Published on November 7, 2014 by William Nunnelley  
Pastoral Lilly Grant
Samford University’s Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence (RCPE) has received a grant of $800,000 from the Lilly Endowment Inc. for a five-year program to implement new congregational resourcing initiatives.

The grant will enable the RCPE to expand its program for ministers to provide new resources intended to advance congregational excellence. The initiatives include resource specialists to help congregations identify and address a wide variety of needs, a resource library and guide, small targeted seminars and workshops and resource mini-grants. Outcomes assessment, a research project conducted by the Provost’s office and a pilot project to test a new resourcing method are also being made possible by the grant.

“The resourcing needs of congregations vary widely depending on context and each congregation’s unique challenges and opportunities,” said Michael K. Wilson, RCPE director. “These needs can be of a practical nature such as long-range or strategic planning, a pastor search, volunteer enlistment and training, financial stewardship or space utilization issues, to name a few. In other cases, resourcing needs may be more philosophical in nature, for example, assessing core values and the implications these values have on future mission and ministry.”

Wilson noted that congregations “typically look externally” to find assistance specific to an area of mission and ministry. “Fortunately or more often unfortunately, a dizzying array of programs, services, coaches, consultants and agencies exists a click away that range widely in suitability, flexibility and cost,” he said.

In most cases, he added, “it is very difficult to verify the credentials or purported outcomes of these resources.”

The RCPE will offer a means by which congregations can first learn to think creatively about their needs and then generate the best possible solutions utilizing both their own resources and wisely chosen outsides resources, Wilson said.

The Samford program will enlist a team of 10 to 15 experienced current and/or former pastors and well-regarded denominational consultants to serve as resource specialists. They will be trained to work with individual congregations to help clergy and congregational leaders identify their key challenges and opportunities. Resource specialists will function much like coaches, utilizing a technique called facilitated self-learning whereby congregations discover their own needs and solutions. The RCPE then helps provide resources to address their needs or to help them act upon their discoveries.

Wilson also noted that the RCPE would help congregations in the following ways:

Resource Library and Guide—The RCPE maintains a library on subjects related to pastoral ministry and congregational life. The collection will be enlarged and a new resource guide will be developed that includes information on proven resources. Both will be made available for use by congregations.

Small, Targeted Seminars and Workshops—Events at Samford or on site at participating congregations will be offered for small groups of congregational leaders (up to 50 persons). This smaller group approach will facilitate greater interaction between participants as they address their chosen topics of interest.

Resourcing Mini-Grants—Congregations can apply for one-time mini-grants of up to $1,500 to be applied toward expenses related to resourcing goals and needs chosen for action by the congregation. Resource specialists will assist in preparation of the proposals.

Outcomes Assessment—The RCPE will collaborate with participating resourcing teams and congregations to conduct assessment of outcomes. Focus groups, questionnaires and surveys will be used to collect information.

General Research—This will encompass three areas of focus. First, Samford will conduct a study of the changing relationships between church-related colleges, Christian universities and churches. The study will be conducted by the Provost and will look at how school programs can both influence and be enriched by the ministry of the local church. Second, the RCPE will collaborate with Samford’s Center for Worship and the Arts to provide networking resources and administrative support for research initiatives. Third, Penny Long Marler, professor emerita of religion and RCPE research fellow, will provide consultative services in matters relative to the ongoing research related to congregational life.

Resource Consulting Pilot Project—The program will conduct a pilot project to investigate the impact of facilitated peer learning as an effective resourcing strategy. This approach will bring together two or three churches who want to work together to learn from each other as they respond to challenges and opportunities in their ministry setting. The first project already is underway between Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham and St. Charles Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 37th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 97th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,758 students from 48 states and 22 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 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.