By Joseph T. Howard, AoP'12
What began as a dream after seeing a video on YouTube has blossomed into one of the most important things in my life. The Academy of Preachers is without a doubt one of the best things that has ever happened to me, as both a Christian and a preacher. Through this organization, I’ve learned so many valuable lessons that no classroom or even church could have offered, and for that I’ll always be grateful. It’s amazing to me the things that God has brought into my life as a result of the Academy. It is truly an Academy like no other.
Let’s start at the beginning. It was in late 2010 when I was first made aware of an event known as the National Festival of Young Preachers. On Facebook I saw pictures and status updates about the wonderful time that was being had at the inaugural installment of this event, and I instantly knew I wanted to be part of it. I had never heard of any sort of space in which young preachers came together to fellowship and learn from each other, especially since I only knew a few young preachers. Since becoming affiliated with the Academy, I’ve been blessed to connect with hundreds of young preachers from all over the country, and some life-long friendships have been established as well. (Four fellow AOP members served as groomsmen in my wedding this past August!) Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to attend the 2011 festival, but I made it a personal goal to attend in 2012. Thanks be to God, this dream came to pass, and I have attended every National Festival ever since.
There are many essential things to preaching that I now know as a result of the Academy. This Academy is not a school with classes, a bell, recess, and report cards, but it is definitely a learning experience nonetheless. The mentorship and feedback aspect is in my opinion one of the beneficial aspects, because it encourages us to continue to improve, while discouraging complacency. There are many young preachers who feel as if they have no need to improve, or they are surrounded by people who give them little to no feedback, so therefore the preachers don’t know what steps they can take to improve their preaching. The Academy provides that and then some, which is what I attribute a lot of my growth and maturity to. Additionally, we are provided an opportunity to hear a text from various interpretations, which is a very unique opportunity to consider a side of a story that we didn’t even know existed in the first place. Since each of us share the same goal of leading people to Christ, these dialogues are always excellent, even if there are disagreements along the way.
To say this space is needed would be the understatement of the century…but I’ll say it anyway; this space is needed. From the fellowship, to the instruction, to the mentorship, to the worship, to the partnership between all of us, this is a necessary entity that will only get better with time. I am honored and humbled to be able to be a part of it, and I’m grateful to God for the amazing things that have happened as a result. To anyone who is considering partnering with us, take it from me, you will not regret it. Not only is this an Academy like no other, but it is truly an experience like no other.
When I think of the impact that the Academy of Preachers has had on my life, an illustration comes to mind. We have all picked up a pebble at one time or another and tossed it into a still pond and watched the ripple effect that ensues. There is a similar ripple effect that takes place in each of our lives. Along the way, there have been people and events that have impacted our lives in meaningful ways.
One of the first pebbles in my “Gospel preaching” pond was the appointment of a clergy woman to my home church. I spent the first few years of my life not knowing that women were called to gospel preaching or that they could serve as the pastor of a church. She was not only the first woman to serve as a pastor in our church, but in our county as well. The ripples her appointment created have positively impacted my life and introduced me to new opportunities along the way. Those ripples have led me to pursue a career in ministry and introduced me to the Academy of Preachers.
The Academy of Preachers happens to be another important pebble in my pond. I have found it to be an excellent place to learn and grow. It is also a place that provides each of us with an incredible network of young people who are also called to share the Good News! The Academy of Preachers has impacted my life in more ways than I can count and the ripples have proven to have a continual effect.
Every event offered by the Academy of Preachers provides us with a unique experience that is unlike anything else. To have the opportunity to network with and befriend other young preachers is an incredible blessing and being able to learn from one another is priceless. I have heard sermons preached from many denominations including Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal traditions. While we may all come from different faith backgrounds, one thing remains the same and unites us all: God is at the center of each and every message that is spoken. Listening to other Young Preachers tell the Gospel story from their denominational perspective impacts all of us who are there to hear it. My life is never ceases to be enriched by every interaction that I have; whether it is having a conversation with someone at dinner, listening to a young preacher preach, or catching up after a few months have gone by.
