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Organizational and Educational Models in Theological Education

Following the Educational Models and Practices in Theological Education project, and building on the work of that grant and recent ATS programs on the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers and Economic Equilibrium and Theological Schools, the Association has launched a large scale four-year project, Organizational and Educational Models in Theological Education: Supporting the 21st Century Missions of Theological Schools. Funded by a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant of nearly $6 million, the project includes work in four areas identified through extensive conversations with constituents, participants in the Educational Models and Practices project, that project’s advisory committee, and the ATS Board of Directors. Though distinguished for the purposes of study and focused engagement, these four areas of work are part of a unified whole, interrelated in the ultimate fulfillment of theological schools’ primary missions, the effective education and formation of religious leaders to serve in communities of faith, and a variety of other realms of service.

Ultimately, this project—in harmony with the Association’s mission, to promote the improvement and enhancement of theological schools to the benefit of communities of faith and the broader public—seeks to help schools fulfill their distinctive missions to educate and form leaders for effective service in congregations, communities of faith, and a broad array of ministries, organizations, and communities. The Advisory Committee, a representative group from schools across the Association, serves the project by advising ATS staff, engaging issues raised by the project, adjudicating grant proposals from schools, and providing insights into the broad landscape of theological education and its constituencies.

Work Areas

Organizational Models. Perhaps the most urgent challenge faced by ATS schools is to develop and implement organizational structures, patterns, and processes that use resources most effectively to fulfill the schools’ educational missions. The project will gather information, identify fundamental questions, explore sustainable financial models, and produce analytical tools to help schools align educational and organizational models for a sustainable futures.

Adaptive Educational Work. Having learned so much through the Educational Models and Practices project about ATS schools and their work—particularly the creative educational approaches the schools are taking to fulfill their missions—the grant will allow the Association to help schools take advantage of that learning. The program will enable additional exploration of promising educational models and practices. It will also provide grant funding to help schools make necessary adaptive changes in their educational models and practices, equipping them to form students as effective religious leaders for multiple contexts and constituencies.

Faculty Development. The work of faculty has changed dramatically in recent years and indications are that it will continue to change. The project will help schools to support their faculties in the midst of dramatic changes in organizational and educational models and practices, and offer an expanded understanding of the roles and work of faculty, particularly related to their basic work of guiding student learning and formation.

Formation of Students. Educators across many sectors of graduate higher education have come to recognize the importance of multiple aspects of student learning and development. Among theological schools, this recognition often identifies intellectual, vocational, personal, and spiritual dimensions of learning and formation. The project will facilitate multiple means of conversation to explore broadly formative theological education for students in the midst of dramatic cultural shifts, changing understandings of ministry in both congregational and non-congregational forms, and theological, cultural, institutional, and missional diversities among schools.


Research. Build on findings from the Educational Models and Practices project as well as other ATS projects, gather learning from previous research and research currently underway in other agencies, and launch studies to inform the Association and provide a foundation for additional work.

Study and Resource Groups. Within each area of work, personnel from the schools, as well as selected consultants and area experts, will focus attention on particular topics, investigate and analyze information about the topic, and report findings including, in some cases, creating resources for use by schools across the Association.

Grants. Grants will be awarded in each of the four work areas. A total of $2.4 million will enable as many as 120 grants, including, in some cases, initial grants with the possibility of additional follow-up grants. Requests for proposals will emphasize integration of the proposed project with the school’s core mission and broader work, connections with constituents, partnerships with those within and outside theological education, and learning for both the individual schools and for the broader Association.


Stephen R. Graham
Strategic Director of Context and Continuity