CHICAGO (January 9, 2013) – North Park Theological Seminary recently was awarded a three-year, $250,000 grant by Lilly Endowment Inc. to address ways to reduce burdens of student educational debt, develop financial education programs, and explore creative ideas to finance theological education.
The seminary was one of 16 seminaries nationwide that were awarded grants in Lilly Endowment’s pilot program, the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers. The initiative aims to help theological schools examine and strengthen their strategies and practices to improve the economic well-being of future pastoral leaders.
The Lilly Endowment invited the school to apply for the grant, said David Kersten, seminary dean. “An emphasis on holistic health already exists in the seminary curriculum, but we sincerely believe that it must include a financial literacy component,” he wrote in the seminary’s application.
Offering financial literacy training seeks to give prospective students confidence to move forward with their education, Kersten said. Initial work with the grant funds will start early this year.
The seminary plans to begin by learning more about students and graduates as well as how finances affect their lives, Kersten said. With that information, the seminary will use the Lilly Endowment grant for three purposes:
- To develop a proactive approach to reduce the burden of student educational debt, and explore curricular possibilities in particular.
- To educate and better prepare ministers to be leaders and managers of personal, family, and congregational finances throughout their pastoral careers. This will include courses and coaching opportunities provided through the seminary in partnership with North Park University, the Evangelical Covenant Church, Covenant Trust Company, Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, and other partners.
- To engage key partners to share ideas and rethink ways in which theological education should be financed, e.g.. clergy compensation models that include loan repayment or development of loan programs through partners.
High educational debt is a serious problem for seminary students across many denominations, Kersten said. Professional church leaders often do not have the earning capacity of other professions, limiting their ability to pay educational loans. Personal debt and lack of financial knowledge also affect their ability to serve effectively in congregations, church-related organizations or nonprofits, he added.
“The integrity and credibility of the pastoral leadership office is a real issue when these skills are not present,” Kersten said. In some cases, personal economic crises have forced ministers to leave the vocation, Kersten added.
The grant could “reset the future not only for clergy, but for the local church,” said Mark Novak, executive minister of the Covenant’s Department of Ordered Ministry. “By increasing the financial acuity of pastors, they gain credibility with lay members in the church, and by having their finances in order, they will be set free to address issues of generosity in the church more freely.”
Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic foundation created in 1937. It supports the causes of religion, education and community development. The endowment places special emphasis on projects that benefit young people and promote leadership education and financial self-sufficiency in the nonprofit, charitable sector.