Grand Canyon University has been awarded a $3.2 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation to develop an accelerated pastoral training program that will supply the Phoenix metropolitan area and greater Southwest with resources to meet the growing need for pastoral leaders.

The Kern grant will help fund an academic program in which students complete a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Divinity in five years, serving local churches by strategically educating, forming, deploying and supporting pastoral leaders at a scale that more adequately meets their needs. The partnership will help fund start-up costs and provide additional fifth-year scholarship opportunities to make earning a seminary degree affordable and reduce completion time for those entering a profession that provides modest salaries. GCU is matching the Kern Family Foundation’s investment by providing the other half of the $6.5 million needed to launch and build out the program over the next five years.

“Investing in the church of tomorrow by forming the young pastors of today is integral to our mission as a Christian university,” said Brian Mueller, President of GCU. “We are incredibly grateful to the Kern Family Foundation for their generosity in helping us fulfill that mission.”

Graduates of the program will be prepared academically, spiritually and professionally to provide faithful and effective pastoral leadership within the context of a rapidly changing world. Throughout the program, students will be immersed in a professional network that assists and mentors them during their academic journey. That network will also facilitate ongoing interaction between students, faculty, alumni and current pastors in order to establish supportive relationships with the assistance of a digital platform for coaching, accountability and encouragement.

“Strong pastors leading healthy churches are important to strengthening the nation’s moral fabric,” said James Rahn, President of the Kern Family Foundation. “Grand Canyon University has a bold vision for educating a new generation of pastors to lead churches across the Southwest. The Foundation is pleased to support this program.” 

The need for qualified ministry leaders is paramount. Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States with about 1.6 million people within the city and more than 4.5 million in the greater Phoenix area. Yet, according to a study by the North American Mission Board, the estimated evangelical population in the Phoenix area sits at just 12.6%. Further, Phoenix ranked 89th out of 96 metro areas in the U.S. on a list of least biblically-minded cities.

Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of GCU’s College of Theology, said it is critical to develop young pastors who are gospel-centered, church-focused and missions-oriented so they can make sense of complex societal and cultural situations and navigate each challenge on the basis of grace and truth.

“Students must not only have a strong theological foundation in order to lead their congregation in accordance with sound doctrine, but they must also be able to apply that wisdom in ministry efforts that transform the world around them,” Hiles said. “The current cultural environment is changing rapidly and we need more young pastors who can guide those conversations with a well-formed theological vision and an aptitude for faithful contextualization.”

This is the first grant announcement for GCU since it reverted to its nonprofit status in July of 2018. Another grant announcement is forthcoming in the next month.

“Our mission has never changed regardless of our tax status,” Mueller said. “But opening up the world of grant writing and philanthropic giving was a major factor in our decision to become nonprofit again. There are a number of people like the Kern Family Foundation who want to support the initiatives and research opportunities at GCU.”