Cal Lutheran receives $1M to help pastors

Project will provide training and support in 14 states

Building on Cal Lutheran’s Executive Skills for Church Leaders program, the new project will develop curriculum to strengthen practical leadership skills not covered in seminaries and deliver those lessons to about 150 pastors and other church leaders throughout the West.

(THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Oct. 17, 2018) California Lutheran University has been awarded nearly $1 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help pastors and church leaders throughout 14 Western states avoid burnout and thrive in their ministries.

The Thousand Oaks-based university and its Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley are receiving $996,756 to work with 11 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to implement the Thriving Leadership Formation program. 

Declining church attendance and funding, changing parishioner expectations and increasingly diverse communities have made pastors’ jobs more challenging. ELCA bishops report that pastors suffer from dissatisfaction, anxiety, fear, spiritual depletion and loneliness as they struggle to revitalize their congregations.

“It is clear that traditional models of ministry are no longer working as they did in the past,” said Desta Goehner, director of congregational relations at Cal Lutheran. “The challenges of the present time require more creativity and collaboration.”

Building on PLTS’ Theological Education for Emerging Ministry program and Cal Lutheran’s Executive Skills for Church Leaders program, the new project will develop curriculum to strengthen practical leadership skills not covered in seminaries and deliver those lessons to about 150 pastors and other church leaders throughout the West. Topics will include social entrepreneurship, cultural competency, community organizing and conflict management. Pastors and church leaders will form cohorts for collaboration and support, and they will receive mentoring and spiritual counseling. 

“Here in the far West, where Lutherans are greatly outnumbered and thin on the ground, this program will be a lifesaver for the church,” said Bishop R. Guy Erwin of the Southwest California Synod. 

After the five-year project ends, synods and churches will be able to use the curriculum, and the practices and support systems can continue.

“This program seeks to build connections across congregations, cities, counties, synods and regions, and I truly believe the only way the church will adapt and change successfully is if we seek to do that together,” said Bishop Kristen Kuempel of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod. “This project will be a vital step in the right direction.”

Cal Lutheran was one of 78 recipients chosen from nearly 600 proposals for Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry initiative. Grants ranging from $31,500 to $1 million will support the efforts of a variety of Christian organizations across the nation to help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can guide them through key leadership challenges in ministering to congregations. 


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