The antidote to the aging, declining, eroding, lackluster church in the United States is to infuse it with more young people. That is the philosophy of the Academy of Preachers.
"They must learn to wait their turn," one pastor told me. It is probably the most remarkable and retrograde statement made to me in my two year advocacy of young preachers.
Actually my promotion of young preachers began long ago, intensified during my 11-year tenure as dean of the chapel at Georgetown College, and came to full fruition in my work launching the Academy of Preachers. Our goal is to give young preachers an opportunity, to open doors, to introduce them to people who can help them.
All denominational gatherings need to embrace the value of young preachers; so here my challenge to denominational organizers: make a place for young preachers on every assembly, every convention, every conference. Religious meetings are, left to right, liberal to conservative, dominated by grey hair men talking to more grey hair men. I know: I am one of them. I have met the enemy, as they say, and it is me!
Make way for young preachers. They are good. They are full of the spirit. They are not tainted by weariness in ministry; they are not burnt out in church life; they have not lost their utter abandonment to the gospel of Jesus Christ; they do not weigh every vocational decision by what effect it might have on their annuity; they are lusting for power or position. All they want is an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
That National Conference on Preaching, the Hampton Ministers Conference, and the Festival of Homiletics: these lead the way in reaching preachers with inspiration and instruction. I call upon those who plan these programs: create a track for young preachers. It will inspire all of us old people; it will make us willing to share our energy, our opportunities, even our honors and our income to support these young preachers.
"Let no one despise you because of your youth." That is the word of God for us today.
Some months ago the president of the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky asked me to deliver the commencement address at their graduation ceremonies on May 15, 2010.
I was pleased and honored; I worked very hard on the message, using material from two recently read books: "Quitting Church" and "The Life of Emily Dickinson". I entitled the message, "Quitting Church, Preaching Christ," and was fully prepared when, much to my disappointment, a medical condition (a long-standing susceptibility to nose bleed) took me to the emergency room the afternoon prior to the event.
From my hospital bed I called, first, my daughter and told her of the situation, then my sister, who is actually the coordinator of the seminary event. I said to both: "There are four options. I can plan to come as I am, hoping I will be OK. I can call upon somebody else to read my prepared text. The seminary president can find someone else to make a speech. The seminary can simply have the ceremony without a speaker."
The seminary, one of our Founding Partners, by the way, opted to have my sermon delivered by someone else; and they requested my daughter, Kate Bringardner. Kate agreed. She is an outstanding public speaker, having been trained in theater and now working as a vocal dynamics coach for professionals. The address featured the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson, her favorite, and dealt with the trend of people quitting church, an issue in her own spiritual journey.
So that is what happened. I stayed at home. Kate arrived at the seminary and delivered my sermon, slightly amended to include her own witness. Here is a link to her web site with the full address.
Reports back to me about the event indicate that all went smoothly. The president was pleased; my sister wrote: "She did FANTASTIC!!!” and Kate was delighted to add "Seminary Commencement Speaker" to her resume. Read her blog on how she prepared, at www.katebringardner.com. I suspect it made for a rather unforgettable episode for all involved.
As for me: I was glad to have my words presented in such a compelling way and am even now looking to partner with Kate for public speaking opportunities!
I just finished reading the 2008 book "Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What can be Done about it." It was writing by Julia Dunn, religion editor for the Washington Times.
It is at the same time both an easy book to ready (I read it in a day) and a difficult book to read (I am a life-long church-goer and spend my energy these days encouraging those who want to lead churches).
However, I confess that much in the book resonated with my own experience as a church leader and church-goer.
Millions of people are quietly, slowly dropping out of church: not the young adults we hear so much about, but their parents, people my age, people with my attachment to the church. Church attendance, Dunn asserts, citing reasonable and apparently reliable data, has decreased by 20% in the last decade.
If she is right then I am wrong when I frequently say that in a given week more people hear a sermon than engage in any other public activity (like movies, or sporting events, or political rallies).
Preaching is still important and still a powerful force in American public life; but if Dunn is correct the place and influence of preaching is bound to change. Fewer people will gather on the first day of the week to hear a person recite a prepared text about God and Jesus and life and death.
Preaching may, in fact, become much more like biblical preaching.
Very few of the sermons recorded in the Bible occurred in the context of what we today call a church, or a congregation. Some were written and distributed (John from Patmos, the entire book of "Hebrews"); many were delivered in public places to public audiences (Jesus on the mount, Peter on Pentecost); a few were preached to very small audiences (a prophet to a king, an inmate to a jailer).
