CBF receives $1 million Lilly Endowment grant to help ministers through transition and challenges


October 11, 2018

By Aaron Weaver

DECATUR, Ga.— The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has received a $1 million grant to help establish the CBF Thriving in Ministry Initiative.

This grant is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $70 million in grants through the Thriving in Ministry initiative.

The CBF effort is a four-year program that will engage 400 clergy leaders in Thriving in Ministry Groups. Each Thriving in Ministry Group is called together around a shared area of professional transition or challenge with the aim to help clergy leaders thrive and in turn enhance the vitality of the congregations they serve.

Thriving pastors carry out their work through the historic tasks of preaching, worship leadership and congregational care. The CBF Thriving in Ministry Initiative will empower these holy tasks through contemporary virtues of vision, imagination, discernment and relational capacity.

Over the course of a year, each Thriving in Ministry Group will collect its best learning and reflections and combine them for sharing in published resources called Gleanings for the Journey. These resources, including podcasts, blogs, webinars and curricula, will be shared widely across the Fellowship.

The CBF Thriving in Ministry Initiative aims to develop new patterns and practices for clergy to build and sustain collegial relationships with each other that will yield enhanced well-being for participants. Through shared learning and mutual support, the clergy will be able to develop best practices in self-care that will help them thrive in congregational ministry.

CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter expressed excitement for this opportunity and emphasized it will help the Fellowship to further its commitment to lifting up leaders and forming healthy churches.

“CBF is replete with talented and called leaders who value experiences of friendship and sharing,” Paynter said. The CBF Thriving in Ministry Initiative will amplify gifts and talents and build healthy congregations and their leaders.”

Ruth Perkins Lee, CBF’s director of church engagement, echoed Paynter and emphasized the initiative’s benefit to the entire Fellowship.

“The CBF Thriving in Ministry Initiative expands the work of our Fellowship’s commitment to healthy churches and ministers,” said Perkins Lee, who also serves as the initiative’s program director for CBF. “Leveraging the breadth and depth of CBF, Thriving in Ministry groups and resources will enable the wisdom and express across the Fellowship to benefit all.”

Harry Rowland, CBF associate coordinator of congregations and leadership said the initiative will serve ministers and churches and help both to flourish.

“This grant offers the opportunity to address thriving in ministry in a holistic manner,” said Rowland, who serves as grant administrator for the CBF initiative. “A major issue in ministerial thriving is dated or inadequate church ecosystems. Ministers find themselves addressing 21st-century issues and contexts while operating in a church ecosystem not built to provide them with the support needed for personal and professional thriving. This then affects the congregation.

“Shared experiences, peer learning and mentoring will offer ministers the opportunity to explore ministerial needs and church ecosystems relevant to their context and ultimately fashioned to support their flourishing.”

CBF is one of 78 organizations located in 29 states that is taking part in the initiative. The organizations reflect diverse Christian traditions: mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States. This has been a grantmaking priority at Lilly Endowment for nearly 25 years.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. These promising programs, including CBF’s Thriving in Ministry Groups, will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.”

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 Eli and J.K. Jr. – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state Indiana. Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.


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.

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