Richard Williams proves the National Festival of Young Preachers is about more than just preaching.
Richard currently serves as the Minister of Discipleship and Missions at Aldersgate UMC in Montgomery, Alabama, where he oversees over 35 ministries and preaches weekly at their contemporary service. He attended his first National Festival in 2012 after attending a regional festival at Morehouse College, and its largest impact in his life clearly lies outside the pulpit. “I am grateful for my relationship with the Academy of Preachers. It has created a network of support for me in my ministry,” Richard says.
The relationships he began at the National Festival have continued and grown into something meaningful. “I have a group of guys that I speak with every week. We support each other in ministry, and those are individuals that I met at the Festival.” Richard believes that his experience at the National Festival and the relationships that have come from it have positively affected his ministry. “I have been equipped and prepared to lead in this climate in this day and age, and I have been able to serve God in a greater way because of the relationships that I have.”
Of course, attending the National Festival also had a significant impact on Richard’s preaching. “Those relationships have been critical and vital to my weekly preaching life. I’m able to bounce ideas off of other people. And when it comes to living a ministry life, we talk about the hard questions. How does one struggle between what we see in the world, and in the gospel, and in the people? And how do you live in the midst of all of that and still be sane?” Richard is ministering in a different racial context than he is used to, having previously ministered in primarily African-American churches in the African Methodist Episcopal church. Richard describes how that change has touched his preaching. “This is my first opportunity to experience weekly preaching in a different racial context. My style has changed, but my research, my content, and my message has not changed. I want to share the gospel to those that are broken, and I want them to be made whole by the gospel. That has not changed.”
Richard says that his experience at the National Festival prepared him to adjust his preaching style to fit a different, and unfamiliar, context. “The National Festival is a great example of people from different faith traditions and different cultures who are all able to come together and share the gospel message, but they all do it in uniquely different ways. It affirms me to be able to share the gospel in different ways.”
This year, Richard was part of the 2018 Leadership Team. This role meant becoming more than a participant. Richard was involved in setup and execution of the Festival, as well as assisting a Gospel Catalyst in leading a preaching circle. He describes how this new role changed how he looks at the Festival. “Being on the Leadership Team showed me what happens behind the scenes. I saw the intentionality for the festival experience. I saw the work that happens behind the scenes that makes the festival experience what it is. It was eye-opening and encouraging.” He also enjoyed his time helping newer preachers. “It was a privilege to usher others who are having their first experience and guide them along the way. If they were nervous about their first sermon we heard them out, but we were also able to affirm them and their gifts and graces.”
For Richard, the National Festival of Young Preachers became more than an opportunity to improve his preaching. It became a place where life-long friendships were made, where he learned how to minister in diversity, where he became a mentor to others.
What will the Festival be to you?