May 1, 2017
By Aaron Weaver
DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship recently welcomed the first group of grant recipients of the Ministerial Excellence Initiative, an effort designed to help pastoral and congregational leaders identify and respond to financial stressors causing anxiety. Grants were awarded for direct relief towards consumer debt, health insurance costs and retirement contributions.
Twelve recipients met in Decatur on April 27-28 to begin together a year-long study of dealing with personal and congregational economic issues alongside staff of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving in Indianapolis, Ind., and Fellowship leaders, including CBF Coordinator of Organizational Relationships Bo Prosser, CBF Church Benefits President Gary Skeen and CBF Foundation President James R. Smith. The recipients and their trusted congregational advocates gathered to learn about and discuss personal and corporate strategies which can be implemented to reduce debt and stress.
Participants were presented their grant awards from their congregational advocate during a time of blessing.
“These grants are a tangible blessing of God’s abundance in your lives,” said Prosser, who leads the Ministerial Excellence Initiative. “Receive these with the grace God intends. There is no shame or blame in your being here. Our prayer is that these grants will help relieve some of your personal stress and begin to heal you of some of your pain.”
Lake Institute representatives Melissa Spas and David King, who is a member of the CBF Governing Board, led the participants in a series of financial exercises, simulated experiences and discussions centered on managing personal finances.
“We know that stress in our personal finances is one of the greatest obstacles to effective pastoral leadership,” King said.
“We want to give you tools that will help you make good decisions about your personal finances so that you can be freed up and more confident in your leadership,” Spas added.
During the gathering, participants examined their personal thoughts about money, debt and financial management strategies. They also developed a working budget and were introduced to coaching concepts that will be emphasized in their year of learning. The workshop concluded with the development of a personal spending plan, savings plan and ways to move towards greater financial health.
In January 2016, CBF announced that it had 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 gave $28 million in grants to more than two dozen faith-based organizations through the initiative as part of its commitment to supporting the pastoral leadership development of clergy serving in congregations across the United States.
A 2015 survey of more than 600 pastoral leaders in 30 states 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.
From these findings, CBF announced that it was establishing a fund for the Ministerial Excellence Initiative in partnership with the CBF Foundation to provide matching funds of $500,000 for long-term sustainability. This fund is providing grant awards for immediate debt relief of pastoral leaders, as well as financial consultation, coaching sessions and other educational programs for recipients.
These efforts are being embedded in existing CBF programs and ministries. Peer Learning Groups as well as the 2017 Leadership Institute held in conjunction with CBF General Assembly and the ChurchWorks conference for Christian educators are providing 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.
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.