Perkins Receives Lilly Endowment Grant to Study Indebtedness and Economic Well-Being of Future Ministers


DALLAS—Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University has received a $249,981 grant as part of Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. Perkins is one of 67 theological schools across the U.S. and Canada to receive grant funding. 

Personal financial pressures are severely limiting the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermining the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders. To help address this issue, Lilly Endowment created the research initiative to encourage theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the economic well-being of future pastors. 

All theological schools fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the North America were invited to submit grant proposals.  Perkins School of Theology will use its funding in three ways:  to analyze how indebtedness impacts future ministers’ job satisfaction and longevity, and develop guidelines for predicting and addressing economic issues for Perkins students; to develop financial literacy programs for Perkins students preparing for ministry and track the impact of these programs; and to explore ways to assist ministers with debt reduction and repayment.

Dr. William B. Lawrence, dean of Perkins School of Theology, emphasizes the importance of this initiative to help gain a greater understanding of the financial issues facing future ministers and developing strategies for reducing debt.

“By examining the debt load of Perkins students and alumni/ae, we will be better equipped to analyze the impact of indebtedness on their future careers,” he said.  “We will help our students become financially literate—both personally and institutionally—and assist them with creative methods for addressing their educational debt.”

Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the Endowment, underscores Lilly’s commitment to addressing this critical issue.  “Pastors are indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations,” he said. 

“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.

This is the second Lilly Grant announced by Perkins in 2014. Perkins also recently announced the award of a $500,000 grant for the Center for Preaching Excellence at Perkins School of Theology: http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/News/News_Archives/Archives_2014/Lilly_Grant-CPE.

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 grant-making is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.  More information can be found at www.lillyendowment.org

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Perkins School of Theology, founded in 1911, is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Church Ministries, and Doctor of Ministry, as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.