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Lilly Endowment Awards Kairos $5 Million Grant for Theological Innovation

September 21, 2022

We are honored to be one of 16 theological schools to receive grants to fund large-scale, highly collaborative programs through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative

Lilly Endowment Inc. believes our program and the programs of the other 15 grant recipients have the potential to become models for other schools as they seek to strengthen the way they educate pastors and other congregational leaders.

Below is our recent news release that shares the details of Lilly’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative and our work to catalyze “a movement in theological education that empowers distributed and differentiated learning for the purpose of developing pastoral leaders who flourish in their vocations for the sake of others.”

Kairos University has received a grant of $5 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to expand and extend its innovative competency-based approach to theological education through a large-scale collaborative initiative that will multiply the impact of those working to develop pastoral leaders who can help local churches flourish in ever-changing contexts.

The initiative is being funded through the third phase of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative which is designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to steward the resources provided by this grant. In collaboration with our growing list of partner organizations, we are catalyzing a movement in theological education that empowers distributed and differentiated learning for the purpose of developing pastoral leaders who flourish in their vocations for the sake of others,” said Greg Henson, Kairos University Chief Executive Officer.

Although the school’s history dates back to 1858, Kairos University operates like a “164-year-old startup company.” In 2013, all of its students lived within driving distance of its campus in Sioux Falls, SD. Like many theological schools, its conventional approach to education meant that students completed programs by participating in traditional courses either online or on campus and often incurred crushing levels of educational debt along the way. The university was the primary source and context of learning for students. This structure meant that even students who could afford a degree program or were willing to borrow, often couldn’t enroll because the weekly, time-based structure of the courses made them inaccessible.

In response, the Kairos Project was launched in 2014 with the mission of stewarding followers of Jesus who flourish in their vocations for the sake of the world. What began as an experiment with 15 students now includes a community of over 1,000 students, 1,500 mentors, and dozens of partner organizations. Student borrowing has dropped from nearly $1 million annually to under $50,000, and graduates are initiating contextually-appropriate ministries in their local communities.

Kairos University is one of 16 theological schools that has received grants to fund large-scale, highly collaborative programs through the Pathways initiative. Lilly Endowment believes these programs have the potential to become models for other schools as they seek to strengthen the way they educate pastors and other congregational leaders.

Lilly Endowment launched the Pathways initiative in January 2021 because of its longstanding interest in supporting efforts to enhance and sustain the vitality of Christian congregations by strengthening the leadership capacities of pastors and congregational lay leaders.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic 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, 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 and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of American Christians, 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.

We are grateful for the opportunity to develop pastoral leaders who flourish in their contexts and for the Pathways for Tomorrow grants we have already been stewarding ($50,000 in Phase 1 and $100,000 in Phase 2). It’s been exciting to see God move in and through us already. We look forward to Phase 3 as we steward this $5 million grant to encourage large-scale collaboration that can multiply the impact of those developing pastoral leaders who can help local churches flourish in ever-changing contexts.

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