Reflective Leadership Grants

Reflective Leadership Grants

The Reflective Leadership Grant supports an opportunity for structured reflection for lay or clergy leaders of Christian organizations that are advancing their mission following the multiple pandemics — COVID-19, racial inequity, economic disruption and mental distress — that emerged and/or intensified throughout the past few years.

While all leaders are encouraged to practice some form of ongoing reflection, this grant aims to support those leaders whose work has made a demonstrable contribution to their organization's mission. These leaders are at a pivotal moment for stepping back and reflecting on what has been accomplished, what is changing and what is stable. The Reflective Leadership Grant allows leaders to broaden their perspectives and gain clarity about what needs to happen next in their personal and professional life.

Since our founding in 2008, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity has observed established Christian institutions experimenting with surprising collaborators and alternative expressions of ministry. We also have observed new Christian ministries being created to address challenges in fresh ways. The leaders in these ministry efforts often operate with slim margins of both financial support and available time. By inviting the application for a modest grant of up to $15,000, we intend to encourage these leaders to consider the questions and issues that should be pursued and how to address the opportunities and challenges in the next phase of ministry.

This grant program is for leaders who are ready to design the next chapter in their ministry. Applicants might realize that their work needs to be framed or re-framed to cultivate new supporters and allies. Other applicants might have helped their staff or volunteers in expanding their ministry, but as the leader, they need time and perspective to chart out next steps for an enlarged vision.

A critical element of the application will be articulating why this is a pivotal moment for the leader and the ministry and what, exactly, the pivot looks like. What is the opportunity, and how might a season of structured reflection help the leader gain perspective? What is the vision of the work, and how do practices need to be reimagined to realign with the organization’s “why?”

Research suggests that such perspective-taking is an important component of discernment. For example, Harvard professor Ron Heifetz calls such an opportunity “balcony time,” which allows a leader to move from the dance floor to the balcony to gain a broader picture of the work, organization, community and trends. This balcony time could take the following forms:

  • A single leave of absence or several shorter periods away to visit someone or conduct site visits of exemplars that inspire the imagination of the applicant
  • Attending a learning event and taking time to reflect on it
  • Contracting with a coach

We recognize that such balcony time can have costs for the applicant’s organization and family, which can be accounted for in the grant proposal.

We welcome applicants who serve in a range of leadership roles, from project director to senior administrator, and who are working in a variety of organizations, including denominations, seminaries, church-related colleges, consultancies, congregations, Christian nonprofits, Christian social enterprises and others. We are particularly interested in supporting leaders whose work contributes to healing and hope in their communities by strengthening congregations, social services, schools and other organizations.

This grant is not meant to fund academic research or clergy sabbatical. For sabbatical support, please visit Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs.

In 2023, 31 Reflective Leadership Grants were awarded to institutions to support the applicant’s balcony time. See the winners here.


Downtown Durham, NC

Grant timeline

Application opens: March 18, 2024. Apply now.

Q&A session 1: March 25, 2024 (1:00 – 2:00 PM ET). View webinar.

Q&A session 2: April 22, 2024 (1:00 – 2:00 PM ET). View webinar.

Q&A session 3: May 6, 2024 (1:00 – 2:00 PM ET). View webinar.

Application deadline: May 28, 2024 at 11:59 PM ET

Award notification: July 29, 2024

Funding available: September 1, 2024

Grantee convening: October 14 - 16, 2024, in Durham, NC. Applicants are asked to commit to attend the convening. This convening will bring all recipients together for a collaborative learning experience as they begin their balcony time. All reasonable expenses for the retreat will be paid separately from the grant.

Final reports due: March 31, 2026


resized Tim Soerens 2020 headshot

This was a game-changer for us. The chance to climb up from the “dance floor” of our everyday activity and discern a clarified organization future from the “balcony” was the gift we needed even more than we understood at the time.

If possible, please pursue this extraordinary opportunity.

Tim Soerens, Parish Collective

What are we looking for in proposals?

A successful proposal will describe the applicant’s ministry, what has been accomplished, what the applicant commits not to do during the time of reflection and why this is a significant moment for reflection. It will convey a sense of intentional curiosity and direction. This description should be 70% of the application.

The proposed activities should relate to the reason why this is a pivotal moment for reflection within their vocational journey and in the life of the organization. For example, the applicant might want to attend a conference at the Stanford Design Group or South by Southwest Conference & Festivals because of the need to learn from a variety of professions about how to design a new ministry. An applicant might consult with a subject matter expert or visit start-up incubators or college vocation programs because of the needs in the community where the applicant works. The grant funds might also be required to fund basic support, such as someone to handle childcare, senior care or the organization’s day-to-day work.

This grant is not meant to be a sabbatical or to fund academic research. For the 18-month timeframe of the project, you may design a timeline that makes sense for you and your schedule. For example, you could:

  • Take an extended period fully away from work
  • Set aside designated weekly or monthly days (or partial days) off
  • Create intermittent blocks of time away from work to reflect

The best proposals likely will combine several of these elements in a balanced and sensible way. The applicant will articulate what they hope will be different about themselves and/or the work following a season of balcony time.


