Three Truett Faculty Receive Grants through the Program for the Future Church

December 7, 2022
PFFC news

The Program for the Future Church (PFFC) at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is delighted to announce the first-round of subgrant award recipients. In response to the shifting landscape of theological education and ministerial leadership, the PFFC is a research center and resource hub aimed at equipping local church and community leaders, seminary students, and future generations. To further its engagement in contextually-centered and collaborative research that focuses on four pillars (leadership, youth and emerging adults, pedagogy, and lived experience) the PFFC has awarded subgrants to support three projects designed to engage and empower the future Church.

“The landscape that surrounds ministry and theological education is changing rapidly,” noted Dustin Benac, Director of the PFFC. “We are grateful for the opportunity to support three catalytic projects that are helping us imagine and resource a hopeful future for the Church.”

The following offers a brief introduction to each of these.

PROJECT: Education from a Gardener’s Perspective
DIRECTORS: Stephanie Boddie and Kevin Magill (Baylor University)
DESCRIPTION: The challenges of modern living have caused individuals to feel disconnected from God and His creation. Educational experiences similarly reflect abstracted teaching methods and ways of knowing and experiencing the world. In this project, the directors will redesign and refine the “Education from a Gardener’s Perspective” course at Truett Theological Seminary with an educational design focused on permaculture in order to support connections with God, self, others, and creation. A permaculture educational design model requires participants to consider those things that are vital to life and growth, much like gardening. Participants see and experience how people, ethics, values, faith, and the earth are all interconnected and critical to a healthy ecology.

The Gardener’s Perspective project was developed in 2018 by Stephanie Boddie to foreground pedagogical practices that are reflective, engaged, embodied, and creative. In collaboration with Kevin Magill, Boddie aims to enhance this course, allowing both teachers and seminarians to immerse themselves deeply in the various components of the course to establish life-supporting and self-sustaining teaching and learning that extends beyond the course and into the future life of the church.

PROJECT: Measuring Love as a Virtue in Adolescent Christian Athletes
DIRECTORS: John White (Baylor University), Andrea Ettekal (Texas A&M University), and Brian Gamel (Baylor University)
DESCRIPTION: The Faith & Sports Institute (FSI) at Truett Theological Seminary offers an annual retreat for high school students that aims to help Christians integrate spirituality with the lived practice of their identities as athletes. Existing measures have been used to assess all of the character traits for which we test (faith, hope, love, courage, and discipline), but no measures of love, defined as a virtue in the Christian tradition, exist. The purpose of this project is to create a new social-scientific scale for love that can accurately and reliably assess the ways in which love, understood as a virtue, can be seen and cultivated in people.

The development of this scale will help the FSI High School Retreat continue to foster integration of athletes’ Christian convictions and character and sports, including strengthening the habit and actions of love. This scale will also be of use to the wider Church as it will help identify those practices and communities that engender growth in love.

“Churches and community organizations alongside the church must seek fresh, innovative ways to collaborate, think, and rethink how to best adapt, serve, and lead people amidst diverse, changing cultures,” shared John White and Brian Gamel.

PROJECT: Re-Imagining Diversity and Belonging in Christian Communities (RDBCC)
DIRECTOR: David E. Wilhite (Baylor University)
DESCRIPTION: Questions about diversity and belonging are here to stay, and yet theological education often does not equip future leaders to address them. Very little training has been provided to seminary students in this area, largely because theological educators have little to no training in these matters themselves. The RDBCC is a collaborative program designed to help Truett students, alumni, and faculty address issues of diversity in Christian communities.

The program will identify, design, and implement specific strategies, curricula, and programs to ensure that all students feel welcome, all students’ calling is validated, and all students’ learning needs are taken seriously. By creating a feedback loop that informs what takes place with respect to diversity and belonging at Truett, a culture of belonging will be fostered. The aim is to forge a spiritual community that says, “You belong here.” Having done so, the hope is to send out graduates who replicate this culture in other settings.

“If our students are any indication of the church’s future,” Wilhite stated, “Then I have plenty of reasons to be hopeful.”

Thanks to a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the PFFC is grateful to be able partner with these scholars through The Future Church Project.

“Amid a shifting landscape and complex challenges, collaboration and contextual research provide key sites to discern how God is moving in our midst,” Benac noted. “These projects will invite Truett students, faculty, and a broader intellectual community to convene around critical conversations that impact all of us.”

“It has been said that ‘a rising tide aids all ships,’” stated Truett’s Dean Todd D. Still. “Through the Program for the Future Church, under the able direction of Dustin Benac, three important projects will be conducted, all of which have the potential to have a positive impact on the life and well-being of Truett Seminary, her current students and alumni, and those people whom they are serving and will serve. I am grateful for these proposals and for the generosity of Lilly and the PFFC to make these subgrants possible.”

These three awards represent the first round of subgrants through The Program for the Future Church. As the PFFC continues to build a collaborative community that pilots solutions for emerging and pressing challenges that face the Church, additional funding opportunities for innovative research, imaginative ministry within and beyond local congregations, and support for ministerial leaders is forthcoming.

You can follow the outcomes of these projects and learn about future funding opportunities by subscribing to our monthly newsletter, Future Church Fieldnotes.


Are you or your community interested in funding similar contextual and collaborative research? If so, please contact the PFFC Director about opportunities to make a gift that will impact the future Church.

The Program for the Future Church’s Subgrants are funded by a generous grant through Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Pathways to Tomorrow Initiative.

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