Catalyst for Change

FTE is a significant catalyst for identifying and supporting diverse, gifted ministry leaders and doctoral students preparing to teach religion, theology or biblical studies in theological schools.

The philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller Jr. made the early work of FTE possible.


Planting Seeds

The core of what would become FTE began on April 27, 1954. The formation of this group was prompted by a conviction that the church deserves the best possible leadership. There was a rising concern that the brightest Christian youth increasingly were pursuing careers outside of ministry, creating a talent deficit within the church.

The Rockefeller Fellowships were “designed for a particular purpose, namely to discover and develop new talent for the Christian ministry.” .


Taking Root

In its very existence, RBF was reshaping theological education. The board held a shortened application process for the first academic year of 1954–1955, and approved five Fellows. Strategies and resources were put into place to recruit ten times as many candidates in 1955–1956.

C. Shelby Rooks (Former Associate Director 1960-67, and Director 1967-74) led FTE’s programs for African Americans.


Season of Growth

Between 1959 and 1965, FTE experienced a surge in funding and quality of nominees that Wagoner referred to as “an embarrassment of riches.” The reputation of the organization was never higher. As the mid-1960s approached, however, challenges arose.

Bishop William Deveaux (Former Associate Director 1980-82, Executive Director 1982-86) and Marvin McMickle, Final Selection Committee of the Benjamin E. Mays Fellowship



As it had before, the 1990s brought renewed concern for the state of Christian ministry. Theological education had changed significantly since 1954, and FTE recognized an imperative to reevaluate its role in cultivating diverse leaders for ministry.

FTE Alumnus, The Reverend Dr. Jonathan Walton, talking with participants at the Expanding Horizons Summer Conference at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, 2003



The crisis of the 1990s was met with fresh endeavors from philanthropic organizations. By 1997, a renewed and reorganized FTE entered into a new era with the support of the Lilly Endowment and other foundations.

More than 7,000 fellowships have been awarded to diverse young adults and students answering the call to ministry and theological scholarship. FTE alumni represent some of the most accomplished pastors, scholars, and leaders in North America.


Toward the Future

Rooted in the wisdom that it is more than a source of funding for theological education, FTE continues to evolve. It is emerging as a catalyst through which diverse young leaders explore a call to Christian ministry and theological scholarship.