Princeton Theological Seminary receives million dollar grant from Lilly Endowment to develop new models of Christian leadership

Princeton Theological Seminary, the largest seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment for a project that will explore innovation in pastoral leadership. The three-phase project, funded through the Lilly Endowment’s “Pathways for Tomorrow” initiative, is designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they respond to the challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations in society today and in the future.

The Isaiah Partnership: Pastors Leading Innovation project will test models of pastoral leadership formation that foster innovation and change in local congregations. The models will inform how Princeton Theological Seminary prepares students to lead in their communities by engaging laypersons in congregations. The seminary will collaborate with the Changemaker Church Movement and the Glean Network for the project. Faculty members at the seminary will incorporate concepts and practices from the project into their teaching.

“The changing nature of ministry calls for new ways for clergy and lay people to nurture connections with one another and God,” said M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Seminary. “The project will foster collaboration between the theological scholarship and habits of discipleship that bind us to our past and enable us to embrace our future. The Isaiah Partnership offers the opportunity to develop new educational strategies for tomorrow’s congregational leaders, equipping them to be agents of change.”

Princeton Theological Seminary is one of 84 theological schools receiving a total of more than $82 million in grants through the second phase of the initiative. Together, the schools represent evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Black church and historic peace church traditions such as the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites, and the Quakers. Many schools also serve students and pastors from Black, Latino, Korean American, Chinese American, and recent immigrant Christian communities.

“Theological schools have long played a pivotal role in preparing pastoral leaders for churches,” said Christopher Coble, vice president for religion at the Lilly Endowment. “Today, these schools find themselves in a period of rapid and profound change. Through the Pathways Initiative, theological schools will take deliberate steps to address the challenges they have identified in ways that make the most sense to them. We believe that their efforts are critical to ensuring that Christian congregations continue to have a steady stream of pastoral leaders who are well-prepared to lead the churches of tomorrow.”

The grant will fund a full-time program coordinator position. A search is currently open to fill the position. The Rev. Abigail Rusert, who serves as the Isaiah Partnership project leader and the director of the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Seminary, said the seminary is excited to work with faculty members and congregations to shape the future of pastoral leadership.

“To mobilize the imagination of Christian leaders — laypersons, faculty, and pastors — is to draw from a deep theological well that testifies to a God who is making all things new,” Rusert said.