Giving a theological interpretation to life and history is the calling of a preacher:
* what is God saying to us in this episode of life?
* how can we obey God in the midst of these circumstances?
* how can Christ be formed in me given who I am and where I have been?
* where does Christ ask me to follow given the chaos in the world and even in my life?
* when must I abandon self-interest and embrace the welfare of the human race?
These questions will persist even if the fairly modern pattern of Sunday church life dissolves into irrelevance. And these are the questions that good preachers will address even if the platform is shifting under our feet.
Anyone who speaks with clarity, intelligence, and passion addressing the deepest questions of soul and society will always gain an audience. That is the good news for young preachers who are responding to what they think is the direction of almighty God.
Kate Bringardner of Louisville, Kentucky, will be a featured coach and presenter at all three preaching camps this summer. She promises to bring an original and powerful element to the learning dynamics of the camps.
Bringardner has studied at the Conservatory at Point Park in Pittsburgh and graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in performance from DePaul University in Chicago. She now is a vocal dynamics coach and consultant for professionals. From her home office, she publishes a blog on the subject entitled Word Juice.
"She is teaching me things I never learned at Vanderbilt Divinity School," says client Dave Emery. "I am working hard to change engrained patterns of breathing and speaking." Emery is pastor of Middletown Christian Church in Louisville and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Academy of Preachers.
"Most public speakers, including ministers, are not introduced to these critical issues," explains Bringardner. "They are taught content development, illustration, opening and closing a speech or sermon. These are important, but they ignore the single most important ingredient of successful communication: the voice."
Besides bringing attention to the central role of the voice, Bringardner specializes in drills that allow a young preacher to understand his or her voice, to recognize its strengths and weakness, and to make significant improvement in how the voice is used to communicate a message.
And, oh, as a matter of full disclosure: Kate is my daughter, so she has heard plenty of preaching, most of it in dire need of her professional assistance!! She also attended the inaugural Festival of Young Preachers in January and heard her share of that preaching.
"I can help these young preachers," she said to me; and I believe her. Become her Friend on Facebook.
Several Christian web sites are publishing articles about the "most influential living preachers." Here is a link to the story on Associated Baptist Press. The Christian Post also published the story from Baptist Press.
The research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, of which Baptist Press is an affiliate agency, conducted the research and published the results.
Here are "the top ten preachers who influence you"........according to this survey of a select group of preachers: Billy Graham, Charles Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Rick Warren, John MacArthur, Barbara Brown Taylor, David Jeremiah, Max Lucado, John Piper and Andy Stanley.
What strikes you? Nine men and one woman, all white, all but 2 in the South, and 8 of the 10 are Baptists. Makes me wonder about the research not the results. I'll bet I can pretty well describe the demographics of those interviewed: white, male, southern, Baptists!! And one other thing: all but one are or have been prominent on the television airwaves.
How different the demographics of this list from those who came to Louisville to preach at the inaugural Festival of Young Preachers: 20% female and 24% African American, and from all denominations in the United States--except Lutheran and Episcopal.
Why no Lutherans and Episcopalians, you ask? Primarily because neither denomination has a single educational institution within the radius of our original pilot project are. But we are now in touch with their leaders and professors and next year in Louisville I predict will be very different.
What will be different also is a list of "most influential" preachers for this younger generation. When I polled our leadership group on who they would like to hear preach at our first festival none of the names on the above "most influential" list even appeared! Their list was much more diverse: male and female, black and white, young and old, and full of names I had never ever heard!!
And then this: after attending the inaugural Festival of Young Preachers in January most of our young people would, I suspect, prefer hearing one of their own rather than somebody from my generation. So next year, we are going to do exactly that: we are going to select several of this year's top young preachers and invite them back next year as plenary preachers.
Next year: January 6-8, 2011. Twice as many preachers. Twice as good preaching. Twice as much inspiration.
The staff of the Festival of Young Preachers has read through more than 100 evaluations submitted by young preachers, mentors, exhibitors and volunteers. Among the most frequent recommendations is this: provide some evaluation of the sermons.
This appeal has come through my email and Facebook messages as well. More than one young preacher has written to say: "Tell me what you think, Dr. Moody."
Here is my response.
First, watch your DVD and write out your own assessment. Before anybody else gives you feedback take the job yourself. A great deal of what needs to be addressed in the style and substance of preaching can be observed by the young preacher.
Second, take your DVD to your mentor. We estimate more than 60% of the young preachers at the festival were accompanied and introduced by a mentor. Sit down with your mentor (even at a distance, since most of the sermons are now on YouTube--and have been viewed over 3,000 times) and discuss the sermon.