There are many instances where I have witnessed the ripple effect through the Academy of Preachers. I think it allows us to get a glimpse of the great things that can come from a group of people, who seek to glorify God and unite together. The Academy of Preachers creates many ripples and it is without a doubt in my mind that through the network of this organization, a tidal wave of Young Preachers sharing the Gospel story will result!
Regional Festivals for Young Preachers will be held in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Texas during 2015 with the preaching theme HEAVEN & EARTH.
Green Lake Conference Center in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin, will hold its second Regional Festival on July 7-8. Last year the lake-front resort welcomed 10 Young Preachers for their first AoP event, and this year up to 30 Young Preachers will be accommodated.
New England will see its second Regional Festival. Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, north of Boston, will host the event for Young Preachers on Saturday, October 10. Tim Norton, AoP'15, who is a student there, was a plenary preacher at the recent National Festival in Dallas.
The fourth annual Texas Regional Festival will be October 24 at the Sweet Home Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. Sweet Home is the home church of well-known AoP'10 preacher Larry Terrell Crudup who has preached at five National Festivals.
Finally, the Louisville Metro AoP Chapter will host a Regional Festival at Louisville Seminary on October 31. This is the first Regional Festival for Louisville since it hosted three consecutive National Festivals in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The preaching theme for all four Regional Festivals is HEAVEN & EARTH. The preaching texts, organized under four headings (creating, receiving, surviving, and redeeming Heaven and Earth) can be found here.
Registration for these four events is open to any Young Preacher 14 to 28 years old. Registration will open on-line on March 1, 2015.
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.
It was a good day for the Academy of Preachers. First, Katie McNeal wrote to say she would accept an invitation to join the Young Preachers Leadership Team. Katie attended last week's preaching camp in Crestwood, Kentucky.
"Going into the week, I really didn't know what to expect," she wrote. "What I experienced surpassed any expectations I had." What she experienced, of course, was the spiritual camaraderie of other young preachers who are looking past racial, theological, and denominational barriers to encourage each other as gospel preachers. Katie is a resident of Pittsburgh, a sophomore at Wittenburg College in Ohio, and active in a Lutheran (ELCA) congregation.
Second, the Academy received letters of endorsement from two new National Partners. Fabric of Life Coaching is the ministry of Danville, Kentucky pastor Tommy Valentine. "Having served as a coach at two of the Academy's preaching camps," he writes, "I have seen first hand the value of the Academy's mission and wholeheartedly support its work."
Baptist Women in Ministry of Atlanta, Georgia also writes a word of encouragement. Executive Director Pam Durso hopes "to attend [the National Festival of Young Preachers] in January and to have an exhibit and perhaps host a lunch for the Baptist women participants." She then lists five other ways they plan to partner with the Academy of Preachers.
Finally, the mail today brought two checks totaling $300. They came from a pastor in Pennsylvania and an educator in Glasgow, Kentucky. This pushes us past the $10,000 mark in our spring campaign to raise $50,000. Every little bit helps and we are glad to receive these two men as new donors to the Academy of Preachers.
We thank all of our growing network of supporters for every word of encouragement, every act of partnership, and every dollar invested in our mission to "identify, network, support, and inspire" young people in their calling to gospel preaching. God bless you all.
Maybe my title is overly dramatic; time will tell. But I heard some things last week that settled in my soul and sparked a resolve to reshape my future. Let me tell you about them.
What I heard came from young preachers. "We are not the future of the church," Christian Smith, a rising sophomore at Northern Kentucky University, said in a sermon during Preaching Camp. "We are the church now." They all preached four times, and as the week progressed the sermons got better: better ideas, better delivery. I listened; I was touched; I made up my mind to change some things.
Hanover College junior Krista Phillips preached a sermon from the commandment, "You shall not steal." What she said to a room full of preachers was this: failure to preach is stealing from the people. "I got it from Calvin," she explained later. But it struck me profoundly. I have largely given up preaching, but these words confirmed a growing sense that I should not abandon my calling just because I am now "identifying, networking, supporting, and inspiring" young preachers. What I need is a preaching post: jail, street corner, sanctuary, or house. This is my renewed prayer: "Lord, give me a place to preach."
