ABHMS Receives Lilly Grant to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders

Published April 21, 2016

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 1/12/16)—American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) has received a grant of $1 million as part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. The initiative supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they address the financial and economic struggles that can impair the ability of pastors to lead congregations effectively.

The Endowment is giving $28 million in grants through this initiative. The grants are part of the Endowment’s commitment to support the pastoral leadership development of clergy serving in congregations across the United States.

With the grant’s support, ABHMS will establish IN SUPPORT OF EXCELLENCE—a program committed to equipping, supporting, encouraging and advocating for the well-being of American Baptist pastoral leaders. The program will utilize education, professional coaching and collegial support groups to help alleviate the economic challenges and related stress these leaders face. Also, the program will offer opportunities for exploration of ministry models that promote excellence in ministry for pastoral leaders and their congregations.

This national denominational effort seeks to:

  • improve pastoral leaders’ financial literacy and financial management skills;
  • improve congregations’ awareness and understanding of pastoral leaders’ financial pressures and related stress;
  • establish a Ministerial Excellence Fund to help alleviate specific financial difficulties faced by pastoral leaders and their families; and
  • explore the potential of a pilot Ministry Excellence Incubator to support pastors and their congregations with theological, financial, technical and advisory assistance as they explore new entrepreneurial models of church

“We are grateful for this generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.,” says the Rev. Dr. Clifford Johnson, president of ABHMS’ Board of Directors. “A major part of our ministry is to support the development of churches and pastoral leaders as disciples of Jesus Christ. Our research has led us to conclude that attaining these ends is all the more challenging when so much clergy energy is spent dealing with the stress of financial debt and managing challenging personal and church-related financial issues.”

“ABHMS is committed to working over the long haul to address the financial and economic issues that impact pastoral leaders today,” says Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS executive director.  “The grant will help us equip pastoral leaders and congregations with tools to deal with these issues through affordable and accessible financial literacy and church financial management training programs, and the Ministerial Excellence Fund will provide direct financial support. Each of the parts of the IN SUPPORT OF EXCELLENCE program will help American Baptist pastors and the churches they serve to thrive as they seek to incarnate Christ’s presence in their communities.”

ABHMS is one of 27 organizations taking part in the initiative, which represents a variety of Christian traditions, including Baptist, Catholic, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of God (Anderson), Episcopal, Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed and Wesleyan churches, as well as nondenominational and historic African-American Christian communities. They include denominational pension and benefits boards; local and regional denomination judicatories, such as synods and dioceses; and denominational foundations.

Each program is customized to the needs of pastoral leaders in each religious tradition, but the programs have much in common as they:

  • provide incentives for clergy to take part in personal finance education;
  • offer low- or no-cost financial planning and counseling;
  • match contributions for pastors and congregations that enroll in pension savings programs;
  • help pastors create emergency funds;
  • develop strategies that help young pastors pay down or eliminate educational debt; and
  • create new scholarships so that seminarians borrow less while in school.

“Pastors, especially those just beginning in ministry, accept low salaries as part of their commitment to God and to church. Many enter ministry with significant debt from their undergraduate and seminary years and often have little financial resiliency when financial emergencies arise,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment. “These organizations understand the importance of the financial well-being of pastors and the implications for the congregations they serve.”

An additional grant to the Indianapolis Center for Congregations will establish a coordination program for the initiative that will help the Endowment track success. It will bring together leaders of the diverse programs to foster mutual learning and support and help build a network of organizations committed to supporting the financial well-being of pastors and their congregations.

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 J.K. Jr. and Eli—through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does so largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies—the domestic mission arm of American Baptist Churches USA—ministers as the caring heart and serving hands of Jesus Christ across the United States and Puerto Rico through a multitude of initiatives that focus on discipleship, community and justice.

American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with more than 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.