Established in 2008 by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., Leadership Education at Duke Divinity designs educational services, develops intellectual resources and facilitates networks of institutions. We aim to create lasting change by strengthening the ecology of Christian institutions that enable U.S. congregations and pastors to flourish.


The Reflective Leadership Grant program at Leadership Education is a competitive grant program open to support the reflection of any employee of a faith-based charitable organization (which includes denominations, seminaries, church-related colleges, consultancies, congregations, Christian nonprofits, Christian social enterprises and others). The organization is the fiscal agent for the grant; therefore the senior officer of the organization must submit a signed letter of request and support on behalf of the applicant. The organization and the applicant must work within the United States. Grant funds must be used within 18 months of receiving funding. Funds not used must be returned.

The Reflective Leadership Grant program is not intended to be a fellowship program for work toward an academic degree, including the doctor of ministry degree. It is acceptable for some part of the grant activities to involve modest travel and research. However, if plans are strictly dedicated to work involved in the pursuit of a degree, applicants are advised to find support elsewhere.

Applicants may request funds to cover the cost of equipment and supplies needed to pursue the proposed activities. Equipment expense should be no more than 10% of the applicant’s proposed budget. The budget line item description should list the items requested and describe why they are essential. The cost of such items should be appropriate to their significance for the activities and in relation to the overall budget.

Leadership Education plans to award upwards of 30 grants to the organizations representing the applicants who submit the most outstanding applications.

Selection criteria

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity will employ an anonymous and impartial team of readers from a variety of disciplines and theological perspectives to review the proposals.

All applicants will be notified by July 29, 2024, about whether their applications have been selected. Applicants not selected in 2024 are eligible to reapply in future years.

Application questions and budget template

The application will be completed through an online form. All materials should be assembled before submitting the application. The online form does not permit the saving of materials before submitting the application.

The document below includes all questions and prompts that must be completed when submitting your grant proposal. Feel free to save your own copy of this document and use it as you prepare your application materials. Once you have begun your application form, you will need to complete it, as you will not have the opportunity to save and return to your work later.

Use this template to develop a budget for your proposal. You will not submit this worksheet with your application.

Definition of terms

  • Applicant: The individual who is completing this grant request. The individual must have a fiscal relationship with the organization.
  • Organization: A tax-exempt, U.S. faith-based charitable organization [501(c)(3)] that will receive, administer and report on the use of grant funds.
  • Christian organization: An organization that has explicit Christian faith commitments or is committed to working alongside Christian communities in a way that furthers the mission of local congregations.
  • Ministry: The specific work the applicant leads as part of the organization. This could be a program, department or other division of the faith-based charitable organization.
  • Reflective leadership: The emphasis here is on “leadership.” The applicant continues in a posture of leadership throughout the work of the grant, but the kind of leadership becomes nuanced as they take their balcony time and engage in the reflective work necessary to determine the next steps for the work and the organization. This is different from letting one’s mind relax and wander on a vacation. Reflective leadership time is different from a sabbatical or a family vacation.
  • Pivot: In the life of an organization, there are seasons of change when a new direction is required. New opportunities or challenges arise and a different course is needed. Moving forward may require a pivot. This grant provides an opportunity to reflect on the work, the mission and what success looks like as the applicant approaches a pivot. It involves taking stock of the people and organizations involved and weighing the options of how to strategically move forward.
  • Balcony time: A metaphor that describes the activities the applicant is planning to use for the Reflective Leadership Grant. The activities include all of the elements that require funding.

Reports and evaluation

Final narrative and financial reports will be due no later than March 31, 2026. The narrative report should describe the activities engaged, the people with whom the applicant interacted, reflections on what the applicant learned and the applicant’s next steps. The financial report should reflect a full and transparent accounting of grant expenditures.

You can find a copy of the final report guidelines below:

Frequently asked questions

Find answers to specific questions regarding the Reflective Leadership Grant here.

Proposal submission

Proposals will be submitted via the online form below. The application deadline is May 28, 2024.

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The Reflective Leadership Grant has impacted my life and ministry in immeasurable ways. This experience has allowed me to transform personally, grow professionally, and expand vocationally through training, coaching, spiritual guidance, and leadership development. Furthermore, the ability to slow down at a more humane rhythm allowed me time to listen, explore, and be more impactful for the communities I am called to serve within and beyond the church. I am grateful for this experience and appreciate the opportunity it has afforded me to deepen my commitment to God's purpose and claim upon my life.

Nathalie Nelson Parker, Civitas Consulting Group, Inc


Questions We Answer

We know that you grapple with many difficult questions as a Christian leader. We want to help. Complex concerns about ministry can’t be fully addressed here, of course, but we provide a starting point for engaging the deep issues.

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