ATLANTA – Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology received a near-million dollar grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support a groundbreaking initiative aimed at reimagining seminary theological education and training for pastors and lay ministers.

The School of Theology was notified Nov. 29 it had received a Phase 2 grant in the amount of $907,179 through the Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative designed to help theological schools strengthen and sustain their capacities to prepare and support pastoral leaders for Christian churches.

A total of 84 Phase 2 grants, ranging from $500,000 to $1 million, were awarded to institutions in 28 U.S. states and seven Canadian provinces.

Mercer’s School of Theology will embark on a four-year program to comprehensively recalibrate the seminary student formational experience and radically decenter the seminary from seminary education by focusing on church-centric theological education.

“McAfee students are diverse, passionate about their calling, creative and ever eager to learn and grow,” said Dr. Greg DeLoach, dean of McAfee School of Theology. “Within all the richness of this diversity are the shared desires to ably pastor the church of today in a manner where they can fulfill a lifelong calling as they lead the church in transformative ways for the sake of the world. To do so requires an education and training that addresses the vastly different and significant challenges facing today’s post-pandemic church. They need a seminary willing to be agile and creative in education, training and methodology.”

Mercer’s Pathways for Tomorrow project will involve two separate initiatives within the School of Theology.

First, the Center for Teaching Churches will evolve into the Center for Calling and Vocation with a full-time director tasked with reimagining the curriculum and methodology needed to address the needs of today’s pastors and churches and do so within a current ministry context.

Second, the Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership will be resourced to expand both its footprint geographically, racially and socio-economically, as well as its ability to train lay ministers. Through the Baugh Center, the School of Theology will offer satellite, contextual lay minister training, continuing education and mentoring cohorts for both longstanding and first call pastors, as well as congregational learning cohort experiences addressing the most urgent needs before the church of today.

“We expect the most significant outcomes will include healthier, better formed and more prepared McAfee graduates; healthier churches as pastors and lay ministers receive biblical and contextual church leadership training; deeper relationships between McAfee and churches; a more diverse McAfee student population; and a larger footprint geographically, ethnically and denominationally from which McAfee can recruit students, engage churches and place graduates,” said Dr. DeLoach.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it 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 and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.

About the School of Theology

The Mercer University School of Theology, named for James and Carolyn McAfee who provided the founding gift for the School, has a mission to prepare ministers who will inspire the church and the world to imagine, discover and create God’s future. Guided by a vision to change the world through learning, serving and leading, the School accomplishes its mission by: 1) integrating spirituality with service through: practicing spiritual disciplines that nurture us for Christian service; embracing ethnic, gender and theological diversity to enhance our spiritual growth and moral formation; creating opportunities to learn in community, experience transformation and risk action; 2) integrating theological inquiry with prophetic vision through interpreting the story of the Christian faith through sacred scriptures and traditions; connecting faith to global contexts in ways that engage personal, communal and political realities; critiquing the structures of our society from an informed prophetic voice; 3) integrating worship with witness through celebrating God’s presence in worship as the source of the Church’s call to community and global transformation; reading cultural contexts to create holistic strategies for ministry; proclaiming the love of God in Jesus Christ through dialogue and in partnership with others. For more information, visit theology.mercer.edu.

Kyle is the director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he coordinates hometown and university news releases and serves as editor of the News@Mercer e-newsletter and Reach magazine.​