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Grants to help seminarians with key issues

NASHVILLE (BP) — Two seminaries have received grants to train students in real-world issues that pastors face, such as applying theology to the workplace and the economy and reducing student debt.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary received a grant of more than $200,000 from the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Family Foundation to fund initiatives concerning faith, work and economics in academic classes.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary received a $250,000 grant as part of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. NOBTS is one of 67 theological schools across the country to receive the funding.

Workplace & economy

The Kern Family Foundation, through their Oikonomia Network, assists in preparing pastors “to describe work and the economy in moral and spiritual terms” in order to “help people live out Christianity full-time in all they do.”

At SEBTS, classes in faith, work and economics will lead pastors to a deeper understanding of these topics to instill in their congregations.

Bruce Ashford, Southeastern’s provost, dean of faculty and associate professor of theology and culture, said SEBTS’ Economic Wisdom project is designed to “help pastors strike the right note in leading their congregations toward a healthy, biblically-based view of the workplace and the economy.”

The first class, theology of culture, is being taught on campus this semester, and an online version will start in the fall. Theology of vocation will be the next class, followed by economics, poverty and wealth.

Enrollment is open to SEBTS students for courses taught on campus. The online classes will be open to pastors and others free of charge.

“Students will be exposed to three courses which guide them in building a theology of culture, a theology of vocation and a biblically-informed view of the economy,” Ashford said. “These courses’ lectures will also be offered in a free online format following the initial on-campus class.”

Several SEBTS faculty, including Ashford, Dave Jones, Benjamin Quinn and Walter Strickland, will be involved in creating and teaching the content of the classes.

“We will write discipleship booklets on culture, workplace and the economy,” Ashford said. “These booklets are designed for laypeople in our churches.”

Readers will have access to the booklets in electronic and print formats to reinforce the course content.

A forum with a nationally acclaimed speaker also will be held in the coming months in partnership with the Kern Family Foundation, the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and the Spurgeon Center at SEBTS.

“It is difficult to overstate our gratefulness to God for the Kern Family Foundation and their foresight in making this initiative possible,” Ashford said. “Real-world issues that emerge at the intersections of faith, work and economics are not peripheral but central to the Christian life.

“This grant affords Southeastern an unprecedented opportunity to develop a robust series of courses that will serve as the backbone of a world-class preparation benefitting current and future pastors as they lead their flock to glorify Christ in all aspects of their daily lives,” Ashford said.

Student debt

With personal financial pressures limiting the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermining the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders, the Lilly Endowment created the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers to encourage theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the economic wellbeing of future pastors.

All theological schools fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada were invited to submit grant proposals. New Orleans Seminary will use its funding to help students develop financial skills and take active steps toward reducing their debt burden while in seminary.

Research and education components of the program will target students at several stages of the seminary journey, from the transition to seminary life to their post-seminary ministry positions.

“The decline in Cooperative Program support from Southern Baptist churches is shifting more of the cost for theological education to students. This is making the problem of debt more likely among SBC seminary students,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We are deeply grateful to the Lilly Foundation for their help in working with our students on a crucial issue that could limit the ways they serve our churches and hinder their access to foreign mission fields waiting for a Gospel witness.”

Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the endowment, said pastors are “indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations.”

“Theological schools play a critical role in preparing pastors and are uniquely positioned to address some of the economic challenges they face,” Coble said. “The endowment hopes that these grants will support broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders so that pastors can serve their congregations more joyfully and effectively.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.
Based on reports by Ali Dixon of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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