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.

1 comment so far

  1. Josh on

    Let me know if there is something I can do to help. I’m not in the area but I’m interested in seeing this succeed.

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