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PC(USA) seminary receives nearly $1 million grant

Lilly Endowment Inc. covers Dubuque seminary clergy coaching initiative

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

University of Dubuque Theological Seminary professor the Rev. Dr. Elmer Colyer is working to translate aspects of performance coaching into a model for clergy coaching. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — University of Dubuque Theological Seminary has received a $936,102 grant to support its Clergy Coaching in Community and Context initiative, which will launch in 2019.

Sparked by a high-performance endurance sports coaching framework used by professor of Systematic Theology at Dubuque, the Rev. Dr. Elmer Colyer — an accomplished cyclist and USA Cycling licensed level 1 coach — the initiative aims to equip pastors with a community of support to develop skills, form habits and articulate a personal vision for a thriving ministry.

The program will be implemented in three communities of pastoral leaders — those who are new, at mid-career and those engaged as pioneers in innovative ministries.

Colyer began a Doctor of Ministry cohort in May to focus on coaching participants, while refining a theoretical and practical model for clergy coaching — which Colyer developed out of years of coaching more than 100 endurance athletes.

“As a highly certified cycling training coach, he’s working to translate aspects of performance coaching into a model for clergy coaching,” said UDTS assistant professor of Evangelism and Missional Christianity, the Rev. Dr. Christopher James. “Holistic thriving in ministry means looking at things like diet and exercise as well as spiritual practices and pastoral skills.”

Already, two of Colyer’s students have together lost 70 pounds. The Lilly Endowment grant will support the mid-career pastors’ doctoral cohort with both one-on-one coaching sessions and spiritual direction, as well as equip students to be clergy coaches for others.

James is convening the cohort of pastors doing creative mission work in the greater Madison, Wisconsin area — the nearest city of its size to Dubuque.  It’s also where he’s been doing research on new ministries being planted — similar to a study he conducted in Seattle, which led to his award-winning book Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil.

“We’ll be doing a nine-month program, having a series of conversations and reflections together with pastors who are trying to reach the unchurched,” said James.

Participants will receive coaching from established pastors and work together on the challenges they’re facing.  “These nine months will be followed by an ongoing community of support and encouragement for those participants.”

James plans on launching the program in Madison in September 2019.  Pastors working as pioneers in these kinds of innovative ministries in the greater Madison area who are interested in this program are encouraged to contact him here.

The Rev. David Rohrer, a former regional mentor for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Company of New Pastors program, will be leading the third program, a new pastors’ cohort. Rohrer, who is also an adjunct professor at Dubuque, will facilitate annual groups of eight students on campus in their final year of seminary for mentoring and theological reflection in community.  During the first two years of ministry, new pastors will meet in person and online for continuing reflection.  The new pastors’ program will begin in August 2019.

“For us as a seminary, we will be looking to gain insight into how to support faithful ministry into the future,” said James.  “As the face of theological education continues to change, we’re excited about what we’ll learn about how we as a seminary can best serve the church — particularly in ways that are outside the norm of how we think about ministry traditionally.”




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