By Ellie Tiemens
Rev. Hank Voss Jr., assistant professor of Biblical studies, was recently awarded a five-year, nearly one million dollar grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., only the second of its kind to be awarded to a faculty member at Taylor.
In May, Voss submitted his proposal to the Lilly Foundation outlining his plans for the grant in what is called the Sacred Roots Thriving in Ministry (SRTM) Project. Voss's initiative was among the 78 of over 600 proposals that were accepted for funding in September.
"Taylor University's Sacred Roots Thriving in Ministry (SRTM) Project seeks to developand encourage peer groups of congregational leaders serving in under-resourced urban, rural, and incarcerated communities," Voss wrote in his grant proposal.
Over the next five years, Voss and a team of five others will make up the SRTM leadership team and will work to equip congregational leaders around the country with enough knowledge and resources to be able to continue working in ministry contexts.
Voss and his team identified four types of leaders that they hope to resource: those serving amongst the urban poor - people like Anwar Smith who serve in organizations like By the Hand in Chicago, - those serving amongst the rural poor, congregational leaders and church planters.
By the time the grant ends in 2023, Voss hopes that the SRTM Project will have achieved four main goals: to equip church leaders with resources for ministry, to form supportive friendships between church leaders, to produce literature on this project and its impact on the global church and to resource the global church through the release of 16 revised spiritual classics.
These spiritual classics are books such as "Pilgrim's Progress," that have been used as resources for the church across many centuries and cultures. The SRTM Project will use a portion of the grant money to revise these books in NIV style that is easier to understand. Additionally, they will make them available as audiobooks.
As soon as next semester, Taylor students and faculty will be able to work with Voss on this initiative by assisting with hands-on directed research, running conferences and writing publications. Additionally, nearly 50 faculty and ministry leaders from around the country are involved in the project, with about 10 to 15 being staff at Taylor.
"At almost a million dollars, (SRTM is) a great opportunity for Taylor to do research into discipleship and leadership development for leaders of churches and ministries in challenging ministry contexts," Voss said.
Voss has been interested in instituting a project like this since he learned about a pastor named A.W. Tozer in 2003. Though Tozer only had a fifth-grade education, he became one of the most influential theologians in the nation by using a series of 25 spiritual classics as his resources for ministry.
Since 2003, Voss has been thinking of a project that would have the capability to equip leaders for churches amongst the poor. Finally, in 2018, he was endowed this grant from Lilly to put his plan into action.
"We're really thankful for this grant," Voss said. "It's an answer to prayers for me personally because this is something that I've had a burden to do for more than a decade, and I just didn't have the resources to make it happen until Lilly provided those resources. And really I'm thankful for Taylor because Taylor values leadership development, it values the church and it's really a great space to think about how we can support the next generation of leaders in the church."