DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has received a $1 million grant 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 supporting the pastoral leadership development of clergy serving in congregations across the United States.
As part of CBF’s continued focus on ministerial excellence, a survey of more than 600 pastoral leaders in 30 states was conducted in the summer of 2015. The results revealed a broad and deep burden among many leaders within the Fellowship. The survey found that financial literacy in the areas of budgeting, benefits and retirement, as well as debt management are barriers that impede the progress and efficiency of pastoral leaders within the Fellowship. As a participant in the Lilly Endowment’s new national initiative, CBF will develop financial literacy programs for congregations and pastoral leaders based on the focus areas identified in the survey. Additional financial services will be offered through CBF Church Benefits.
CBF will also establish the Ministerial Excellence Fund in partnership with the CBF Foundation and will provide matching funds of $500,000 for the purpose of long-term sustainability. The Ministerial Excellence Fund will provide grant awards for immediate debt relief of pastoral leaders, as well as financial consultation, coaching sessions and other educational programs for recipients. The granting process will begin during the second quarter of 2016.
Additionally, CBF will work to embed these efforts in existing programs and ministries. Peer Learning Groups as well as the annual Leadership Institute held in conjunction with CBF General Assembly and the ChurchWorks conference for Christian educators will all provide resources for educating clergy and congregational leadership with the goal of building awareness, capacity and sustainability so that a long-term commitment to economic stability will be integrated into the culture of call and service across the Fellowship.
Bo Prosser, CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships, expressed his excitement that the Fellowship could take part in this initiative with its longtime partner, Lilly Endowment Inc.
“We are honored and excited to be included in this important initiative,” said Prosser, who will serve as CBF’s grant administrator. “With this grant, we will be able to help our pastoral leaders better understand their finances as well as the economic challenges of their congregations. Money is the most avoided subject in our churches. This grant will open up communication and deepen understanding in facing the complex issues of money, economic and a theology of stewardship. We are grateful for the opportunity to deepen our relationships with congregations and congregational leaders in the years to come.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter said the grant will create additional capacity for CBF to help form healthy churches across the Fellowship.
“Healthy leaders form healthy congregations,” Paynter said. “Pastoral leaders can be negatively impacted by the stress brought about by the debt they carry. The initiatives that this grant undergirds will help ensure the vitality of local congregations by helping to ensure the health of pastors. That’s a game changer.”
CBF 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 non-denominational, 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
- 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 wellbeing 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 wellbeing 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 this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.
CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.