True, I have made notes on all 92 preachers. I am willing to provide some feedback but only after these first two steps of this process have been completed. Already I am setting up a schedule to discuss the event in general and any sermon in particular. In the near future, I will be in Texas and Ohio meeting with young preachers who were at the festival. I hope to visit several of the universities and seminaries in the Louisville region for the same purpose.
Here is the bottom line. This festival (including all of the preaching) was a truly remarkable and inspirational experience for me. Yes, there are avenues of improvement down which we all need to walk; but I was overjoyed by the seriousness with which the young preachers engaged in this festival preaching and the also by their compelling advocacy of the lordship of Jesus Christ. Good job, one and all; and let's come back next January: twice as many, twice as good, twice as much inspiration!!
It turned out there were 92 sermons, not 93, and I watched every single one. Anyone anxious about the secular and unbelieving side of the rising generation has not been in touch with these young people.
If these sermons demonstrated one thing it gave evidence of a deep, radical discipleship, a no-holds-barred following after Jesus. In fact, the text most often selected for preaching is the call of Jesus, "Take up your cross and follow me."
If dedication was evident, imagination was not; few of these young preachers allowed their imagination to help shape their preaching. A few exceptions: Tannell Allen, CJ Childs, JC Campbell, Josh Johannes. Several used props: a picture, a paper stole, car keys.
Kim Procter, and a couple others, concluded by breaking into song, but most had trouble bringing their message to an end. A few words of encouragement at a preaching camp and many of these preachers will find new skill in making an appeal: to believe, to repent, to wait, to act.
Far too many (not most, however) resort to a false "ministerial" pitch in their voice. Almost all would do well to pay attention to their voice, to relax the voice, to tone down the pitch. This is one of the things to which we will give attention in our preaching camps this summer. Another is illustration: some had good stories; too many had no story, and no illustration, and no application: just one long admonition to be this or do that.
And the attire? From old jeans and tee-shirts, to new suits and ties, to robes and stoles of all kinds. It was colorful, to be sure, and this added to the festive atmosphere. Some preachers helped this along with a smile, with a sense of humor, with a word of gratitude and thanksgiving--they were winsome and thus gained a hearing.
The females--there were 19 of them--were more likely to tell a personal story, and that told by Ann Marie Roderick (now in Israel in an overseas study program) was the most compelling. It was one of the best, as was the incredible pulpit skill of the Morehouse freshman Reginald Sharpe. In fact, all of the Morehouse men were good, and most of the women were good, largely because they seemed to have taken more care in the preparation of their messages.
Some of these young preachers were so good we are going to invite a few back next year as plenary preachers, to inspire the young and old at next year's festival with what can happen when a young preacher mixes imagination, talent, dedication, passion, coaching, and hard work. That will be January 6-8, 2011 in Louisville. Registration forms coming soon!!
All-Pro Video of Louisville, Kentucky brought equipment and staff to record the sermons of all 93 young preachers at the first Festival of Young Preachers.
Before the crowd departed for home more than 200 were purchased; and during the 10 days since then, our marketing partner Peritus (also of Louisville) posted many to our site on the web: www.youtube.com/academyofpreachers.
Now I have in my possession all 93 of these videos, sitting in a box by my feet. What shall I do with them?
I know what to do: watch them!! Yes, all 93 sermons, most about 16 minutes in length. I actually began last night and watched 7. Two were mediocre, 3 were good, and 2 were outstanding. Tonight I will watch another half dozen, and tomorrow (Thursday) I hope to watch at least 20. Oh, my!
Yes, over the next week, probably before I make a visit to Indianapolis with an unofficial report to the Lilly Endowment, I will watch all 93 sermons.
I am not just listening, of course. I have a one-sheet assessment and evaluation form, tracking things like: sermon type, primary appeal, illustration source, preaching style, and general comportment (attire, posture, voice, countenance). I also note which preacher read the text and who offered a prayer before, during, and after the sermon. On one of the videos last night, the preacher concluded the sermon by breaking into song; I didn't have an assessment category for that, so I simply noted it on the assessment form in the open space headlined, Comments.
All of this will feed into several articles over the next few months. It is fresh, fascinating material, not just for me (and hopefully for readers) but potentially for doctoral students. It would be wonderful if we could find men and women heading toward doctor of ministry and doctor of philosophy degrees who would be motivated to use these young preachers, their vocational journeys, and their preaching ministries as the research data for their doctoral degrees.
