The school will launch the Transformative Preaching Lab
Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Duke University has received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. through its  Compelling Preaching Initiative. The grant will enable Duke Divinity School to launch the Transformative Preaching Lab, which will build on its multifaceted programs to prepare creative, culturally competent preachers who can reach audiences in effective and engaging ways. The Transformative Preaching Lab will benefit from Duke’s commitments to both research and ecclesial life as the lifeblood of theological education and will strengthen the ecology of effective preaching at Duke and in the wider church.

“Duke University’s indenture states that ‘the courses at this institution be arranged, first, with special reference to the training of preachers,’ ” said Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean of Duke Divinity School and Irene and William McCutchen Professor of Reconciliation and Theology. “The support of Lilly Endowment helps us renew this commitment in a Pentecost spirit. By resourcing the training of preachers in new ways for diverse contexts, this initiative will keep the proclamation of Christ at the center of the Divinity School’s educational endeavor for the sake of the church’s mission.”

Duke is one of 32 organizations receiving funding in an invitational round of grants in the Compelling Preaching Initiative, a national grantmaking effort designed to help Christian pastors strengthen their abilities to proclaim the gospel in more engaging and effective ways.

Home to a world-leading homiletics faculty, Duke has a rich tradition in forming preachers with a clear grounding in Scripture, strong cross-cultural formation, and a deep commitment to Christ’s church. In recent years, the school has launched the Black Pastoral Leadership Collaboration, the Hispanic Preaching Initiative, the Duke Chapel Sermons digitization project, and the Clergy Health Initiative. Lilly Endowment has previously provided generous funding to support research into how Duke Divinity can build on these efforts.

Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, has described the urgency that is informing the Compelling Preaching Initiative this way: “At many points in history, Christian preachers have needed to adapt their preaching practices to engage new generations of hearers more effectively. They have taken the gospel message into fields and homes, and used print, radio, television and other new technologies and media to expand the reach of their ministries. Many religious leaders believe that churches may now be at another inflection point when preachers may again need to adapt to changing communication practices and forms of media to ensure that the gospel message is accessible for all audiences. With this new initiative we ask, ‘What needs to be done today?’”

The Transformative Preaching Lab will leverage Duke’s core strengths in teaching and training to address that question through three primary activities. First, it will expand preaching training for Hybrid Master of Divinity students, a fast-growing student population that includes many active preachers. It will include the development of new preaching courses in hybrid format, the preaching laboratories to support them, and new capacities for exploring and engaging digital tools to enhance, diversify, and expand community worship to more thoughtfully engage remote students.

Second, the Transformative Preaching Lab will provide new opportunities for cohort-based formation through a seven-month peer learning experience, oriented toward themes (e.g., trauma-informed preaching and preaching to immigrant communities) that are focused on issues especially salient for compelling preaching in diverse contexts. Preachers participating in the cohorts will practice their craft alongside Duke homiletics faculty, exemplary preachers, and their peers.

Third, the Transformative Preaching Lab will support Duke Divinity’s efforts to expand learning opportunities for geographically remote preachers through the creation of a new preaching certification on the school’s digital learning platform, Divinity+. The preaching certification curriculum will be informed by courses developed for degree-seeking students as well as feedback from preachers through the peer cohort groups.

Alma Tinoco Ruiz
Alma Tinoco Ruiz

“Duke Divinity is committed to training preachers who listen to God’s voice in Scripture and people’s concrete circumstances and—empowered by the Holy Spirit—boldly and lovingly proclaim God’s message to the world,” said Alma Tinoco Ruiz, assistant professor of the practice of homiletics and evangelism and principal investigator for the Transformative Preaching Lab. “With this grant from the Lilly Endowment, we will be able to strengthen Duke Divinity’s preaching program and enhance preaching formation in fresh ways that address some of the challenges preachers face today, such as understanding diverse ministry contexts and the effects and consequences of traumatic wounds.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff, and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education, and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The primary aim of its grantmaking in religion, which is national in scope, focuses on strengthening the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States. The Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion and lift up in fair, accurate and balanced ways the contributions that people of all faiths and religious communities make to our greater civic well-being.