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Details about the scholarship:

Vanderbilt University
Turner Leadership Scholars Program
411 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37240
Phone: 615-343-4073
Fax: 615-875-7393

History of the program:

In the Spring of 2007, Vanderbilt Divinity School was blessed to receive a gift from United Methodist layperson and businessman Cal Turner, Jr. to establish 21 new scholarships. The Cal Turner Leadership Scholars program awards seven fellowships annually to candidates for the Master of Divinity program who intend to pursue congregational ministry in the United Methodist Church. The fellows will receive a full scholarship to Vanderbilt Divinity School plus an annual stipend for living expenses dependent on their work at a local congregation.

Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Cal Turner Leadership Scholars program are committed to responding to the growing need for effective ministry in the church by attracting, recruiting, and training new promising candidates for the ministry for our region. "Fewer outstanding people are choosing to enter the ministry and more are leaving over time. This decline is in great part fueled by the increasing cost of education, paired with the limited earning potential of those who choose the ministry," said James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School. "Nevertheless, the call to ministry and service is strong for many of our students, and our job is to remove as many of the financial barriers as we can so promising candidates can accept admission to Vanderbilt Divinity School."

"Our church today has many leadership burnout issues," said Turner, chairman of the Cal Turner Family Foundation and the retired chairman and CEO of Dollar General Corporation. "If this program can have an impact on the leadership of the church, that will have a multiplier effect on our society. These men and women who become effective ministers will have great impact on the lives of others, who will in turn have great impact on the lives of others, and so on for many years to come."

The Turner Leadership Scholar Church Placement Program

Thanks to a generous grant from Cal Turner, Jr., seven United Methodist students entering Vanderbilt Divinity School in the Masters of Divinity degree program are selected each year for a three-year program in church leadership in ordained congregational ministry. Students selected as Turner Leadership Scholars will have the opportunity to enhance their academic studies with concentrated and sustained experience in congregational ministry throughout the three years of their degree work.

Students will be paired with a local United Methodist congregation, and one of the ministers on staff will serve as the student's Ministry Mentor. By taking part in the ministry and life of the congregation, students will gain first-hand knowledge of the models of leadership which are operative at the host congregation and will receive instruction on the development of their own leadership skills from the congregational staff. Simultaneously, Turner Scholars will be engaging in significant reading, reflection, and conversation both in the congregation and the Divinity School around the question of congregational leadership for our times. Students will be encouraged to bring their own gifts of vision and imagination to this task.

During this experience students will:

  • Gain practical leadership experience at a comfortable pace
  • Gain skills in "reading" a congregational context
  • Clarify vocational goals as they discern and cultivate gifts for ministry
  • Take calculated and supported risks for growth in new arenas of ministry
  • Engage in theological reflection upon their practice of ministry
  • Explore, enhance and strengthen the congregation's ministries in the community

The Turner Leadership Scholar program follows the academic calendar at VDS, leaving summers open for the Scholars to engage in other opportunities, such as cross-cultural travel, CPE, and other learning opportunities.

The Church Placement is renewable for three years, each year on the basis of conversations with the congregation, the students, the Director of the Turner Scholars Program and the Director of Field Education.

Students are expected to commit 10-12 hours a week to their ministry at the host congregation and they will receive an annual stipend based on the following schedule:

  • Year 1: $10,000
  • Year 2: $8,500*
  • Year 3: $10,000

* The second year will serve as the student's Field Education Placement, which all M.Div. students undertake. This reduced amount puts Turner Scholars' compensation in line with other second year students who participate in Field Education.

This generous arrangement is to allow the student to be fully present in the congregational ministry and his or her studies, without the pressure of other employment.

The Turner Leadership Scholar Internship: Year One

During the first year the student will gradually move into the practice of ministry. The pace of this move will depend upon several factors, including the congregational experience the student brings, the needs of the congregation, the rhythms of the student's life, etc.

The first year of the fellowship should begin with the student taking the time to learn the congregation by:

  • Meeting and getting acquainted with staff (for example, it could be helpful for the student to share a meal with each staff member). Part of this conversation will be to learn the staff members' ideas about the leadership styles operative in the church.
  • Meeting and getting acquainted with key lay leaders&emdash;possibly using the format of "oral histories." Part of this conversation will be to get a sense of how the lay leaders perceive the leadership styles of the church staff.
  • Learning about the congregation's history.
  • Walking around the church, 3 or 4 blocks in each direction to get a sense of the neighborhood. (Walking allows you to see things you do not notice when you drive.)
  • Engaging, where appropriate, the work and dynamics of committees, small groups, church school classes and ongoing ministry projects within the congregation, being especially mindful of how leadership is offered.
  • Accompanying the senior pastor in pastoral calling, sermon and worship preparation, staff meetings, formation of lay leadership, teaching ministry, conflict resolution, ministry to the poor and marginalized,
  • Learning from the pastor on the occasion of funerals, wedding rehearsals and weddings.
  • Completing a Context Analysis for consideration with the other Turner Scholars (details provided by VDS faculty).

By the second semester the student should move into assigned responsibilities of ministry. This is determined by conversation between the student and the Ministry Mentor, trying to identify those ministry areas that both meet a need in the congregation as well as connect to gifts and passions of the student.It could be that the student would experiment with several different areas of the life of the church before deeply engaging in one or two areas.

The Turner Leadership Scholar Internship: Year Two

During the second year the student will receive Field Education credit from VDS for his or her ministry at the church. The student should be significantly engaged in the ministry of the congregation by this time, either continuing the work he or she began in the first year or moving into new areas of service.

The Field Education requirements are these:

  • Student is engaged in ministry for 8-10 hours a week.
  • Ministry Mentor agrees to attend Field Education Supervisor Training so as to understand VDS' approach, requirements, etc.
  • Student and Mentor meet one hour a week for theological reflection on practice. (It is likely that this has been happening all along, but it becomes an expectation in Year Two.)
  • Student completes all written assignments for Field Education.
  • Student and Mentor write evaluations at the end of each semester.
  • Student participates in the weekly Seminar on Ministry at VDS

The Turner Leadership Scholar Internship: Year Three

By the third year the student is expected to be engaged in significant ways in ministry that will significantly enhance his or her growth as a leader in the church. It is hoped that the third year will provide ways of experiencing leadership in the Connection. For example, if the congregation has a cooperative inner city-large church relation, we would hope the student could be involved in this in order to learn leadership skills on the cluster, District, and Conference level. The third year could also conceivably present itself as an occasion for ministry beyond the congregation.


M. Douglas Meeks, Director, The Turner Leadership Scholars Program (

Tom Laney, Associate Director, Turner Leadership Scholars Program (

Viki Matson, Director, Field Education (

To Apply

Interested candidates for the Turner Leadership Scholarship must complete and submit supplemental information along with the Application for Admission to Vanderbilt Divinity School by January 15.

Application for Admission (Master of Divinity)

Application Supplement for The Turner Scholarship (.pdf)