Until then, I will keep on watching, and assessing, and rejoicing in the amazing diversity of gospel preaching that was on display 10 days ago at the inaugural Festival of Young Preachers. We are hard at work on next year's festival!!
There are 93 sermons on DVD from the first Festival of Young Preachers. As of Saturday noon, I have watched 53 of them. My goal is to finish by Monday afternoon.
I have a one page assessment form which I complete on each one. On this page I note attire, voice, posture and general presence. I record whether the young preachers read their text and offer prayer at the beginning or end of the sermon. So far, 2 young preachers have concluded their sermon by singing a song; several others quote a song at the end.
Here are some other questions: is this a topical, exegetical or narrative sermon? Does it make an appeal to the reason, the emotions, or the will (or some combination of these)? What are the source of illustrations: culture, history, literature, the bible or personal experience? And is the sermon primarily pastoral in nature, or theological or ethical or evangelistic?
And of course, I track what I call the Nine Marks of a Good Sermon. There is an essay on this elsewhere on this web site.
Here are some initial (half-way) thoughts.
There is a wide range of sermon styles (from formal, pulpit-using, manuscript-reading to informal, stage-walking, conversational-style), an interesting array of preferred attire (from jeans and tee-shirts to clerical robes and stoles), and some very diverse demeanors (from stern and serious to warm and casual).
Some sermons are very good, some very bad, but most spanned the middle of this bell curve. The good ones combined arresting presence, thoughtful content, and talented presentation; the poor ones were largely due to lack of preparation (sometimes by preachers new to preaching who are unsure how to prepare a sermon).
Most read manuscripts, and most of these manuscripts were written for this event; I may be wrong but I think I can tell which were older sermons recycled for this festival. Only 2 or 3 (so far) spoken without much dependence upon notes.
I plan to write several articles with more formal, extensive, and detailed analysis of these 93 sermons. I will link those publications to this web site.
The Week of the Festival
Written by Dwight Moody
Monday, 04 January 2010 11:28
It is Monday morning. The inaugural Festival of Young Preachers is just three days away! Already spectacular signage, designed by our public relations partner Peritus, is in place in the atrium and vestibule of St. Matthews Baptist Church. On Wednesday afternoon, staff and volunteers will gather to set up for the Festival: tables, signs, displays, exhibits, and such. On Thursday morning, we will fill a hundred balloons with helium and further enrich the festive atmosphere of the place.
The Young Preachers Leadership Team will convene on Thursday morning and then at 11am everybody who has arrived--young preachers, mentors, volunteers, exhibitors, and guests--will gather in the chapel for a welcome, for orientation, and for singing together the hymn that has been composed for the occasion.
The preaching begins at 1pm.
Today we are working out video details, arranging for yet another exhibitor (Passport Camps), selecting hymns for the worship services, preparing the certificates of charter membership which will be given to 97 young preachers on Saturday morning, and attending to a hundred other details that will make this event such a memorable occasion.
And of course, making sure the snow plows are ready. There is a forecast of snow for Thursday and Friday! That will just add to the occasion!!
Today we pray for Neal Brooks, a young preacher from Kansas, and Aaron Flucke, a young preacher from Indiana, plus our Saturday plenary preacher, Dr. Stephanie Paulsell, from the faculty of Harvard University.
Most of the 96 young preachers scheduled for the inaugural Festival of Young Preachers have taken Jesus as their preaching theme; this is because they were directed to do so! The list of "Sermon Texts and Guidelines" (linked at the right) offer the young preachers 4 themes: the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.
The goal for this first festival was to keep the preaching at the center of the Christian tradition with as few temptations to delve into more controversial political and social issues. That may come next year, January 6-8, 2011, when the preaching theme is The Ten Commandments!
Even though the festival comes right on the heels of the Christmas holidays only 21 of the preachers choose the birth of Jesus as their preaching theme. Even fewer chose the death of Jesus: only 13; and barely more selected the resurrection of Jesus: 15 preachers.
By far the most popular theme for the festival is the life of Jesus. Almost half of the young preachers--41--have decided to preach about the life and ministry of Jesus.
Of course, these are intentions; I have frequently changed my preaching theme from the time the order of worship was printed on Friday to the time I stepped into the pulpit on Sunday; so if a young preacher stands to preach and announces a change of text I will not be perturbed. (Although I will be irritated if this change produces a sermonic product that is not well-thought and well-delivered!)
Nevertheless it will be most interesting to listen to these young adults preach. Invite your friends and family and congregation to the festival and judge for yourself what promise there is for outstanding proclamation of the gospel in the years ahead.