What is Into Action ?

4530990061 pastor preachingInto Action begins with two questions:

• How well prepared are clergy moving from seminary into ordained ministry and leadership?
• How do clergy move most effectively from education into action as religious leaders?

This website provides a window into exploring and answering those questions.

Into Action is the main portal for the discoveries of the Clergy Into Action Study. Conducted between 2010 and 2013, this in-depth study funded by the Lilly Endowment explored how seminary or divinity school graduates can successfully transition into effective Christian ministry and leadership.

Many new pastors and priests struggle in their first church positions, and are not sure where to turn for solid support, help, and growth as they strive to develop a healthy pastoral identity, cope with the demands of ministry, and refine their capacities for leadership. As a result, some promising young pastors become frustrated and drop out of ministry within the first few years of their service—and many more strongly consider leaving the ministry. New, inexperienced clergy may also slip into leadership styles and practices that are actually detrimental to congregational life—behaviors that become ingrained habits over time, unless mediated by additional guidance or training.

Our research shows the importance of intentional focus on the continuing development of religious leaders. New pastors and priests who are involved in continuing education and receive guidance from mentors and peers are better equipped to navigate the challenges of church leadership.


What works best?

Aspinwall Hall at Virginia Theologial SeminaryStarting in 1999, the Lilly Endowment funded 45 experimental Transition into Ministry (TiM) programs aimed at helping the newly ordained make that critical leap from student to pastor. These TiM programs took a variety of approaches to working with new clergy, to help them stay connected, continue their development, and experience ongoing support and accountability during their first years of ministry.

Today more than 1,000 pastors and priests from many mainline Protestant denominations have participated in TiM programs. We have found that the vast majority of them remain committed to ordained ministry in the 2 to 10 years after their completion of the program.

Our study looked at how TiM programs have prepared participants for their work in Christian ministry and leadership, and how well they are doing in the settings in which they serve. The Clergy Into Action Study included surveys and interviews with hundreds of pastors and priests who experienced TiM programs, and hundreds more who did not experience such programs after seminary—as well as surveys and interviews with hundreds of congregation members, fellow staff, clergy peers, and regional officers.

About Us survey participant chartSurvey data and interview transcripts from these participants form the basis for the research articles and stories published on this website and elsewhere. Because study participants shared sensitive information with us with the understanding that we would protect their anonymity, all personal names, geographic locations, and names of congregations or other employers have been changed.

The photographs accompanying stories, research articles, and other content on this website are stock photography, photography available under Creative Commons licenses, or photography belonging to Virginia Theological Seminary. Any resemblance of people or places shown in the photography to study participants, their homes, churches where they have been employed or other places of employment, or members of relevant congregations, is purely coincidental.

A wide range of informational resources, institutions of learning, and communities of learning are mentioned on the Into Action site. Our intention is that these examples represent some (but not all) possible directions for continuing development and learning for pastors and priests. Such external sources contain information created, published, maintained, or otherwise posted by institutions or organizations independent of the Clergy Into Action Study and Virginia Theological Seminary. The Clergy Into Action Study and Virginia Theological Seminary do not endorse, approve, certify, or control these external information sources and do not guarantee the availability, accuracy, completeness, efficacy, or timeliness of information external to the Clergy Into Action Study website.

For more information on the programs we have studied and their terminology, visit our Glossary page.


Principal Investigator and Research Team

New David Gortner photo - smallThe Rev. Dr. David Gortner is the Principal Investigator for the Clergy Into Action Study. Since 2008, Dr. Gortner has served as the Director of Doctor of Ministry Programs and as Professor of Evangelism and Congregational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.

An Episcopal priest and psychologist, he has studied, written, and taught in the areas of clergy leadership, congregational vitality, and young adult religious engagement. He has served in multiple congregations as a musician, minister of youth and young adults, and priest, as a chaplain and counselor in hospice, hospital, university, and nonprofit agency settings.  He is the author of Transforming Evangelism (Church Publishing, 2008); Around One Table (CREDO Institute, 2009: web publication); and Varieties of Personal Theology: Charting the Beliefs and Values of American Young Adults (Ashgate Publishing Co., 2013).


Michelle Gleeson, PhD, Project Director

Michelle Gleeson has experience in the fields of adult career development, executive education, and education research, and has completed a PhD in Organizational Psychology from the University of London, with a particular interest in the long-term impact of management education.


Christine Ummel Hosler, Research Associate

Christine Ummel Hosler is a professional editor, writer, and project manager who has worked in the web industry, for an art museum, and in trade book publishing. She is currently pursuing a career in web content and digital project management in Bellingham, WA.


Joshua Luke Hosler, MDiv Research Assistant

Joshua Luke Hosler is a transitional deacon from the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, having completed an MDiv degree at Virginia Theological Seminary.


Linda Mouzon, MA, MS, Project Director

Previously Director of Social Services Administration in the Department of Human Resources in Baltimore, Linda Mouzon is a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She is currently working on the redevelopment of an AME congregation and completing a PhD in Pastoral Psychology at Loyola University.


Anne Cook Burruss, MS, MEd, Research Associate

Formerly the Director of Middle School at St. George’s Independent School, Collierville, TN, Anne Cook Burruss recently completed her MA in Education and Human Development at the George Washington University.


Alvin C. Johnson, MDiv, DMin, Project Director

An Episcopal priest based in the Chicago area, Alvin C. Johnson retired after 20 years as the rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Barrington, IL. He helped launched the Start Up! Start Over! church planting & redevelopment training program, assisted in developing the Doctor of Ministry in Congregational Studies at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, taught in the Doctor of Ministry program at Virginia Theological Seminary, and directed the Ministry Residency Program (a continuation of the Transition into Ministry (TiM) residency program at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia.