Providing Scholarships for Rural Church Leaders

Rural Church  |  Cultivate and Support Pastoral Leaders

Rural churches can be a powerful force in creating more vibrant rural communities, especially when a strong and visionary minister is at the helm. To help prepare ministers for service in rural congregations, The Duke Endowment supports several clergy leadership programs at Duke Divinity School.

Challenge

Churches can play a key role in rural communities, but they must be led by a pastor who understands the dynamics of a rural community and the church’s place within it. Because rural communities are different from urban and suburban ones, pastors often face challenges and issues that their urban colleagues do not. Preparing for ministry in a rural setting requires an understanding of theology, as well as economics and community dynamics.

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Response

James B. Duke once said that if he ever amounted to anything, it would be because of the preaching of rural church pastors. As part of Mr. Duke’s commitment, The Duke Endowment helps train aspiring and practicing clergy for leadership in rural communities by providing scholarships to various programs at Duke Divinity School.

The longest-running of the Endowment-funded scholarships supports field placements in rural North Carolina churches for students pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree. The Endowment first funded field education in 1926 and has invested in its growth and development since. All divinity students must have at least two field placements during at least two field placements to graduate.

The Endowment also provides scholarships for pastors in rural United Methodist Churches in North Carolina to attend clergy leadership programs at Duke Divinity School:

  • Convocation and Pastors’ School, an annual three-day gathering featuring prayer, speakers and seminars, convened by the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
  • Convocation on the Rural Church, an annual gathering that focuses on issues of rural church life.
  • Study Leave for Ministry Professionals, a week-long, self-directed study experience on the Duke Divinity School campus.
  • Course of Study for Ordained Ministry, an alternative route to ordination for those not wishing to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. The Duke Endowment provides rural participants with scholarship assistance.

Each program allows practicing pastors a chance to examine and strengthen their rural leadership skills and commitment while remaining engaged with their congregations.

Impact

Duke Divinity School places about 200 students each year in field placements in rural United Methodist Churches in North Carolina. Roughly half of those students receive scholarships and stipends funded by The Duke Endowment.

Rural pastors who attend leadership education programs at Duke Divinity School make up one-quarter to one-third of annual participants, a number that would surely dwindle without scholarship assistance from The Duke Endowment. Endowment-funded scholarships cover about 40 to 75 percent of program costs for rural pastors.

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Lessons Learned

To help prepare ministers for service in rural congregations, The Duke Endowment supports several clergy leadership programs at Duke Divinity School.

Providing leadership education requires flexible options. With clergy in so many different phases of their careers, a one-size-fits-all” approach may be unrealistic for would-be participants. Duke Divinity School offers leadership programs that range from intensive, small-group study to one-time, large tent” events that attract a broader constituency.

Synergy with a major strategic initiative increases capacity. Duke Divinity School’s participation in the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative has helped expand its capacity to offer leadership programs and has sharpened its focus. As a result, the partnership between Duke Divinity School, The Duke Endowment and the two conferences of the United Methodist Church is strengthened.

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