The McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University recently announced a grant of nearly $ 1 million, money the school leaders will use to ask local churches for what they need and provide solutions to those needs. .
And there are a lot of questions to answer. American society is changing rapidly, in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The school received $ 907,179 as part of the Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow initiative.
Dr. Greg DeLoach is the Dean of Mercer’s School of Theology. Raised on a dairy farm in Eatonton, DeLoach spent decades behind the pulpit and still preaches in addition to his academic responsibilities, soon as acting pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon.
DeLoach pointed out that the way universities educate students and the way churches connect with their congregations have evolved almost overnight.
“We are trying to have a conversation with changing religious communities,” he said. “The very appearance of the church is changing. How do you practice pastoral ministry virtually? Can I have a church and it remains virtual? These questions are worth asking.
“Communities are undergoing seismic changes and churches are reflecting these changes. We can’t answer it by saying, “Theological school has the answers. We must walk by these very big questions. What Tifton, Albany, Marietta or Macon need will not be the same. There will be models.
Some of these changes include the way people connect and serve each other. Will there be more bi-professional pastors, people who work full time but also care for their community? How can the theological school provide education for people who are not necessarily interested in a degree, but who wish to understand their own faith more deeply and, in turn, have this better understanding influence their way of life?
Answering these questions is essential, DeLoach said.
“Churches are increasingly challenged as to their relevance,” he said. “We’re not worried about the data as fewer and fewer people are going to and participating in church. There appears to be an increased interest in religion and faith, and the conventional structure of the church is undergoing many changes. “
To that end, the McAfee School of Theology will use its grant of nearly $ 1 million to transform the Center for Teaching Churches into a Center for Calling and Vocation, with a full-time director, according to DeLoach, which would be funded in part by the grant and in part by Mercer. as a commitment to support it. The principal will “reinvent” the school curriculum and strategy to meet the current needs of churches and pastors.
Mercer’s Theological School will also offer lay pastor training, pastor mentorship, and continuing education beyond its Atlanta campus, partnering with the Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership to expand its “geographically, racially” footprint. and socio-economically ”.
And DeLoach said the theological school will also bring together members of the clergy from a wide range of faiths and backgrounds.
“Our goal is to bring together a diverse body of clergy and ask, ‘What do you need?’ “, did he declare. “How can we create leadership programs and structures that respond to this? We just don’t have the capacity to do it outside of a grant. We’ll likely have events on campus, some on the road, to have a conversation with clergy across the state. What is your greatest need in terms of relevance regeneration in your community? What do you need the most? ”
DeLoach said McAfee School of Theology is also considering partnerships with other Mercer schools, such as Mercer Medicine, to support them in providing resources to underserved communities.
“We have to find out how people discover their sense of belonging that transcends the artificial lines we have drawn,” he said. “People don’t really look at denominational titles anymore. They ask “Do I feel connected here? It is essential for the church to meet people where they live.