June 17, 2013
By Tyler Best, AoP'12
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.
- For the first time ever, just over half of active elders are between age 55 and 72.
- The median age of elders is 55, the highest in history, up from 50 in 2000 and 45 in 1973.
- As expected, the total number of clergy retirements went down dramatically in 2009 because of the economic downturn (811 compared to 1,113 in 2008).
- Even with fewer retirements in 2009, the average retirement age still went down by half a year to 64 in 2009.
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.
June 10, 2013
By Wyndee Holbrook
Follow this link to learn what happens when a denominational conference opens up to the excitement of Young Preachers:
June 4, 2013
By Larry Terrell Crudup
25 year old Xavier sits at his job all day, bored. He watches his dreams go by in a job that does not fulfill his longing for something with meaning. Sure he makes a decent amount of money, lives in a well-to-do neighborhood, and drives a nice car, but Xavier is empty. One day Xavier decides to leave, to follow his dreams, to take a pay cut. He doesn’t know where he is going or how he is going to make money but he does know that he is now on the right track…
14 year old Candice does not like school. Well, it’s not that she doesn’t like school, it’s just that she just can’t see the point of it. Most of the subjects won’t help to fulfill her dreams of being a photographer. So she just sits in class waiting for the time to pass, and dreaming about taking pictures…
One thing that can be said about Generation Y and Generation Z after them, is that unless what they are involved in is meaningful, they typically will find something new to do. Older generations often think that Generations Y & Z just can’t commit to anything and that they are lazy, but there is one thing that drives these two generations: meaning. If there is nothing of substance, if it does not get them closer to their dreams or aspirations, if it’s just to make money, it is not enough to sustain them. Meaningful living, following dreams, taking risks is what drives these generations.
When we look at preaching, and we critique what we do in the pulpit, we often fall short of proclaiming a meaningful Gospel. Some of our churches place most of their meaning in the liturgy, while others in moralism, but very few utilize the pulpit in a way that cultivates meaning in the lives of the hearers. Some people respond to preaching out of obligation to do a good thing, and so they get involved in church, get involved because that is all they know to do. But, Generations Y & Z will not get involved on their own free will, if the gospel message that we preach is not meaningfully relevant to their lives, if it does not enhance their dreams and aspirations.
The Gospel message must tell these generations that the cross of Christ frees them from Satan’s grips and propels them into the arms of a God who gave them dreams to fulfill. It must tell them that sin is what stifles their creativity, but Christ gives new life and great visions. They must know that sin makes them think they have nothing to offer, but Christ reminds them of the Images of God placed in them. Having morals and doctrine is needed, but our Gospel must compel these generations that their dreams, visions, and goals must encounter the living God to find true meaning.
Our Gospel must say that the lynching of Jesus, is the exact reason why your photography will help to eradicate senseless wars, that your coffee shop will help to eradicate hunger in the world, that your music will be the new protest songs, that your clothing business will offer living wages, that your law practice will look out for the least and the lost, that your clinic give great healing to all. Our preaching needs meaning. As Dr. Maria Dixon states:
“Our churches are dying because we have become crypt keepers. We preach messages of dead doctrines while extolling traditions that cannot be made relevant to our current context. We keep liturgies. We keep rituals. We keep archives. Yet we produce no new growth. We preserve the church—just like a grave preserves the memory of the dead. We willfully place God and the Gospel back in the tomb with our inability to live in the light of God’s love or testify to God’s grace.”
Preaching for the new generations must speak to the power of meaningful living. For these generations will not get involved and give of themselves inside the church unless they can see that the Gospel has meaning. I know some of us think they should just get involved because it is the church, but I praise God for their discernment, because they are showing us that we have become too complacent, and that we may not have anything to offer.
If this offends prove us wrong.
May 31, 2013
By Dwight Moody
Years ago I wrote a column for distribution to public newspapers with that title: “If I Could Pick the Pope.” It was near the end of the tenure of Pope John Paul II and speculation was rampant about his successor.
I wrote like a typical Protestant and suggested that the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church be a person of color, from the southern hemisphere, with a preference for simplicity in style and attire; I think I may have said something about grandchildren and this is perhaps what caused a certain priest and his Kentucky congregation to respond with indignation.
But I recall that column now as I read about Francis, the pastor of the church at Rome. That phrase, pastor of the church at Rome, seems more suited to him than the series of elevated titles that are normally attached to a person who holds his office: pope, pontiff, holy father, patriarch of the west, and archbishop and metropolitan of the Roman Province; and the list goes on. Francis likes the simple stuff and so do I: simple dress, simple ceremony, simple quarters, simple assignments.
His desire for simplicity has made him popular with Protestants and Catholics alike, and I suspect it will make him more attractive and accessible to people of other faiths and people with no faith.
I like his preaching, and he preaches every day, it seems. It speaks a brief, spontaneous homily to the people gathered for worship at the Vatican. Spontaneous does not mean without preparation but it does mean with a manuscript.
