It is hard to believe that just over a week has passed since the inaugural Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church (INUMC) Festival of Young Preachers. The lingering impact causes me to reflect on the experience and imagine the possibilities for the future.
Hearing eighteen young preachers, ages 14 – 26, from all over Indiana passionately preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads to long term inspiration. You will have the opportunity to view these young preachers in action on YouTube in the next few days. More than ever, this Festival has given me new hope in two very key areas.
First, it has given me hope for the future of my denomination, the United Methodist Church. I am not one to brush statistics under the rug and act as if they do not exist. Research conducted by Wesley Theological Seminary’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership in 2010 found the following results.
On a very positive note, the study also found that the number of elders, deacons, and local pastors had increased in the last ten years. This is a reassuring observation, but this doesn’t mean we should become negligent in the endeavor to identify, network, inspire, and support young preachers and/or clergy. We must continue to utilize exploration events and campus ministries, but we must also embrace new ideas throughout the denomination.
The Academy of Preachers provides a perfect resource through signature Festival of Young Preachers events. This is not a theoretical concept that may or may not work. After assisting with the planning and implementation of the INUMC Festival, I am convinced that this is one of the crucial pieces to retaining people in my age group as they discern a call to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as clergy or laity in the local church. I urge all annual conferences to consider the possibility of hosting a Festival with the assistance of others in the UMC who have attended a local or national Festival.
Often times, individuals in any age group may hear a call, a tug on their heart from the Holy Spirit, to preach the Gospel. Unfortunately, the reality of many is that they don’t have the opportunity or support system in place to become confident in their call to preach. As a result, these individuals begin to second guess their call and cease to preach, if they even get started. At every Festival I attend, I witness individuals who appear slightly timid at the prospect of standing in the pulpit. When they leave, however, they are ready to embrace their call as they have connected with a nurturing network of supporters and received the inspiration they need to perfect what they have been called to do.
The INUMC Festival of Young Preachers also gave me hope for the Church as a whole. I will admit that I am more in tune with the happenings going on within the United Methodist Church, but I have spoken with church leaders in other denominations who are experiencing similar situations regarding clergy and laity numbers. Festivals of Young Preachers are not a key solution for the UMC alone. I encourage ALL denominations to consider the impact that Festivals could have within your denomination as you seek to spread the Gospel to all people.
Editorial note: Tyler Best is a 20 year old college student who presented the idea of a Festival of Young Preachers to leadership in his denomination. The openness of the leadership and Tyler’s willingness to work toward the goal of an INUMC Festival has begun a movement of great importance.