Duke Divinity School student John Jay Alvaro preached a sermon from the commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." He was not the only one to take this theme, but his words stuck in my memory. "Put the books in a case and zip it up." He was describing now he, a graduate student, had practiced the day of rest. It triggered notions of similar strategies in my head: turning off the computer, putting down the cell phone, even closing the preaching books and hanging up the car keys. I know it sounds legalistic, but I think I need such rules to help me benefit from the change of life that the Sabbath is designed to bring. Which is why I did not write this column when it first came to my mind.....during the Sabbath.
Finally, recent Fisk University graduate Brandon Perkins made this off-hand remark, not in a sermon, but at the dinner table. "I have lost 55 pounds this year by making one change in my habits," he said. "I quit eating pork and beef: nothing else." He looked slim and healthy and preached well, especially his final sermon, "A Lesson from Aaron" (which we will post in print and video format in our soon-to-be-unveiled new website). I don't want to lose 55 pound but perhaps 5-10 pounds (in part to combat high blood pressure). So I have determined to give his diet a try.
Good things come out of preaching camp, and these are just three of my fresh commitments. But there is much more, and already I have read many comments posted on Facebook by these young preachers. How I wish there would have been such opportunities when I was but 22.
We are gathered at Camp Kavanaugh, some 22 of us, tucked away in Crestwood, Kentucky, on the outskirts of Louisville. We are here for what I have called preaching camp but what the young preachers wish to call something else: what, exactly, they are not quite sure.
They began preaching Monday morning, sermons on the Ten Commandments. All afternoon they met with coaches, after attending a workshop on vocal dynamics. They stayed up past midnight to prepare. Then Tuesday morning they were at it again, preaching, all of them, a second sermon on the Ten Commandments.
This is the second year we have done this, and it is one of the most rewarding, enriching things I have ever done. Very soon, you can watch interviews with some of these young preachers over on our Facebook site.
Why do we do it? The best answer came in an email to me Tuesday afternoon. It was from a man who had come out to visit our camp. He sat and listened to several sermons then joined a lunch table full of young preachers. This is what he wrote to me:
"Two things stuck out to me; at least they were expressed by the folks at my table. (1) They wish they had more support from home. They said their parents and their relatives were not very encouraging about their calling. (2) All they want is an opportunity to preach."
This man heard the sad truth, and that sad truth has propelled the Academy as a place to "identify, network, support, and inspire" those who are called to gospel preaching. Unfortunately, many of these young people rarely get the opportunity to preach, even though each one of them is a powerful witness developing a compelling presentation of some piece of the good news.
It is an awesome week, and I rarely use that word. Today we visit the sites of our second national Festival of Young Preachers, and Thursday and Friday they preach sermons #3 and #4. Then we scatter; but we all hold each other in our hearts. We are a network of gospel preachers!
Written by Adam Quine
St. Francis of Assisi has been accredited with the quote that goes something like this, "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."
Although these words offer a profound, gentle reminder of the call to live our lives as followers of Jesus, I think the too-often-quoted saint would have made an exception for the 92 young preachers who made our way to a snowy Louisville, Kentucky for the first Festival of Young Preachers, hosted by the Academy of Preachers, an event whose sole function is to encourage and empower young people desiring to follow God's call into preaching.
Sometime late in 2009, my colleague and friend, Dr. Jonathan E. Carroll, came to me with some exciting news about this idea for a 'preaching festival' where young people could come, be together, and preach. It was definitely easy to see his excitement about this concept, but I, who don't have the same way with words as he does, responded with hesitation. Now I've seen what words can do and how preaching, especially if it is done well, can inspire many people in to be the change they wish to see in the world. But, the idea of 91 of my peers dissecting and cross examining my preaching really didn't sound like a fun way to spend three days. However my fear was quickly put to rest when it was made clear the Festival would offer only constructive criticism for my benefit.
