November 21, 2002 | Phil de Haan

Through the new Lilly Endowment grant Calvin faculty will be able to do research and scholarship on questions connected to the idea of lifelong service in God's kingdom.

Religious denominations across the continent are searching for ministers. There aren't enough now and there aren't enough younger seminary graduates filling the void.

That's just one of the issues Calvin College plans to address through its new Educating for Vocation initiative, an effort that will be funded in part by a $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Addressing a widespread problem

Almost all denominations have a problem on their hands, says Calvin's Shirley Roels, an academic dean who coordinated the grant proposal. Churches are without ministers, while ministers are getting older and younger seminary graduates are not available to take their place.

We want to address the problem. And we expect that within the next decade denominations across the continent will see the impact of this Lilly Endowment initiative.

But Calvin's program will go deeper than simply supplying the next generation of seminary students. Via a program of retreats and funded research for faculty, Calvin plans to get professors and students thinking more deeply about God's calling for all of life.

While about half of the new grant monies will be devoted to working with Calvin students in preparation for ordained ministry, the other half will pay for this thinking, writing and researching on the idea of vocation: God's call to be a certain kind of person in the world regardless of one's career.

This, says Roels, is the classic Christian sense of vocation. It's been at the heart of what Calvin is all about for a long, long time. It's this idea that Calvin, as our Mission Statement says, provides a comprehensive education that promotes lives of Christian service. It's this idea that whatever your life task you do it as a servant of God.

Getting at the core

Roels notes that Calvin's brand-new Core Curriculum is all about vocation. In fact, the new Core document asks: What are the basic domains of the practical world in which we live out our various callings; and what must we know, become, and be able to do if we are to pursue our callings in these domains effectively?

Through the new Lilly Endowment grant Calvin faculty will be able to do research and scholarship on questions connected to the idea of lifelong service in God's kingdom. They will examine such questions as how students develop an awareness of being called by God. This research then will inform the ongoing education of college students as to the meaning of call and vocation. Each year four faculty will be chosen as Lilly Faculty Scholars and be given time and money to study issues related to vocation in their discipline. The grant also will pay for faculty and staff retreats on students callings and career decisions.

These efforts, says Roels, will be a complement to the work we'll be doing to get students into the ministry. The church includes both ordained clergy and the people in the pews. We want to work to encourage more young people to consider being ordained clergy. But we also want to equip the people in the pews for the work of ministry that needs to take place. We want our graduates to serve in their careers, serve in their communities, local and global, and serve in their churches. This grant will help us do those things.

Swelling the ranks

The grant also will help churches address the shortage of ministers.

Calvin currently has about 10 students a year who graduate (out of 900) and indicate they plan to go on to a seminary. The goal for this new program is to pretty quickly bump that number up to 50 a year.

We hope to make an almost immediate impact, says Roels. It will take us a little while to get this program up and running, but once we do we will make a difference.

Already this spring Calvin will hire a Director of Spiritual Leadership Development, a full-time person who will be responsible for encouraging and enhancing spiritual development of students on campus. This will take many forms, including meeting with residence hall Spiritual Activity Coordinators, planning spiritual growth curriculum materials for student leaders, developing spiritual programs for off-campus students, advising students interested in seminary and connecting Calvin to churches and denominational agencies. The grant will pay for this position for the next five years. After that Calvin plans to fully fund the post.

Hands-on ministry opportunities for students will get a boost from a new Worship Apprenticeship Program and a new Internship program. In the former the grant will pay for Calvin students to serve as assistants in the Chapel porgram, the Sunday evening worship service program, in Calvin Institute of Christian Worship programs and more, gaining hands-on experience in worship and, hopefully, learning to understand and love the work of worship.

The latter, the Internship program, will place students in paid summer internships in congregations around the world as part of a new Jubilee Scholars Program. That program will identify students in their junior year and put them into an 18-month track intended to inspire them for church leadership. They will take a January Interim class together as juniors, meet weekly all spring of their junior year, do an internship the summer after their junior year and then serve the campus in ministry their senior year. They will receive a $4,000 Jubilee scholarship plus a $1,000 stipend for their summer internship as part of the program.

Calvin also will hire an Internship Coordinator with the grant monies. That Coordinator will work with the Jubilee Scholars program to place interns and will also place students not accepted as Jubilee Scholars but who still want a church ministry summer internship. The Internship Coordinator also will help students in the new Youth Ministry initiative who seek internships and will help students from the Worship Apprenticeship program move from on-campus experiences to off-campus internship opportunities.

Calvin plans to work with Calvin Theological Seminary on the new Youth Ministry initiative. Three new courses are being planned, including a new college psychology department offering on spiritual formation theory and research, a new Seminary course on theory and practice of youth ministry and a new youth ministry internship.

Calvin also will develop a new Ministry Resource Center, a premier collection of worship and ministry materials designed to support students, seminarians, Calvin staff and faculty, other colleges and worldwide church leaders. The collection will include resources on church ministry, Bible studies, finance and budgeting guides and computers connected to the best on-line ministry resources. A half-time Director will be hired to run the Center.

Thinking about gifts

All of this, says Roels, is intended to get young people thinking about their gifts, their call from God and whether or not there's a place for them in the ministry. Calvin was established to train young people for the (Christian Reformed Church) ministry. In the 125 years since our founding we've become one of the country's best liberal arts colleges. We have over 100 majors, minors and programs. Students can come here and be superbly prepared for almost any career. But we don't have a lot of students going into the ministry. We hope to change that.

The grant to Calvin is one of 28 (see below) totaling $55.3 million, money intended, says Craig Dykstra, vice president for religion at the Indianapolis-based foundation, to build programs on campuses that identify, recruit, call and nurture into Christian ministry a new generation of talented pastors. Colleges and universities have a lot of influence on the vocational choices their students make. We are finding that many schools are eager to do a better job making sure that ministry gets the attention it deserves, so we are eager to support them.

Founded in 1937, the Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based private family foundation that follows its founders wishes by supporting the causes of religion, community development and education. In the fall of 2000 the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded $37.7 million to 20 colleges and universities for programs for the theological exploration of vocation. Last spring Calvin had earned a $50,000 grant from Lilly to explore the concepts of vocation and calling in preparation for this next grant proposal.


  • Alma College, Michigan
  • Augsburg College, Minnesota
  • Austin College, Texas
  • Calvin College, Michigan
  • College of Holy Cross, Massachusetts
  • Concordia College, Minnesota
  • Dillard University, Louisiana
  • Duke University, North Carolina
  • Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia
  • Fairfield University, Connecticut
  • Georgetown College, Kentucky
  • Grinnell College, Iowa
  • Guilford College, North Carolina
  • Hendrix College, Arkansas
  • Howard University, Washington
  • Indiana Wesleyan University, Indiana
  • Luther College, Iowa
  • Marquette University, Wisconsin
  • Maryville College, Tennessee
  • Messiah College, Pennsylvania
  • Pepperdine University, California
  • St. Louis University, Missouri
  • Seattle Pacific University, Washington
  • University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  • University of the South, Tennessee
  • Wake Forest University, North Carolina
  • Whitworth College, Washington
  • Willamette University, Oregon

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