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.
When I was 15 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.
Not 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 100 congregations and 50 educational institutions, all within a 150-mile radius of Louisville. And the festival in January 2010 will attract, we hope, 100 young people—high school, college, university and seminary—who will take their stand at a pulpit and give it their best shot.