Left to right: Daniel Ott, dean of EMU’s School of Theology, Humanities, and Performing Arts; The Rev. Dr. Sarah Bixler, associate dean of the seminary; Dr. Jacob Cook, academic program director for pathways grant; and Jackie Font-Guzmán, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion; the four program administrators collaborating on the Pathways for Tomorrow grant project.

Seminary’s new Lilly-funded conflict transformation program names new leadership

Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s new interdisciplinary pastoral leadership program focused on conflict transformation will be led by Jacob Cook, PhD, formerly of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Cook began his new role in January 2023.

He will lead the development of programming funded by a Lilly Endowment, Inc., grant of $998,606. The award is part of Lilly’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada respond to the most pressing challenges they face in preparing pastoral leaders for today and the future.

The new pastoral leadership program will integrate personal spiritual formation, biblical and theological frameworks and conflict transformation skills. Training will become available in a variety of formats: online digital content, regional on-site trainings, workshops, and new seminary courses and programs. Work is already underway to develop training events for faith community leaders in trauma response and restorative justice for congregations. 

The grant builds on momentum from the graduate certificate in faith-based peacebuilding, a new seminary program offered in cooperation with the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

Cook joins EMU after working on a Lilly-funded “Thriving Congregations” grant at Wake Forest that similarly focused on equipping ministry and lay leaders. 

“Dr. Jake Cook brings academic theological training in peace and ethics and an ecumenical background and experience resourcing congregations,,” said The Rev. Dr. Sarah Bixler, associate dean of the seminary. “These experiences will serve him well in implementing EMS’s vision to support ministry leaders and faith communities to understand conflict and develop wise responses.”

Bixler also pointed out that Cook’s expertise in leading integrated programs will strengthen initial development and implementation. Our program is situated at a unique intersection that brings together distinctive strengths of EMU and EMS: exploring theory and embodying skills in peacebuilding and conflict transformation, undergirded by biblical and theological reflection, and sustained by spiritual formation practices,” she said. “Dr. Cook has expertise in these areas, and he understands the challenges and opportunities congregational leaders are facing. He will be a dynamic and effective leader to develop these program resources.” 

Cook holds a PhD from Fuller Seminary in Christian ethics; a Master of Divinity degree from McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University; and a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Friends University.

Dr. Jacob Cook will lead Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s new interdisciplinary pastoral leadership program focused on conflict transformation.

Prior to his appointment at Wake Forest, Cook taught for two years at Friends University and also served in administrative roles at both that university and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Cook has published widely on peacemaking and non-violence, and issues of justice and sustainability. In 2021, he published his first book, Worldview Theory, Whiteness, and the Future of Evangelical Faith (Lexington Books/Fortress Academic).

An award-winning scholar, teacher, and preacher, he has presented at the International Conference on Religion and Film, the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, the American Academy of Religion, and the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies, and the Conference on Spirituality, Emergent Creativity and Reconciliation, among other engagements. Cook has also developed and taught courses and workshops in the church setting.

The Pathways Initiative is part of Lilly Endowment’s wider efforts to strengthen theological schools and other religious institutions and networks that prepare pastoral leaders to ensure that a diverse array of Christian congregations are guided by a steady stream of wise, faithful and well-prepared leaders.

Eastern Mennonite University is one of 105 theological schools receiving these grants. Together the schools represent the broad diversity of Christianity in the U.S. and Canada, with affiliations to evangelical, mainline Protestant, nondenominational, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic, Black church, Latino, Asian-American and historic peace church traditions (e.g., Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Quakers).