Mary E. Klassen
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary has received a $248,324 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to work at reducing concerns about the cost of seminary study and improving finances for seminary students.
Personal financial pressures limit the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to ministry and undermine the effectiveness of many pastoral leaders. To help address this, Lilly Endowment created the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. Lilly Endowment invited all schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada to submit grant proposals. The initiative’s aim is to encourage theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the economic well-being of future pastors.
AMBS is one of 67 theological schools to receive this funding. AMBS will use its grant for three major areas of work: 1) research into the extent of student debt, its impact on pastoral well-being, and denominational compensation practices; 2) strategies to reduce student debt; and 3) educational initiatives to increase financial literacy of students, pastors and bi-vocational leaders.
The research component will analyze debt trends of Mennonite seminary graduates, including AMBS and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. It also includes working with Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada to gain a comprehensive picture of compensation for pastors and to assess the impact of student debt on ministry and pastoral well-being. AMBS hopes this effort will stimulate denomination-wide conversations on how to promote a culture of generosity for current and future ministerial leaders.
The bulk of the grant will focus on strategies to reduce student debt by funding the launch of a capital campaign to increase endowment for scholarships. This assists AMBS in addressing a strategic priority of making theological and pastoral education accessible to more people, particularly underserved racial/ethnic leaders in new and growing Anabaptist churches. Everence will join with AMBS in two efforts: additional training for development staff and offering financial planning consulting to each student.
Several educational strategies are part of the third area funded by the grant. Faculty will work with financial literacy and money management as a spiritual practice and will better integrate this into the Master of Divinity curriculum. AMBS’s Church Leadership Center will incorporate this focus in continuing education events for post-seminary learning. Also, in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness, AMBS will host a consultation that gathers business, mission, pastoral, and faculty representatives to design an interdisciplinary institute to equip bi-vocational ministerial leaders with a holistic vision for mission and social entrepreneurial outreach.
Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, said, “I am grateful for Lilly Endowment’s leadership in inviting seminaries to address this urgent, systemic matter. We’ve already enjoyed enhanced relationships with denominational, mission and Everence partners as we envisioned what may be possible. Now we’re ready to engage these projects designed to undergird the financial well-being and financial savvy of those providing leadership for our church in its many expressions of community and ministry life.”
“Pastors are indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations,” said Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “Theological schools play a critical role in preparing pastors and are uniquely positioned to address some of the economic challenges they face,” Coble said. “The Endowment hopes that these grants will support broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders so that pastors can serve their congregations more joyfully and effectively,” said Coble.
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