January 13, 2021


MTSO receives $1 million Lilly Endowment grant to promote thriving in ministry

The project will involve pastors serving small-membership churches and communities of color

Methodist Theological School in Ohio has received a grant of $995,731 to help establish “Spaces for Thriving: Cultivating Authentic Pastors for Small Membership Churches and Communities of Color.” The project 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.

The central goals of MTSO’s project are to improve pastoral thriving through attention to well-being, authenticity in vocation and connections to fellow pastors. “Spaces for Thriving” will include mentoring; interdenominational clergy peer groups; retreats; conferences providing ongoing education in areas such as trauma-informed pastoral care; and a research agenda aimed at building resilient spaces for pastors serving small-membership churches and/or serving communities of color. By the end of the five-year grant period, participants will have woven deeper relationships with each other and developed skills for long-term flourishing in ministry.

Initially, the project will involve pastors who responded to MTSO’s summer 2020 survey regarding their ministry settings and vocational challenges. In time, additional pastors will be invited to participate.

“Our school has longstanding commitments to racial justice and support of pastors leading small-membership congregations,” said MTSO President Jay Rundell. “Our Anti-Racism Task Force is an integral part of the institution, and our students, faculty, staff and alumni have a long history of showing up to stand with others in the midst of the hard work for justice. We also have strong institutional capacity to help pastors and churches recognize and address two particular matters facing communities in our region: food insecurity and drug addiction.”

“It’s our vision that pastors and churches will thrive and develop deep vocational meaning when they engage and renew their mission for serving the world outside their churches’ doors,” Rundell said. “We also hope local pastors and their congregations will gain recognition as essential sources of healing and renewal within their communities.”

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 ‘Spaces for Thriving: Cultivating Authentic Pastors for Small Membership Churches and Communities of Color,’ 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.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, practical theology, social justice and theological studies, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.


Danny Russell, communications director
drussell@mtso.edu, 740-362-3322