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Leveraging Change

by Caitlin Gipson

In an engine, change requires leverage. When applied in the right place and under the right circumstances, a small amount of pressure can cause massive movement. Founded by an engineer, the Kern Family Foundation expects that the same dynamic can hold true for society at large—that a small group of people, in the right place at the right time, will have the ability to cause massive shifts in American culture. The foundation, a long-time APU partner, works to put this principle into action, funding initiatives that equip the next generation of America’s pastors.

Planting the Seeds of Enrichment

Half a century ago, Robert and Patricia Kern began Generac Power Systems. Initially a two-man operation, the company has since grown into one of the world’s largest manufacturers of complete engine-driven generator systems. Out of the company’s success was born the Kern Family Foundation, an independent grant-making foundation tasked with “enriching the lives of others by promoting strong pastoral leadership, educational excellence, and high quality, innovative engineering talent.”

The foundation’s philanthropic philosophy revolves around initiatives that will cause broad systemic change. As a result, Kern-funded projects are unified by a long-term, comprehensive vision. “Ninety percent of foundations support charities,” Robert Kern said in a 2009 retrospective. “It’s a small percentage that are willing to support causes that they won’t see the results of in their lifetime. Yet those are the big causes in our world.”

APU’s partnership with the Kern Family Foundation began in 2004 with the establishment of the Kern Scholars Program. Recognizing that the prospect of high loan debt and potentially low ministry salaries can prevent students from entering the ministry, the program provides full tuition and support to seven new students entering APU’s Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program each year.

“The purpose of the Kern Family Foundation Pastoral Ministry Program is to develop exceptional pastors to lead healthy churches,” said Kern Program Director Fred Oaks. “This program fulfills the foundation’s mission to enrich the lives of others by promoting strong pastoral leadership, with the belief that healthy local churches led by capable, committed pastors will impact character formation in unique and positive ways.”

Heeding One's Calling

Twenty Kern Scholars will benefit from full-tuition scholarships at APU this fall. However, support for Kern scholars does not stop at tuition. 2006 and 2007 saw the addition of complementary programs focused on increasing interest in ministry careers at the undergraduate level, and support for Kern Scholars after graduation. The Pre-Seminary Initiative funded the establishment of the Kern Center for Vocational Ministry at APU. “The center focuses on identifying and cultivating gifted students with a calling to the pastorate,” said Center Director Steve Quatro. “We link them up with pastor-mentors, seek out internship opportunities, and help them think through where and when to go to seminary.”

On the other end of the continuum, the Post-Graduate Initiative provides support for Kern Scholars as they embark on ministry careers. After seminary, alumni may audit courses at any of the eight seminaries participating in the Kern Scholars Initiative, receive matching grants of up to $1,000 for books and continuing education, attend ministry and marriage retreats, and participate in character conferences. Additionally, all graduates may access counseling and a 24/7 help line for church professionals.

“The Kern Family Foundation wants to protect their investment in us and make sure that we’re in ministry for the long haul,” said Kern Pastor Chris Neal ’07, pastor of HopeFULL Student Ministries at New Song Church in San Dimas, California. “They are very generous in the way they do that. However, at the same time, they intentionally avoid breeding dependency. For example, the matching grant encourages us to put our own resources into our growth and skill-building. The Kern Scholars Program makes it possible for pastors like me to start young, get experience, get training, and then do this for a lifetime.”

Investing in Christ Followers

The three initiatives at APU combine to provide the potential for decades of investment and influence by the Kern Family Foundation as students move through the programs. “APU equips students to change the world and the Kern Family Foundation shares that vision,” said APU President Jon R. Wallace, DBA. “It’s exciting to work so closely with an organization that is so vested in empowering Christ followers to meet their potential.”

This shared vision has made APU and the foundation very compatible partners. “We’re pleased that nearly all of the Haggard Graduate School of Theology graduating Kern Scholars have honored their commitment to become pastors of local churches in the U.S.,” said Oaks. “Just as important, the APU Kern Team and administration have a visionary sense of mission. They do their work because they love it, and the One who’s called them to it. When the mission of our program aligns with the visionary leadership of a school providing excellent education for ministry, our grant dollars are catalytic. That’s what really creates value.”

Thus far, the Kern Family Foundation has provided 34 grants to APU, totaling nearly $1.7 million, but the investment is better measured in lives changed. By the time the foundation sunsets in 2035, thousands of Kern Scholars could be in active ministry in the U.S. The potential long-term impact of thousands of well-equipped, highly motivated, and well-supported pastors in the Church in America inspires. In the meantime, the Kern Family Foundation and APU work together toward a promising future, trusting that these combined efforts will turn financial resources into effective programs, programs into well-equipped pastors, pastors into thriving congregations, and congregations into a better world.

Caitlin Gipson ’01 is a freelance writer, search engine optimizer, and marketing consultant in Reedley, California. caitlinsplace@hotmail.com

“The purpose of the Kern Family Foundation Pastoral Ministry is to develop exceptional pastors to lead healthy churches.”

Originally published in the Winter '10 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).