Seminary receives grant to develop shared services across theological schools

Published: October 12, 2022

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, has received a grant of $5 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish the CHANGE (Configuring Higher Education Administration for Next Generation Excellence) Initiative. 

The primary goal of the grant is to establish a new nonprofit organization that would develop models for participating theological schools to share administrative services. These shared services would enable the institutions to reduce their expenses while preserving and expanding their mission and reach. AMBS is a partnering seminary in this initiative, collaborating with seven theological schools from across the United States — all of which are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

“This grant is the result of a vision that leaders of dozens of ATS institutions have been developing for a number of years,” said David Boshart, PhD, AMBS President. “We’re excited to be the principal institution in this project, providing leadership within the wider ATS community to help stand-alone seminaries increase their efficiency and financial sustainability and improve services to students and faculty.”

The three-phase project includes a research phase with the partnering seminaries; a phase to establish the independent nonprofit organization; and a phase to develop shared administrative services and products. The long-term goal is to add more partnering schools across the United States and Canada as the services are developed. 

As the fiscal agent for the grant, AMBS will manage funds and provide administrative support for the grant and the development of the nonprofit organization. Two AMBS employees will be working on the initiative: Jeffrey Williams, PhD, as full-time Director; and Ron Ringenberg, MBA, MS, as part-time Grant Administrator. Williams comes to this role from Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Institutional Effectiveness Officer while also serving as Associate Professor of American Religious History. Ringenberg retired in 2021 from his role as AMBS Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer. 

According to Williams, the new initiative will focus on helping the collaborating institutions substantially reduce the high costs of administrative services while ensuring the delivery of “best in class” services. 

“We expect to create an administrative services provider that can operate at a greater economy of scale and attract highly qualified administrators, capable of providing excellent services,” he noted. “These shared services should help AMBS and the collaborating seminaries pursue a more sustainable future, contributing to the financial and operational viability of all present and future participants in the initiative.”

“We are enthusiastic about the opportunity to collaborate with other seminaries on this initiative and to participate in and learn from the related research,” added Deanna Risser, MBA, AMBS Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer. “We look forward to seeing what emerges from this shared project that will help all of us to more effectively and efficiently use our resources in our work of preparing leaders for the church and world.”

Among the schools collaborating with AMBS are Bethany Theological Seminary, Richmond, Indiana; Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas; Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis; International Theological Seminary, West Covina, California; Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri; and New Brunswick (New Jersey) Theological Seminary.

The Change Initiative is being funded through the competitive third phase of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. According to Lilly Endowment, the initiative is designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future. Phase three grants are supporting a limited number of large-scale collaborative efforts that explore and develop new educational and financial models for theological education.

The Pathways initiative is described by Lilly Endowment as part of its wider efforts “to strengthen theological schools and other religious institutions and networks that prepare pastoral leaders to ensure that a diverse array of Christian congregations is guided by a steady stream of wise, faithful and well-prepared leaders.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based 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. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it 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 founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A primary aim of its grantmaking in religion is to deepen the religious lives of Christians, principally by supporting efforts that enhance congregational vitality and strengthen the leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment values the broad diversity of Christian traditions and endeavors to support them in a wide variety of contexts. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion by encouraging fair, accurate and balanced portrayals of the positive and negative effects of religion on the world and lifting up the contributions that people of all faiths make to our greater civic well-being.

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance as well as a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world.

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