Have you ever introduced yourself as a preacher? On a recent flight I had a lengthy conversation with a fellow passenger about the art of preaching. I introduced myself as a preacher without realizing that I would open up the doors for “Questions of the Soul” in my own life.
When we call ourselves preachers, what do we mean?
Two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to attend and support the University of Evansville at the Pipes and Prophets Festival of Young Preachers. The two days I spent with this hospitable, giving community, gifted and Spirit-filled musicians and preachers caused me to examine my identity in Christ as a preacher.
Why do we preach? What differentiates a preacher from a speaker? What does it mean to be a prophet?
As preachers, we are continually learning how to speak in front of others. We know how to read Scripture, add in jokes and stories, research and use multimedia in our sermons. It is not always an easy task, especially when the message we are conveying may not be well-received. When we preach, we are not merely speaking. We are prophetically offering the words God has asked us to proclaim to ears in need of hearing. Preachers are prophets.
We are called by God to give more than a speech, or share with eloquent words. God works in us to be prophets; to proclaim the words God is asking us to speak at all times in all situations, whether we are giving a sermon or not. Through prayer, discernment, reading Scriptures, we are given the words to speak and are the instrument God chooses to work through to give God all glory. Being a prophet is a lifestyle.
In the University of Evansville Opening Worship, Luke 4:14-30 was read aloud. In these verses, Jesus stood in the synagogue on the Sabbath in Nazareth and read the words of the prophet Isaiah: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor’” (Lk 4:18-19, NRSV). University Chaplain Tamara Gieselman reminded us in the Opening Homily that we are all prophets. We are invited to be prophets; to speak Good News in a world that rarely hears it, to use our words to bring about justice, and our eyes to meet needs that others are not capable of seeing.
As I listened to the participants share in music and sermon, I was blessed by their worship to the One who had given them their prophetic gifts. These “Questions of the Soul” each individual had pondered was vulnerably expressed and called attendees to action. The participants demonstrated that they chose to be prophets through their careful preparation, bold proclamation, profound exegeting of Scripture, and their love towards one another. Some were sharing their prophetic gifts for the first time. All have chosen to be prophets for a lifetime.
As I reflect on the time spent with the University of Evansville community, I, too, have “Questions of the Soul.”
Since we are prophets, how then should we conduct our lives? What does this calling mean? Since we are prophets, what attitudes, habits need to change? Since we are prophets, how should we prepare our sermons, study, devote our time? Since we are prophets we have a high calling. We do not place our “prophet hat” on once we begin to preach.
Being a prophet is a lifestyle; a lifelong commitment. I am thankful to be surrounded by hundreds of Young Prophets on this journey.
Here is an idea for the fall: host a festival of young preachers on your campus! It is an excellent way to showcase and encourage the young preachers in your student body; but it also is a wonderful way to recruit students to your school as well as stay in touch with recent graduates. And it costs very little!
Morehouse College pioneered this idea last fall. They held 2 preaching events to stir up interest in the national Festival of Young Preachers held this past January in Louisville KY. From those that preached, the chapel staff selected 4 to represent their school at the festival.
The Academy of Preachers will be glad to assist any school who wishes to host such an event. We will provide our sponsorship and any art work you may need to promote a campus festival. In exchange for our collaboration, we ask schools to become a Partner with the Academy and adopt our festival format, namely:
* include only persons 16-28 years of age,
* adopt the 2011 festival preaching theme (Ten Commandments),
* allow 16 minutes for each sermon,
* require a church sponsorship of each preacher,
* insist that a preaching mentor introduce the young preacher, and
* collect a digital copy of each sermon prior to its being preached.
Many schools will find donors eager to underwrite such an event. Many ministers, congregations, and lay people long for a renewed emphasis on preaching, especially if it attracts into the preaching ministry more talented young preachers. Schools may find donors ready to cover the cost of a campus preaching festival plus provide travel scholarships for the best of the bunch to be sent to the national festival next January.
Within the last 8 days I have talked with interested schools in Texas, Indiana, Missouri, and Georgia. I suspect that next fall we may see as many as a dozen campus festivals held around the country. Call me and let's talk.
Planners for the next Festival of Young Preachers are looking for 6 institutions that teach preaching to participate in a pilot project. The Festival is scheduled for January 6-8, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.
This year the festival drew more than 600 people including 92 young preachers from 41 institutions in 21 states. Next year we expect more young preachers, better preaching, and an explosion of inspiration.
The pilot project will involve schools that build the festival into a course. The festival can be either the culmination of a fall 2010 course, the launch of a 2011 course, or the central feature of a short-term January course.
Campbellsville University pioneered this idea for the inaugural festival this past January. Professor Scott Wiggington allowed his fall 2009 undergraduate students to preach in the festival as an extra-credit project. Five of his students did exactly that: Sean Stengl, Micah Spicer, Josh Hardesty, Andre Morton, and Willis Deitz.
We want to expand this idea to include at least 6 schools: bible colleges, liberal arts colleges, universities, and seminaries. Financial considerations are being developed to encourage schools to participate. Among those considering this opportunity are Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, Belmont University, Harvard Divinity School, and Morehouse College.
Schools who wish to participate will be given up to 6 reserved preaching slots at the 2011 festival. We expect registration for the next festival, January 6-8, 2011, to be completed much earlier than this first year, when we were accommodating young preachers through the end of December.