Fuller’s Science, Theology, and Religion (STAR) office was recently awarded a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct activities to advance the relationship between psychology and ministry leaders. The STAR office began its work with the Templeton Foundation in November 2016 and will complete its findings in April 2018. The team includes Cynthia Eriksson, Brad Strawn, Justin Barrett, Rebecca Sok, and Brandi Weaver.
The project aims to create more positive familiarity with psychological science among ministry leaders, primarily Christians. Psychological research can shed light on discoveries that are helpful to the work of church leaders, but those leaders must become familiar with and understand the relevance of that research or it will have only minimal impact. This project will create opportunities for learning, communication, and collaboration as a way to engage and empower psychological scientists in their service to ministry leaders. The study will encourage psychological scientists to be more intentional about communicating new spiritual information to ministry leaders—increasing the skills of psychological scientists to write effectively for ministry audiences and creating incentives for them to engage in service in a local congregation with a collaborating pastor.
“Psychology has had an uneven relationship with the faith community,” said Justin Barrett, professor of psychology and program director for Fuller’s PhD in Psychological Science. “Ministry leaders may see psychology as a science that is trying to ‘explain away’ human nature, human uniqueness, and even religious experience and belief.”
This project will stimulate interest in and understanding of psychological science among ministry leaders through the following activities:
• A workshop equipping psychologists to write more effectively for ministry audiences;
• Prizes for published ministry-directed pieces, aiming for a strong increase in publications written by psychologists;
• A critical review of articles addressing psychological science published in key ministry journals;
• “Psychological Scientist in the Congregation” awards to support collaborative service by psychologists working with pastors in local congregations;
• A video of psychological scientists describing, “What I wish my pastor knew about psychology;”
• A Request for Proposal (RFP)-style grant proposal to support on-going collaborative program development and/or evaluation in local ministry settings.
These activities will be supported by the project team and a ministry consultation group. At the culmination of this 18-month project, the team hopes to have laid the groundwork for a closer rapport between Christian ministry leaders and psychologists.
“One way to address this perceived conflict is to bring psychology and ministry into working relationships to solve real problems,” said Cynthia Eriksson, associate professor of psychology. “If ministry leaders can see that psychology (and psychologists) can provide tools that are useful to their work, perhaps some trust and cooperation can be generated. For example, traditional findings in social, clinical, educational, and organizational psychology may inform ministries’ organizational and programmatic decisions, as well as minister support and care.”
In addition to these larger projects, the grant team will share links on social media to relevant articles, stories from interesting projects, news about what is available in ministry literature, and videos to engender thinking about the question: how can psychology help pastors make ministry more holistic?
For more information and to read updates on the current study, visit the Psychological Science Serving Ministry page.