Intrigued and inspired, we headed east, hoping my fears wouldn't overcome my six page sermon. When the day finally arrived for me to preach, what little anxiety I had diminished when I was warmly greeted by the Festival's hospitable staff. There was little confusion in regards to where or when I might preach; it was all laid out and explained perfectly clear. Because of the great organization and because of the friendly volunteers, I had all morning to focus clearly on my sermon; after all I was the second one up on the first day of the event. I was ecstatic to 'get it out of the way early,' and I hope to get that good deal next year as well!
Once I preached, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the Festival. I found myself closely studying each person in the program. By using their "I preach..." statements, I mapped out who I wanted to scope out. Yet, after hearing the first sermon, then the second, and then seeing the different texts being used, I wasn't sure who I wanted to see; so I began wandering around and was able to listen to many great sermons. This is what made the festival so enjoyable: being able to go at your own pace to listen to others preach, to see the different styles of preaching, to encounter Scripture with those who view the world differently, and to see preaching for what it really is, an art.
We received a couple good lessons from the worship leaders and preachers who led us, too. Each of the preachers selected to speak during the evening worship services had their own style, came from different traditions, and brought a unique perspective on the art of the sermon. Again, this is yet another way the Festival set itself apart as the only event of its kind. No matter where you came from, no matter what you were preaching, no matter how much or how little schooling you may have received, you were welcomed to come and preach-and we learned from one another. Personally the process of preparing and writing the sermon, then delivering it, and then hearing how other experienced it reminded me of just how transforming a sermon can be.
Frederick Buechner says in his great little sermon titled The Gospel as Fairy Tale, "Let the preacher stretch our imagination and strain our thinking and make our jaws drop." That is what a preacher is called to do, and this happened at the Festival of Young Preachers. By participating in it, my call to proclaim God's good news had been rekindled, and yet, discovered anew. I'm grateful for the work and time put in to this festival by Dr. Moody, the Academy's Board of Advisers, and other consultants. Through their hard work, the Festival became a great stepping stone for young preachers like me, and good steps have been made in restoring the value of preaching and the power words can have on society.
As for next year: I'm looking forward to trying a different style at what will be the second Festival of Young Preachers.
(Adam is a student at Greenville College and was sponsored at the 2010 Festival of Young Preachers by First Presbyterian Church in Owensboro. During the 2010 Festival of Young Preachers, Adam preached from Mark 1:1-8. To watch Adam's sermon on YouTube, click here.)
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!
The national Festival of Young Preachers is still more than 8 months away but already people are signing up to attend. This week the Academy received the first paid registration from a young preacher
And last week we received the first payment for an ad and an exhibit.
C. J. Childs, a native of Georgia, a student in Tennessee (at Trevecca Nazarene University), and a member of the Young Preachers Leadership Team has submitted her completed registration form, with the $100 registration fee, to become the first person to register for the 2011 festival. The festival will be held at the Seelbach Hotel and the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Kentucky, January 6-8, 2010.
Childs is a Charter Member of the Academy of Preachers as a result of preaching at the inaugural festival this past January. Her sermon is available for viewing on the Academy YouTube site.
Childs will be one of 104 young preachers to come to the festival next January and preach. It is the only event in the country whose purpose is to present the talent, the passion, and the intellect of young preachers, ages 15-28. Registration forms are elsewhere on this web site.
Taking the lead among exhibitors is Georgetown College, the Baptist-related liberal arts college in central Kentucky. They approached the Academy early this year about buying the advertizing space on the back side of the festival program. Their reservation also gives them prime space in the exhibition hall at the festival in January.
This past January, 26 businesses, institutions, and organizations exhibited at the festival. They come to recruit students, sell products, promote ministries, and hire ministers. Organizers are making plans for that to increase to 40. Registration forms for advertizing and exhibiting will be posted within the next few weeks.
The daytime activities of the festival, including exhibitions, meals, and preaching, will be in the Seelbach Hilton Hotel. The Cathedral of the Assumption, a half block away, will host a reception, a luncheon, a worship service, and the closing ceremonies. All actives of the festival are free and open to the public. Offerings are received during the festival to help underwrite the cost of the Academy programs.