Published on October 9, 2023 by Neal Embry  
Robert Smith Jr Preaching

Samford University has received a grant of $1.2 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish The Spirit and Power Project, a new preaching initiative which will involve the university’s Beeson Divinity School and other parts of campus.

Lilly Endowment, which currently funds Beeson’s Robert Smith Jr. Preaching Institute, is funding the grant through its Compelling Preaching Initiative, which aims to foster and support preaching that inspires, encourages and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully.

The Spirit and Power Project will be coordinated by Beeson’s Preaching Institute and will, in addition to benefiting Beeson’s graduate students, also bring in other schools and programs at Samford, including the Center for Worship and the Arts and the Christian Ministry Department in the School of the Arts and the Preministerial Scholars Program in Howard College of Arts and Sciences.

The project will equip both aspiring and active preachers to proclaim the gospel faithfully and wisely, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to preach sermons which glorify God and build up the body of Christ. The project derives its name from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, when he tells the Corinthians he did not proclaim the word of God “with lofty speech or wisdom … but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

The SPP has three primary objectives. First, the project will enrich the training and formation of aspiring preachers through existing educational programs. Students preparing for preaching ministries will have new opportunities and avenues to gain preaching experience with the provision of coaching and mentoring beforehand, as well as review and feedback sessions afterwards.

Second, the project will engage current preachers with programs and services that enhance their spiritual vitality and theological judgment. The initiative will facilitate growth in their abilities to interpret the Scriptures, interpret their ministry context, prepare sermons with rich content and deliver them compellingly. To aid in this endeavor, the grant will fund and support preaching peer groups and preaching development cohorts and will also sponsor retreats for preachers.

Lastly, the project will exhibit and celebrate exemplary preaching and preachers for the benefit of current and future preachers alike. This will be accomplished through a preaching fellows program, an annual preaching conference and the production of a preaching podcast.

“There is nothing more important in the ministry of pastors than the preaching of the Word. We at Beeson and Samford take this job with the utmost seriousness, as the work of our Robert Smith Jr. Preaching Institute attests so well,” said Douglas A. Sweeney, dean of Beeson. “It is with deep gratitude to our friends at Lilly Endowment that we make this announcement about our Spirit and Power Project. We promise to steward this new gift with excellence as we form the next generation of preachers.”

“Beeson Divinity School has long been known for its preparation of those who are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This generous grant will equip Beeson to prepare the next generation of preachers, and we are grateful for Lilly Endowment’s sustained commitment to our efforts,” said Samford University President Beck A. Taylor.

“Throughout history, preachers often have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are pleased that the organizations receiving grants in this initiative will help pastors and others in ministry engage in the kinds of preaching needed today to ensure that the gospel message is heard and accessible for all audiences.”

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private 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. While those gifts remain the 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 hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.