial realities of ministry. Wesley will conduct research into its graduates’ debt, analyze information about current compensation packages, and review the consequences of debt on the well-being of graduates. It will review its own economic and funding strategies and improve institutional practices, and create educational programs that better prepare future pastoral leaders as managers of personal and congregational finance. Wesley will initiate partnerships with organizations and individuals to strategize and implement solutions to address the systemic issue of student debt. The goal will be to send these students into ministry with lower student debt, better financial management and leadership skills, and deeper understandings of economic life. Simultaneously, Wesley will partner with Annual Conferences and United Methodist General Boards on issues of debt and other economic challenges facing new clergy. “The church needs the generation of passionate mission-focused young people who are now in our seminaries. But this fruit may die on the vine unless we can help them see their way through to ministry. It will never be lucrative – that’s not why they went to seminary. But it must be viable,” said Wesley President Dr. David McAllister-Wilson.
Churches and denominations have become much more aware of the cost of their clergy but are not attending to the bigger picture of the economics of clergy education and support. The cost of higher education has risen at a greater rate than family income. Denominational support for both undergraduate and M.Div. education has steadily diminished. Ministerial compensation packages are losing ground with comparative costs for lifestyle expectations and the general cost of living. Subsequently, clergy have become involved in the complex world of mortgage financing without having developed the financial acumen to do effective planning. With increased use of housing allowances and complex options for clergy benefits, new ministers must take responsibility for their own financial futures, but often do so with little preparation or education for that task.
Lilly’s Early Career Pastoral Leadership Development grant will enable Wesley to institute The Pastoral Leadership Project, a bold new peer-learning initiative from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary. The initiative will encourage young United Methodist pastors, five to ten years beyond seminary, to broaden the horizons of their ministry.
“They will become more outwardly-focused and capable of leading their congregations in effective civic engagement and transformation,” said Lewis Center Director Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
“We have identified four topics common among all leaders who seek to become engaged effectively in their communities. the well-being of the community; doing good well; generosity; and courage. Wesley’s interest is in helping churches become vital by becoming missional, turning themselves inside out and serving their communities,” added Wesley President Dr. David McAllister-Wilson.
Capitalizing on Wesley Theological Seminary’s location in Washington, D.C., the program will facilitate structured dialogue between pastoral participants and key thought leaders at the intersection of faith and public life. These secular conversation partners will include people of faith who are national leaders in the sectors of business, government, military and non-governmental organizations.
The goals of The Pastoral Leadership Project include fostering an expanded field of vision to help pastors see beyond church-centric ways of viewing the world to a global perspective informed by secular thought leaders; modeling an approach to thinking, learning, and leading that involves inquiry, imaginative reframing, contextual learning, relationship building, and listening; exploring and articulating a new paradigm of civic and community engagement; educating and preparing pastors to strengthen their congregations and transform their communities; nurturing ongoing peer learning relationships to support ministry; and fostering a network of young leaders within The United Methodist Church with attitudes and aptitudes to revitalize congregational life and denominational institutions.
The Pastoral Leadership Project will be administered by the Lewis Center with Dr. McAllister-Wilson playing an integral, hands-on role in designing, implementing, and guiding the program. The project builds on the Lewis Center’s ongoing work with peer leadership development initiatives such as the highly regarded Lewis Fellows program and its expertise in issues related to young clergy.
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