A young listener in awe of a preacher asked, “How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?” and the answer: “All my life.”
Francis has been preparing all of his life for this assignment: learning, listening, reading, writing, walking, talking, and praying. These holy habits have shaped his imagination, his values, his skills, and his affections. All of that is coming to the fore now, and people who watch and listen like what they see and hear. I count myself among them.
I am not a Roman Catholic, but I am catholic in my Christian sympathies. I honor and receive all people of faith and seek to learn from them. I do not agree with much of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, but I affirm their love for God, their faith in Jesus Christ, and their life in the Spirit. I am impressed with their commitment to a life of service to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the displaced; and that is especially true of Pope Francis. I like his preaching and I like his living, and when those two things flow together in the life of a Christian leader, God be praised!!
If I could pick the Pope, I would lay hands on Jorge Mario Bergoglio and call him Francis!!
May 29, 2013
By David F. Telfort
David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again.
(1st Samuel 17:39, NLT)
A few months ago as I rode the MARTA to the National Festival of Young Preachers a friend and I talked about the changing demographics of the church. She shared how her pastors back home, once a month, hold church services Sunday evenings in a coffee shop where they feed a younger, “unchurched” crowd hungry to learn more about Jesus. A year earlier, I heard stories about churches who similarly took their ministry outside of Sunday worship and the four walls of the church. One in Philadelphia, PA set up shop outside of a popular nightclub and served hungry club patrons with free pizza printing bible verses and service times on their napkins. Another ministry in Atlanta, GA decided that “conventional” worship services were not enough anymore. They forwent normal worship and used Sundays as prayer time and agenda setting for a week full of localized service, community organizing and neighborhood restoration.
As I sat on the smooth, sight-filled ride to the heart of Atlanta getting ready to preach a sermon I asked myself, “What will preaching look, feel, sound and taste like for this new generation?” How does one preach in a coffee shop? How does one proclaim the gospel on a pizza truck to club goers at three a.m.? As we preach in our churches, how do we reach and hold in balance congregations filled with those who grew up in Sunday school their entire lives and crave something new, with those who do not know the story of Easter? How do we preach to a new generation?
When I think about preaching to a new generation, I think of a critical moment in the life of my namesake, David. In the beginning of the transition of his journey with God going from private to public, David is in Saul’s chambers preparing to fight the giant Goliath. Saul, in his desire to dispel this threat to national security and lead the Israelites to victory against their Philistine assailants, begins prepping David. He fits him with his armor. Saul, who symbolizes an older generation, tries to put on David what used to work for him.
His weaponry bogs down David. The hot, heavy helmet blurs his vision. His body is no longer agile and quick under the weightiness of the mail body armor. The heavy sword lessens the precision of his arms and hands. His steps go from controlled to cumbersome. David makes the hard decision that we as preachers for a new generation must make. He takes off the armor.
David’s mission does not change. He is still tasked with defeating Goliath and bringing glory to God. David’s anointing does not change. God is still walking and covering him every step he goes, as we know from the end of the story. What David realizes however, is that he cannot go about his mission and call the same way that Saul did. Referring to the armor David says, “I am not used to them”. Really, David is saying, “I cannot use something that is not relevant to me. I would be fooling myself to use tools that I have never used before. God has uniquely equipped me with experiences that position me to do this task.”
Part of preaching to a new generation means women and men of the gospel tapping into the gifts that God has placed in their lives. We should not try to imitate others but instead rely on the experiences and gifts that allow us to be a powerful witness to the saving, healing and restorative love that God offers the broken world we live in. Preaching to a new generation does not mean throwing tradition out the window. It does not mean forgetting the wisdom of Prathia L. Hall, Gardner C. Taylor, Abigail Roberts and Thomas G. Long. It means as David did, channeling the lessons and bravery of these vessels of God’s glory; continuing the work of gospel but retrofitting what we have learned with new tools and methods.
If David insists on wearing Saul’s armor, he loses the battle. What he does is scary and surprising to many, but it saves his life and accomplishes the mission. Our churches continue to be places where church folk meet, live, interact, and form community with other church folks. If we are going to reach a new generation: those growing up in the church, as well as those who think church is the last place they want to be or would be welcomed, we need to get rid of the fitting rooms. This means that we must resist the urge to fit a 21st century ministry and call from God with 20th century armor.
While our goal may be the same, we must be open to God’s voice leading us to new methods and forms of ministry. That may mean opening our church doors to people who our grandparents and parents kept out. It could also mean asking the neighborhoods and cities our churches inhabit what they need in order for church to be a place where they would see themselves. Not compromising the Gospel, but in fact heeding it, these efforts could go a long way in reaching new people for Christ.
I am optimistic about the future of preaching. The Festival of Young Preachers reminds me every year that whether it is in a pulpit, coffee shop, pizza truck or prison chapel, God does not change. The core of Gospel has not changed. We must make ourselves available to the move of God, resist the urge to flock to the fitting rooms and let God do the dressing.