Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Launching the Academy of Preachers

[Fifth and last in a series]

On Election Day—November 4—I drove to Wilmore, Kentucky to hear Shane Claiborne speak in the chapel of Asbury Seminary. Shane is the young man, now living in the Philadelphia are, who wrote the best-selling book, “Jesus for President.” I read it, liked it, and used it as a text for a church discussion class this fall.

Shane is from the Jim Wallis-Tony Campolo stream of Christian living and thinking. Plus the book picks up the Kingdom-Empire theme popularized by John Howard Yoder and John Dominic Crossan. I find both of these influences compelling, which is why I read the book and attended the talk.

Shane is young—just past thirty years old—dresses more like the Jesus freaks of 30 years ago, wore his hair long and covered with a bandana. His voice is high-pitched, his message only barely structured, and his presence less than impressive.

None of that mattered: the chapel was packed—I sat in the balcony and the aisles were cluttered with students. All of which illustrates a fundamental principal of public speaking (or preaching)—when a speaker has a strong, compelling call to a radical vision of life and when the speaker actually embodies the message he or she is describing, it will draw an audience.

After chapel I went to lunch with the president of the seminary, J. Ellsworth Callis. He is an elderly, dignified man, with a wonderful voice and an attractive disposition. He is a Methodist preacher, and a professor of preaching; he is president only for the interim. It is easy to see why people tell me is an outstanding preacher. He was easy to listen to in the diner and I am sure he is easy to listen to in the pew.

We talked about my new venture, The Academy of Preachers; and he was immediately and thoroughly supportive of it. One of the students at the seminary—Georgetown College graduate James Bush—is on the Young Preachers Leadership Team, which will help me design and launch the Academy.

But mostly we talked about the election—it was Election Day, remember—and whether the rhetorical skills of Barack Obama would fuel a renaissance of interest in both public speaking and preaching. It certainly demonstrates, I suggested, the power of pubic rhetoric and its value in establishing vision, mobilizing people, and achieving purpose.

Whether or not statistics will bear out any renewed attention to these things, The Academy of Preachers is carried along by the conviction that gospel preaching is a vocation of enormous social and spiritual significance and that it is worthy of the best energies of the most gifted young people.

I now have recruited 18 of these young people from schools in a four-state area: Anderson University, Oakland City University, St. Meinrad Seminary, Christian Theological Seminary, and Hanover College, all in Indiana; Cincinnati Christian University in Ohio; Trevecca Nazarene University, Fisk University, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Libscomb University in Tennessee; and Georgetown College, Asbury College, Asbury Seminary, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, plus two high schools in Kentucky.

We are ready to get this Academy off the ground!!

A Festival of Young Preachers

[Fourth in a series]

When I was fifteen I thought I could preach; I couldn’t, of course, and when I look back on those speeches I gave at high school speech tournaments I cringe. Most were slightly camouflaged regurgitations of something I had read in a Billy Graham book, such as World Aflame. But that’s the way I started, way down in west Kentucky halfway through the seventh decade of the 20th century.

I could have used a mentor, a guide, a coach—although it was many years before I was a coachable minister. There was no opportunity to hone my skills as a preacher in the same way there was for a musician, an athlete, or a future farmer. Still—to this day—I know of no such track for young people—male and female—who sense a call to gospel preaching.

My son-in-law works for the YMCA and organizes state-wide conferences for young people who aspire to public service: they learn how to craft a law, form interest coalitions, debate a proposition, manage a campaign, and run for office. It is all good, and many leaders in our state—in business, education, government, and service—have been decisively shaped by their experience at these leadership camps.

But nothing targets young preachers; it is as if preaching is considered sectarian, secondary, and unworthy of serious attention from top notch students. Yet: remember the presidential campaign, when both candidates had to clarify their relationships with a preacher? Such controversy is an indirect signal of the potential of preaching—the potential to inspire a vision and shape a career.

Preaching is transformational: in the life of an individual, a congregation, a community, even a nation. After all, the most effective public person of the last 50 years was a Baptist preacher from Alabama. February now boasts a holiday in his memory.

Which is why I plan to host a Festival of Young Preachers.

No me, really, but the Academy of Preachers, which is being sponsored by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis and St. Matthews Baptist Church of Louisville. Over the next year we will be seeking the endorsement and engagement of one hundred congregations and fifty educational institutions, all within a 150-mile radius of Louisville. And the Festival will attract, we hope, one hundred young people—high school, college, university, and seminary—who will take their stand at a pulpit and give it their best shot.

The Festival will be held in January of 2010, somewhere in the Louisville area. We actually know where, but not all the details have been worked out with the hosting churches, so that announcement will need to wait.

A press release is on the way—within the next week, perhaps. I suspect the Louisville Courier Journal will be the first to publish the story. And I have in my mind a couple of more blogs about this initiative.

So, stay in touch, and let me know what you think and if you are willing to help.