Renewed funding means ABHMS’ ISOE program enjoys new emphases

In 2019, American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) In Support of Excellence (ISOE) program received a three-year renewal from its funding source, the Lilly Endowment. It’s, therefore, fitting that the financial-literacy program for clergy and lay leaders—which debuted in 2016—is boasting new emphases.

In the past, the program tended to focus on clergy compensation—how clergy could approach congregations about the need for a living wage. While the cohort model was previously followed, it’s now enjoying greater intentionality, resulting in building a true community of clergy that will continue to explore and study together online into the distant future.

The current cohort, which began in November 2019 with a retreat at ABHMS’ Leadership and Mission Building, King of Prussia, Pa., typically meets virtually on a monthly basis. It will culminate with an in-person pre-conference workshop at “Testify!”—ABHMS’ Space for Grace event in Kansas City, Mo., this Sept. 21-25.

The community focus means cohort members are not alone, according to member the Rev. Lolita Hickman.

“It means people are praying for me and my congregation, as I am praying for them and theirs,” says Hickman, founding pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Savannah, Ga.

Emphasis is also on financial practice as spiritual practice.

“It’s not just what you know, but what you do with what you know,” says ABHMS’ Jennifer Sanborn, program director. Jesus spoke about money more than any other topic, she says.

“In many ways,” she says, “we, as the church in America, have not picked up that mantle of responsibility to help people think about their financial resources and align them with God’s vision for the world.”

In the next year, Sanborn plans to expand the program to multiple cohorts for particular populations, such as women in ministry, ministers who pastor non-Euro-American congregations and those transitioning to bivocational work.

While virtual education is powerful for reaching a wide group of people, Sanborn acknowledges that meeting in person is also essential “because,” she says, “we want to create an experience of depth as well as breadth.”

The Rev. Brent Newberry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Worcester, Mass., says ISOE has been the most valuable of the many conferences and seminars that he’s attended over the years.

“From the curriculum to the speakers to the safe space for conversation,” he says, “Jennifer’s intentionality and spirit has cultivated a group dynamic that has enriched our thinking about money and God’s economy.”

Pastors can often feel isolated, which spills over into the experience of financial stress. The first step to freeing them from financial stress is to free them from isolation.

“This program is a gift, not simply because we think about money practically, but precisely because we approach it theologically, within a community of ministers who remind one another that we are not alone in our financial struggles, insecurities, shame or fear,” says Newberry. “Put another way, our mutual investment in this program is our own offering to one another—of hope.”

Additional information about ABHMS’ ISOE program is available online.